New Orleans Saints  

 

Brees continues to show why he's king of New Orleans

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NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans Saints wide receiver Robert Meachem dropped a beauty of a deep ball from quarterback Drew Brees after breaking wide open in the third quarter of Saturday's 45-28 NFC Wild Card Game victory over the Detroit Lions. It was the type of drop that might have caused plenty of coaches to yank Meachem, who could have sulked and maybe would've been ignored by a fair share of NFL quarterbacks.

Drew Brees (left) had faith in Robert Meachem, and it paid off with a 56-yard TD.
Drew Brees (left) had faith in Robert Meachem, and it paid off with a 56-yard TD. (John David Mercer/US Presswire)

But not Brees.

"He told me, 'I'll be back. I'm coming right back to you,'" Meachem said, referring to Brees' message to him immediately after the embarrassing blooper.

In the fourth-quarter, Brees kept his word, and Meachem redeemed himself with a 56-yard touchdown catch that made the score 38-21, which, for the Lions, proved to be an insurmountable deficit.

Running back Pierre Thomas told me in the week leading to the game that the reason every Saints player follows Brees is because he looks at himself first. If he makes a mistake -- Brees knew he was very lucky the Lions dropped two potential interceptions -- he owns up to it.

Practice, game, conversation, spilling a soda, whatever.

Players see that and know that if he doesn't look for excuses to clear his accountability, they can't either. It's why the Saints are so good and on a nine-game roll heading into San Francisco in what should be a rugged NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the 49ers on Saturday.

Brees is many things, but most of all he's a leader. He's more of a leader now than he was when he took a ravaged city by the heartstrings and, by virtue of leading the Saints to a Super Bowl championship, became its king.

He's also a better player.

Forget all the records Brees set and could re-set next season and the season after. It's easy to assume he's also better because he's been in coach Sean Payton's cut throat system for six seasons, which is true. This is the guts of it, though: Brees is working with some key player who were backups or weren't even on that Super Bowl team, such as tight end Jimmy Graham, running back Darren Sproles, running back Mark Ingram, center Brian De La Puente, and right tackle Zach Strief, among others.

The lockout prevented mini-camps and OTAs, but Brees got the majority of these guys to come to arguably more offseason workouts than any other team in the NFL. He got them ready, and they got him ready.

Still, they had to adapt when Payton realized that Graham was something special and was ready to be showcased after the team kissed Jeremy Shockey good-bye. Payton also worked to make Ingram the top ball carrier in the multi-purpose running back group.

There were different things going on than when Shockey was a lesser-used possession tight end, and Mike Bell and Reggie Bush joined Thomas in the backfield on that Super Bowl team.

Things continued to change, even during this winning streak, when the offense ignited to the highly flammable state it's in when opponents started focusing more on Graham and Ingram got hurt, making Sproles and Thomas more important and Chris Ivory emerging as the bruising runner.

Brees is still evolving, as is the offense that has averaged 44.2 points in its past four games -- two of those against Atlanta and Detroit, playoff teams that were vanquished in the wild-card round.

Adding to the impressiveness, the Saints' Super Bowl team had a defense that delivered 41 takeaways, including five interceptions returned for touchdowns. Brees didn't have to work as hard because the defense provided 30 points (not counting the point-after kicks) and plum field position after the turnovers.

This year's team had 26 regular-season takeaways with just one interception returned for a score. In fairness, Sproles has set up some shorter fields with his punt and kickoff returns, but the Saints offense had to work harder.

That extra time has generated extra potency, and you can thank Brees for a lot of it.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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