That was vintage Drew Brees on display Sunday afternoon in the high church of Who Dat Nation, adding yet another memorable performance to his burgeoning NFL legacy as quarterback of the New Orleans Saints.
Thumb Terrific in every way.
Forty days after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament on the right thumb of his throwing hand, No. 9 took the first quarter to get his bearings, then methodically sliced and diced the Arizona Cardinals for 373 passing yards and three touchdowns and sent them on their way.
The convincing 31-9 victory extended the Saints’ winning streak to six games (the first five with backup Teddy Bridgewater in the lineup) and keeps them atop the NFC South with a stellar 7-1 record heading into their bye.
Time will tell if coach Dan Quinn still has a job and if injured quarterback Matt Ryan (high right ankle sprain) is back playing for the Atlanta Falcons (1-7) when they come calling Nov. 10 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
That’s their problem.
Everything is fine and dandy in Who Dat-ville now that Thumb Terrific is back under center and all three phases are playing beautiful music together.
I know the San Francisco 49ers (7-0) are the lone unbeaten team in the NFC after eight weeks, and the Green Bay Packers (7-1), Seattle Seahawks (6-2) and Minnesota Vikings (6-2) are solidly in the conversation for homefield advantage.
But my money remains on the Black and Gold to win the No. 1 seed in the NFC when all is said and done.
I thought they would be 7-1 at this juncture, ultimately finish 12-4 and have the NFC road to Super Bowl LIV go through New Orleans in the postseason, and I see no reason to walk back my prediction.
After successfully navigating the most challenging part of their schedule, they now are faced with a steady dose of divisional foes when they resume their schedule: Atlanta (Nov. 10), at Tampa Bay (Nov. 17), Carolina (Nov. 24) and at Atlanta on Thanksgiving Night (Nov. 28).
All games lead up to the Week 14 showdown Dec. 8 against the vastly improved 49ers at the Superdome. It’s currently scheduled for a noon kickoff but I suspect it could be flexed into the marquee NBC Sunday night time slot with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.
Saints coach Sean Payton anticipates that running back Alvin Kamara (ankle, knee) and tight end Jared Cook (ankle) will be healthy for the Falcons. Both have missed the past two games with injuries, and while they were missed, backup RB Latavius Murray and a tight-end-by committee filled in admirably.
As did TED-DY in Brees’ absence for five games.
Murray has compiled Kamara-like numbers in victories against the Chicago Bears and Cardinals — back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, 62 overall touches, 307 yards from scrimmage and four TDs.
My mid-term report card comes out online later this week and in Sunday’s print editions. But my quick evaluation is the Saints are the most complete team in the NFL and speeding toward a made-for-Super Bowl matchup against the New England Patriots (8-0) on the first Sunday in February.
And I won’t back down.