Drew Brees is going to have the numbers. That isn't even a discussion.
The discussion is whether he's going to have the rest of the credentials necessary to gain entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame whenever the day comes that his name is presented to the selection panel.
The initial thought here is that he will.
First, he demonstrated, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he could respond to the enormous challenge of performing at his best on the game's biggest stage. That's tough enough to do for someone who has been there before (see: Peyton Manning; Tom Brady). Making it happen in your first Super Bowl appearance is nothing short of incredible.
Second, Brees outperformed (by a wide margin) Manning, who had just won a record fourth NFL Most Valuable Player award in a landslide over his closest challenger, Brees. Brees' sterling numbers in the game -- a record-tying 32 completions in 39 attempts for 288 yards and two touchdowns -- made him the easy choice for Super Bowl MVP. Another factor that weighed heavily in his favor was how much better he played than the man around whom the Super Bowl -- and the entire 2009 season, for that matter -- seemingly revolved.
A lot of us were writing and talking about the possibility of an Indianapolis Colts victory Sunday vaulting Manning to best-quarterback-in-the-history-of-the-game status. He might still get there, but for one game, Manning's massive brainpower was ultimately no match for the strategic wizardry of Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. On the other hand, Brees, when it counted the most, had no problem handling all that veteran Colts defensive coordinator Larry Coyer threw his way and, with Sean Payton's guidance, worked a virtually unstoppable short passing game to perfection.
Which leads to the third point about Brees: Are we only talking about a one-game miracle or is it something that he can sustain?
Brees can absolutely keep this roll going. He has the talent, the smarts, and the work ethic to be everything that Manning and Brady have been during this decade.
Brees' success isn't just something to be judged in the context of his time with New Orleans. He demonstrated the type of skill he had with his first team, the San Diego Chargers, and already had a fairly amazing legacy in place with his comeback from the ravaged shoulder that made him an ex-Charger. He has established himself as a phenomenal leader, maybe the best of any player at any position. His teammates respond to him and plug into the considerable energy he brings to the field before every game.
Payton was clearly thinking beyond Sunday night when he had this to say about Brees after the Super Bowl: "He was outstanding, consistent, and he's just a winner everywhere he's been."
Manning and Brady once were seen as the top two quarterbacks in the NFL, while Brees and everyone else fell into the categories that followed. Not anymore. Brees is very much a part of the league's quarterbacking hierarchy, and should give no ground to Manning or Brady.
With such a highly aggressive and creative offensive mind as his coach, Brees figures to have little trouble adding to his already impressive body of statistics. The Saints have every intention of riding Brees' passing arm as far as it can take them. Whether that means another Super Bowl is in their immediate future is debatable, given the many free-agency issues they need to address.
But this club is going to continue to be in the hunt for the same reason the Colts and Patriots remain viable contenders despite question marks in other areas of their respective rosters: They have a great quarterback.
Brees should be able to add to that greatness with at least one more Super Bowl win. Does he absolutely need it to be a Hall of Famer? No. The Hall obviously has its share of quarterbacks with no Super Bowl rings, and the one Brees has, under the circumstances he won it, is going to carry plenty of weight with the voters.
Enough, I think, for him to end up in Canton.
But there is plenty of reason for them to feel good about what's ahead.
They began the '09 season with the league's fifth-youngest team in terms of NFL experience, so they'll have youth on their side. Manning is going to be a 13-year veteran, which isn't exactly young but his body has not sustained a great deal of wear and tear because he played behind a line that allowed the fewest sacks last season (13). He was sacked only 10 times and rarely hit (besides the many post-pass shots that the Saints delivered in the Super Bowl).
With Anthony Gonzalez expected to return from the season-ending knee injury he suffered at the start of the 2009 campaign, the Colts -- who discovered rising stars Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie in Gonzalez's absence -- should have one of the best and deepest groups of receivers in the league.
The only real question mark is on defense. Standout middle linebacker Gary Brackett is due to become a free agent. Team president Bill Polian has a strong track record of finding good replacements at the position, although he is making it a priority to re-sign Brackett, who is an exceptional playmaker and one of the leaders of the defense.
Otherwise, the defense looks to be in pretty good shape. Safety Bob Sanders, the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is expected to return from the knee injury and torn biceps that caused him to see action in just two games this season. The team seems determined to keep him, although he is going to have competition from Melvin Bullitt, who played exceptionally well next to Antoine Bethea. If Sanders is healthy, this is a good problem for the Colts.
Cornerback Marlin Jackson also is expected to return after suffering a torn ACL for the second consecutive season.
Despite their Super Bowl meltdown, the Colts easily are the NFL's best team entering the 2010 season. There is every reason to believe they'll have an eighth straight year with 12 or more regular-season victories. Whether they can translate that into their second Super Bowl triumph since the 2006 season remains to be seen. But they should be good enough to get there.
» There is no intention here to rain on the Saints' Super Bowl parade, but the revelers on Bourbon Street should enjoy this one for as long as they can because it's reasonable to assume they might not be able to win back-to-back Super Bowls.
The major reason is that 29 of the 53 players on their roster have contracts that expire this offseason. Of that total, 18 are due to become restricted free agents while the remaining 11 are scheduled to be unrestricted. The most notable name on the unrestricted list is safety Darren Sharper, who became the face of the Saints' opportunistic defense. Running back Pierre Thomas is part of the restricted group.
In addition, there will be some inevitable Super Bowl hangover for a club celebrating in a town that celebrates like no other. The Saints will enjoy their surprising triumph to the fullest, as they should.
But that is going to make Payton's job of getting them re-focused for next season extremely difficult. The Saints were driven by the hunger of bringing their hurricane-pummeled city a Super Bowl crown. They won't have that next season, and they might not have some key veterans, such as Sharper, who were critical to maintaining the mindset that allowed them to achieve what they did this season.
» The odds strongly suggest that at least one Super Bowl-hosting team is going to actually play in the big game at some point in the next three years.
Maybe it will happen more than once.
I thought Caldwell and the rest of his staff were clearly outcoached. However, I don't think Caldwell was overwhelmed or allowed his nerves to get the better of him.
Caldwell is a pretty steady character, and there was no real indication that he unraveled during the biggest game of his career. The Saints' Payton and his assistants made some bold calls throughout the night, and they all worked out. The game-breaking onside kick at the start of the second half succeeded because the ball took an extremely fortunate bounce off of a Colt rather than because of superb execution, but the Saints still were rewarded for their daring.
On the other hand, the Colts were uncharacteristically conservative, especially near the end of the first half when they were milking the clock and ran the ball on third-and-one, and that proved costly. The Saints got the ball back with favorable field position, and were able to get a momentum-boosting field goal. When Manning is your quarterback, you need to allow him to do what he does best, which is lead the team down the field with a quick-striking passing game.
Caldwell will learn from the mistakes of the Super Bowl. But the mistakes don't mean he was in over his head.