Brian Allee-Walsh

Drew Brees wasn’t himself late in the Saints’ season. Is he over the hill or hurt?

Brees: Despite blown call, Saints missed opportunities

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said despite controversial officiating, the Saints missed some opportunities down the stretch.
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New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said despite controversial officiating, the Saints missed some opportunities down the stretch.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees pulled out of Sunday’s annual NFL Pro Bowl due to an unspecified injury, according to published reports.

I hope it’s nothing more than a bad taste in his mouth, battle fatigue or hurt feelings from losing in the brutally painful manner in which they did to the Los Angeles Rams 26-23 in OT in the NFC Championship game, one step shy of Super Bowl LIII.

I suspect the idea of putting on a happy face and playing in a meaningless, glorified pick-up game in Orlando, Florida, and not playing for the coveted Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 3 against the New England Patriots at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta is just too much to handle right now.

Maybe, I’m wrong.

Or, maybe Brees just needs to rest his throwing arm, the one attached to his bionic right shoulder that was surgically repaired 13 years ago prior to his arrival in New Orleans.

Is it just me or did No. 9 look arm weary during the final month of the regular season and in the postseason, especially when he tried to stretch the field with passes beyond 25 yards? Granted, the Saints desperately missed a consistent deep threat at wide receiver this season. But there were a handful of times this season when Brees just flat out missed or underthrew wide open receivers.

Even Brees’ 43-yard hookup with WR Ted Ginn Jr. late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against the Rams seemed strained. Truth be told, it was a 50-50 jump ball that Rams free safety Lamarcus Joyner misplayed into crucial chunk yardage for the Saints.

In other words, Brees didn’t throw Ginn open.

I want to be clear here: I’m not suggesting the 40-year-old Brees has a dead arm. He has one year remaining on a contract that will count $33.5 million against the 2019 salary cap ($11.05 million base, $10.5 million pro-rated signing bonus, $11.95 million roster bonus).

Brees stated he’s pretty sure he will return for his 19th NFL season, his 14th with the Saints.

But, I am saying Brees’ performance visibly declined from late November going forward and likely will cost him his first league MVP award. The statistics bear this out. Consider:

Through the first 11 games, Brees put up MVP-caliber numbers. He completed 272 of 356 passes (76.4 percent) for 3,135 yards with 29 touchdowns and 2 interceptions for a mind-boggling 127.2 passer rating.

In my opinion, the MVP award was his to lose.

Beginning with a 13-10 loss at Dallas in Game 12 (Nov. 29), Brees’ numbers began tailing off. In games against the Cowboys, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Pittsburgh (he did not play in the rematch against Carolina), Brees completed 92 of 133 passes (69.2 percent) and 857 yards with 3 TDs and 3 interceptions for a 84.7 passer rating.

His longest completion during this stretch covered 42 yards by RB Alvin Kamara against the Steelers, all yards after the catch.

In two postseason games, Brees completed 54 of 79 passes (68.4 percent) for 550 yards with 4 TDs and 2 interceptions for a 94.8 passer rating. The Rams took Brees’ go-to target Michael Thomas out of the game, limiting him to four catches for 36 yards. Kamara picked up the slack, catching 11 of 13 targeted passes for 96 yards (8.7 yards per catch).

Again, I’m not saying Brees is over the hill. I’m also not saying the Saints should re-sign pending free agent backup Teddy Bridgewater or elevate Taysom Hill to No. 1. Brees remains The Guy. He is the face of the franchise. He is the team’s undisputed leader, a brilliant decision maker and perfect complement to offensive guru Sean Payton.

But the Drew Brees we saw in December and in the postseason was not the same Drew Brees we saw in September through Thanksgiving. He went from league MVP to the king of dink and dunk.

There is a reason for his sudden decline.

I’m merely pointing out the elephant in the room.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.
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