Brees hopes to turn road struggles around against the Eagles

ASSOCIATED PRESS Drew Brees might be a future Hall of Famer, but his road outings this season have been anything but.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Drew Brees might be a future Hall of Famer, but his road outings this season have been anything but.
Posted: January 03, 2014

METAIRIE, La. - Drew Brees enters Saturday night's NFC wild-card playoff at the Eagles with an invitation to the Hall of Fame awaiting his retirement.

Already an eight-time Pro Bowler, Brees just completed his fourth 5,000-yard passing campaign, the only quarterback to do so in NFL history. He held the league record for most yards passing in a season - 5,476 yards - until last week, as Denver's Peyton Manning surpassed his 2011 total.

"Every once in a while, I have to take a step back and really realize how great of a quarterback he is," Saints rookie receiver Kenny Stills said.

Still, Brees, who graduated from the same Austin, Texas, high school as Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, enters this first-round matchup with much to prove. He wants to prove that the Saints can win on the road in the playoffs, a place they have never won in franchise history. Prove they can win in harsh conditions - both the weather and fans of Lincoln Financial Field.

The Saints are 0-5 in road playoff games; 0-3 under coach Sean Payton.

Prove the Saints offense can perform as its ranking as the NFL's fourth best during the regular season suggests, not the way it stumbled into the playoffs, burdened by interceptions and sacks, unable to close out games en route to losing three of its last five games.

"Playoffs kind of mark the start of a new season, a new opportunity," said Brees, who owns nearly every franchise passing record since joining the Saints in 2006.

"As the sixth seed, you understand that the road you travel is going to be on the road, so you have no other choice. We know what we are capable of, so now it's a matter of putting it all together."

That last part has proved to be a roulette wheel of mystery for Brees and the Saints.

While he's passed this season for 5,162 yards and 39 touchdowns, he's made his share of mistakes. It's not surprising, for what makes him great - his ability to ad-lib, moving his happy feet around in the backfield until something opens up downfield - is what, at times, makes him human.

Notable, but beatable, especially on the road, where he's thrown only 12 scores.

Week 13: Brees was sack-stripped for a 22-yard fumble returned for a score on the Saints' second possession at Seattle, the start of a 34-7 Seattle rout.

Week 15: First Saints play from scrimmage, a Brees pass intended for tight end Jimmy Graham, was intercepted, setting up St. Louis' first score. The second possession ended at the Rams' 10 with another Brees interception, setting up another score and another loss.

Week 16: With the NFC South title at stake, the Saints failed to protect a three-point lead late at Carolina with back-to-back three-and-outs on offense, giving the Panthers' Cam Newton an opportunity to throw a game-winning score with 23 seconds left.

Coupled by a sometimes-nonexistent running game and woeful protection, the offensive blame is shared by teammates. But that's why the Saints brought Brees in from San Diego; they had faith his injured shoulder would recover and he could lead them where they'd never been, and he had faith that the franchise, weakened by the impact Hurricane Katrina had on the city, would recover, too.

"His experience and his durability and all of those things are helpful," said Payton, reunited with Brees after a yearlong Bountygate suspension. Four years ago, the coach-quarterback duo won Super Bowl XLIV. "He's someone who is constantly reminding players about certain looks, check-downs, what's going on right now at post practice."

Perhaps the fact Brees might remind the Saints of the most this week is to not give Eagles fans a reason to be jolly during this holiday season.

"Don't give their fans a reason to stand up and get crazy," said Brees, who has thrown 12 interceptions and been sacked 37 times, the latter his most since joining the Saints.

"I think one of our things is we really haven't started fast on the road, and that's something certainly we can improve on, something we are focusing on, and that can be a big part of our success, too."

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