A former quarterback himself, Payton routinely expresses his admiration for Drew Brees and the pride he takes in Brees' league-leading production in the passing game. Payton wants to see Brees break Dan Marino's 1984 record of 5,084 passing yards in a season, but the coach questions whether it would be responsible to tailor his play-calling toward that goal when the Saints host the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Completion Pct.: 64.2
Completion Pct.: 65.4
"Certainly, a milestone like the record we're talking about is significant, but nonetheless, what's most important to our team, to Drew Brees, to the organization, is winning this football game and finishing 9-7," Payton said Monday after reviewing film of New Orleans' 42-7 trouncing of the winless Detroit Lions one day earlier. "That said, something like that is significant. But I think it's only rewarding if something like that happens when you play well and you win, rather than just if you hang around and throw it around just for the sake of the record.
"Our job as coaches this week, and as players, is to get ready to put our best game plan together to beat the Carolina Panthers, not to throw for 408 yards."
In fact, Brees needs 402 yards to set the record, a total he has surpassed in two games this season. Brees threw for 421 yards at Denver and 422 yards at Atlanta. The problem is that the Saints lost both games and the reason Brees threw so much in each was because New Orleans was playing catch-up most of the time.
As is often the case in the NFL, the Saints tend to fare better when they attack with more balance between the run and the pass.
Brees' highest passing total in a victory was 363 yards against San Francisco, a game in which Deuce McAllister carried 20 times for 73 yards and Reggie Bush rushed 10 times for 31 yards.
The Saints' triumph in Detroit marked Brees' second highest passing yardage in a victory this season. He was 30-of-40 for 351 yards. He could have thrown more, but with the Saints in position to run out the clock, Payton kept the ball on the ground during New Orleans' final drive. The Saints finished with 181 rushing yards, including 77 by Pierre Thomas and 61 by McAllister.
Even then, Payton found himself defending his decision to play Brees at all in the fourth quarter, when victory appeared well in hand.
"That's his job," Payton said.
"The way we handled the game, especially in the fourth quarter, was not at all out of ordinary," the coach asserted. "I don't think in any way, shape or form would anyone watching the game say the Saints ran up the score. Certainly, we scored a lot of points, but that's the objective, offensively."
Players were given Monday off, but Brees on Sunday sounded fatalistic about his chances to make a significant bit of NFL history.
"If it's meant to be, it's meant to be and it will happen. If not, then I think we're going to do what it takes to win -- first and foremost -- and I think just like any situation where you have a guy or an offense or a team closing in on a record like that, maybe you just kind of keep it in mind," Brees said. "I'm trying not to think about it as much as possible. It's hard to do because everybody wants to talk about it."
Carolina will have a lot riding on the game as it tries to edge out Atlanta for the NFC South Division title. But if Brees manages to get within 100 yards or so by the fourth quarter, Payton could be faced with an interesting dilemma. The coach has shown before that he will call plays with milestones in mind.
When the Saints got close to the goal line in a Monday Night Football game against Green Bay in late November, Payton called a running play for McAllister, who scored to set a franchise record for career touchdowns. As McAllister trotted off the field, Payton gave the veteran running back a congratulatory hug.
"I'll try to rely on my common sense and try to rely on good judgment," Payton said. "There are 100 different scenarios that could take place, but the main focus really has to be our team getting ready to play a real good football team in Carolina.
"I understand the question and why it's being asked, but I think the main thing is just being mindful of it," the coach continued. "The challenge is that it's over 400 yards. We're not talking about 211 yards or 186 yards; we're talking about 400-some yards, and it just makes it a little more different than maybe Deuce's run here against Green Bay when he needed one more touchdown."
Incidentally, Kurt Warner ranks second all-time in single-season passing yards with 4,830 in 2001. Brees needs a relatively pedestrian 148 yards to eclipse that mark. Dan Marino's 4,746 yards in 1986 were the most by a quarterback for a non-playoff team. Brees trails that mark by only 63 yards.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press