If, as it seems likely, Sunday’s playoff loss to Tampa Bay was the final game of Drew Brees’ 20-year career, it was an inglorious way for the New Orleans Saints quarterback to leave the NFL stage.
The Buccaneers brought an improved defense into the Superdome, one that prevented star receiver Michael Thomas from making even one catch. Tampa Bay harassed Brees into three interceptions. That plus only 134 passing yards made this game Brees’ worst playoff effort of his career by far.
Only the most bitter Saints fans would allow this game to define Brees’ 15 years in New Orleans. His time with the team was the exact opposite of Sunday’s fourth quarter: He led the Saints to consistently good football and, after the 2009 season, the unexpected and unimaginable joy of the franchise’s only Super Bowl title.
It’s far better to remember the sustained excellence that Brees, with an essential assist from head coach Sean Payton, brought to the team. The Saints made the playoffs in nine of his 15 seasons as quarterback, winning the NFC South for each of the past four years. Only the teams under Jim Mora, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, came anywhere close to this kind of performance.
True enough, the Saints came achingly close to more Super Bowls. The most galling example was the 2018 NFC Championship Game, when a blown pass interference call allowed the Los Angeles Rams to win in overtime. There was also the “Minneapolis Miracle” that prevented the Saints from advancing in 2017 and a painful 2011 loss at San Francisco that would have allowed the Saints to host that year’s NFC Championship game.
Brees turned 42 last week. He said after Sunday’s loss that he hasn’t decided whether to retire. He said he’ll think about things the way he did a year ago and then make his decision.
His body has got to be telling him that it’s time. It seems unlikely that he ever fully healed from the 11 fractured ribs he received during two games last November. And it was not too long ago when the 134 passing yards he recorded against Tampa Bay would have been expected by halftime. It could be that his throwing arm has had enough of the grind.
A charming video from the Superdome on Sunday can only add to the list of signals that Brees is retiring. After each home game, he goes onto the field in street clothes with his four children to horse around and throw a football.
The Associated Press reported that he lingered longer than usual on Sunday. The video shows 43-year-old Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady with the family, fist-bumping Brees’ sons and throwing one of them a touchdown pass.
It was a good reminder that the end of a 20-year football career does not mean the end of everything. Brees has business interests and an NBC announcing gig waiting for him — not to mention his four kids. If this is the end of his time with the Saints, he should leave knowing his job was superbly done.
— Jack Ryan, Enterprise-Journal