By Sean Tyler (@SeanTylerUK)
The traditional retirement gift is a nice carriage clock or maybe a gold watch. Why anyone would want a constant reminder of the sands of time ebbing away is anyone’s guess, but I’m assuming Saints QB Drew Brees won’t want reminding that time waits for no man.
The 30-20 Divisional Round loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would’ve hurt badly enough if it does indeed mark Brees’ final appearance in the NFL. The fact that he went down to Tom Brady – the only active quarterback older than himself – just two days after his 42nd birthday only rubs salt into the wound.
Many were hoping that Brees’ year would end on a high, by winning Super Bowl LV in less than three weeks’ time. That would have been the perfect end to an illustrious career that has seen him play 287 games, and complete more than 7,000 passes for 80,358 yards (the current all-time record) and 571 TDs. But his stat line on Sunday night – 19-of-34 for 134 yards, 1 TD and 3 INTs, 3.9 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 38.1 – does not scream future Hall of Famer, even though that’s what he is. It screams mediocre… at best. It feels like Father Time had finally tapped him on the shoulder and whispered “Well played son, good innings and all that – but I think you’re done.”
The quarterback appeared to lack the speed needed to thread those tight needles or the power to chuck bombs downfield. In fact, not only did he not complete a pass of 20+ yards through the air, he didn’t even attempt one (although his 16-yard TD lob to Tre’Quan Smith might have actually travelled 20 or so when you factor in Brees’ initial step-backs). The only properly long throw all night from New Orleans came when stand-in QB Jameis Winston connected with Smith on a 56-yard trick play, bringing the Saints wideout his second touchdown (from just three receptions). It was also the first passing TD in the play-offs by a Saints player not named Drew Brees for two decades.
It was also sad to see Brees’ fail to connect with Michael Thomas on any of his four targets, with one attempt getting cut out and returned 36 yards to the NO 3-yard line by Sean Murphy-Bunting. His other two (3 INTs is the most Brees has ever given away in a post-season game) came in the fourth quarter, essentially stifling any possible comeback. Only 23-20 down and looking for the lead, Brees fired a deep, low laser in the direction of Alvin Kamara around the halfway line but linebacker Devin White eagerly pounced on it and took it back 28 yards. Then, 10 points behind, Brees attempted to find Jared Cook but his throw was tipped as it came in, leaving Tampa defensive back Mike Edwards to snaffle it up gratefully. It was a relatively close contest until those two turnovers.
The last shots viewers had of Brees were of him applauding the Superdome crowd and his family, wiping a tear away and, as he walked down the tunnel, taking one brief but poignant glance back over his shoulder. The director’s script probably read “Fade to black. The End. Roll credits.”
Afterwards, Brees said he had no regrets about playing his 20th season, despite all the COVID craziness and his broken ribs. He talked about his memories and friendships but made it clear he was going to give himself time to think before making any decisions. Kamara and Head Coach Sean Payton both sang from a similar hymn sheet at the post-game press conference but you could still read the small print between the lines: there’s time enough to talk about Drew retiring, as and when he does.
If we assume there is change afoot in The Big Easy and that Brees is hanging up his cleats, how New Orleans addresses the quarterback position is going to be one of the most intriguing off-season storylines. Do we assume that Winston and Taysom Hill (out injured this weekend) are both still in the picture, or is Sean Payton in the market for a new signal-caller?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind…
Feature image: Derick E. Hingle – USA TODAY Sports