Aaron S. Lee
Not only did Drew Brees make a triumphant return in front of a capacity crowd at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, but the NFL’s all-time leading passer became the first quarterback in league history to surpass 75,000 yards.
The 31-9 victory over the Arizona Cardinals (3-4-1) marks the Saints’ (7-1) sixth straight win since losing to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 2, the same game Brees was forced out due to a thumb injury on his right throwing hand.
Since then, Teddy Bridgewater, who is the NFL’s highest paid backup with a one-year, $7.25 million fully-guaranteed contract, has most certainly earned his keep by guiding the team to a perfect 5-0 record with Brees recovering on the sideline.
Despite the 26-year-old Bridgewater’s success, Brees proved he is at a completely different level. Although his surgically-repaired thumb won’t be fully healed for at least three months, Brees shredded the Cardinals defense.
The seemingly ageless 40-year-old from Purdue completed 34 of 43 passes for 373 yards with three touchdowns and an interception and led the Saints to 510 yards of total offense, the first time the team has cracked the 500-yard mark since the opening game in which Brees was also under center.
“This was kind of the week that I had in my mind from the moment that I got hurt,” Brees said. “I think the doctors and everybody were saying after the bye week, but I was trying to fast track that as much as possible.”
According to Saints head coach Sean Payton, the decision to start Brees did not come without heavy deliberation, especially considering the extent of the injury and the team receiving a bye next week before hosting NFC South rival Atlanta on Sunday, November 10.
“Honestly, we talked about this decision. We really had to pay attention to the doctors. We weren’t going to be careless with it,” said Payton in the post-game press conference. “He threw it really well last Monday. I know that there was this sentiment to wait until after the bye. Look, if a player is 100 percent healthy and feels ready to go, like him, who I trust (that’s going to play an important role in the decision).
“This is an important game,” he continued. “Each one of these 16 games has the same value. We are close to the six-week (recovery) mark now. Yes, to have a game like he did today (was a great return). We scored a lot in the second half. It was a good win.”
With starting running back Alvin Kamara sitting out for another game with an ankle injury, Latavius Murray provided the Saints with his second-straight 100-yard game, recording 102 yards on 21 carries with one touchdown and a 4.9-yard average per rush.
“Real steady,” said Payton of Murray’s performance during Kamara’s absence. “He’s one of these runners that has good vision and can kind of put his foot in the ground and pick up speed in a hurry. He is a fantastic teammate. All of the things that we look for in a player, he has. He has been a good addition to us.”