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Sean Payton hasn’t decided what to do with his starters in Week 17

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees celebrates after his team defeated the Atlanta Falcons in New Orleans Reuters

The Saints can still improve their playoff position by one spot, if they beat the Panthers and the 49ers somehow lose to the Rams in St. Louis.  (In the same way that the Saints, you know, somehow lost in St. Louis.)  Both games will be played at the same time, which could prompt Saints coach Sean Payton to do some scoreboard-watching, given that two of his key players — cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and tight end Jimmy Graham — suffered injuries in a meaningless regular-season finale in 2010.

The fact that quarterback Drew Brees sits only 190 yards ahead of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady raises the stakes.  Since the Pats need to beat the Bills to claim the No. 1 seed (the other contenders, the Ravens and Steelers, play at 4:15 p.m. ET), Brady will likely play most if not all of the game, and he could easily swipe the record if Brees plays less than 60 minutes.

On Tuesday, Payton addressed the situation, ultimately explaining that he’ll make a decision later in the week.  He dropped no specific hints as to the direction in which he’s leaning, but the bulk of his comments suggests that Brees and the rest of the regulars will play.

“I know I am twice shy when the ball comes near me on the sidelines,” Payton told the local media as to the possibility of getting gets injured in a meaningless game.  “I have been bitten.  I think we just have to be smart.  We are playing well, with some momentum.  Each year is different.  We will look at that closely.”

Payton said he doesn’t know whether he’ll have someone keep an eye on the 49ers-Rams game.  “Last year, we tried to go that route of paying attention to the game,” Payton said.  “One of the challenges always is your roster to begin with.  You guys know that.  We sat players before.  It’s always hard because you don’t really have enough.  It’s not the preseason where you have 80, you only have 53.  We will try to do what is best for the team.”

But is it best for the team to have Brees hold off Brady?  Payton has a strong sense of history, but whether Brees holds the single-season passing yardage record for six days or 60 years has zero relevance to the team’s goals.

“I’m not really aware of the space between the two,” Payton said.  “I am probably better off not knowing.  That being said, what we have to do is keep playing.  The playoffs are close.  How do we put ourselves in the best position to play well and put ourselves in an opportunity to win a championship?  That’s not always what is popular.  Two years ago in 2009, a lot of people in this room criticized us for resting players at Carolina.  It was what we needed to do as a team.  You make decisions.  They are not always right.  You try to make them with the right things to help your team.  Last night was one of those situations.  This upcoming game will be one of those situations.  It’s part of what we do.  It’s part of coaching.  It’s part of sport.”

Setting — and holding — records is part of what they do, too.  If Payton didn’t know the space between the two players, he likely will.  Even if he doesn’t know the number, he surely senses that it’s close enough to compel Brees to play a full game.

And so I’d be shocked if Brees and the rest of the starters don’t play a full game.  With Brees unlikely to wrest the MVP award from Aaron Rodgers, setting — and keeping — that record arguably becomes more important to Brees, to Payton, and to the rest of the franchise.

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28 Responses to “Sean Payton hasn’t decided what to do with his starters in Week 17”
  1. l0yalr0yal says: Dec 27, 2011 5:27 PM

    I’m kind of torn here. Aside from Mark Ingram, the saints are almost completely healthy heading in to the playoffs. If anyone keeps up, you’ll note that for the last few years, we have been missing several key defensive starters going in to the post-season. I would want to preserve the record, of course, but it’s a scary thought, especially after seeing how good they look when the whole team is healthy (as evident from last night).

  2. jtbaudendistel says: Dec 27, 2011 5:29 PM

    Rest up boys. SanFrancisco is not losing to the Rams so your game is meaningless. Then again, SanFran might be forced to start Bret Swain at WR this week due to injuries and Edwards being cut. Rams upset?

  3. 13forgbp says: Dec 27, 2011 5:29 PM

    These records must be super important to these guys. I have to wonder how many yards and TDs Rodgers would have had this year if McCarthy had a little more Belichick/Payton in him and called an entire game like they were losing by 14 instead of up by 3 scores. Rodgers has the numbers he does basically in 13 games since he has been pulled a number of times and often they go into kneel down mode with 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter.

  4. ttommytom says: Dec 27, 2011 5:38 PM

    I lost respect for Brees and Payton. They should be going for that 30 yards this coming week. It would have shown the world that winning and class go hand in hand and that records are a distant third. What goes around comes around…

  5. southcakpanther says: Dec 27, 2011 5:39 PM

    I hope the Saints take my Panthers lightly this Sunday.

  6. dvdman123 says: Dec 27, 2011 5:39 PM

    Does anyone know why Pete Prisco has not been fired by CBS Sportline.com yet after his crazy Tweet last night encouraging the Falcons to injure Drew Brees. What a nut!!!!!!!!!!

  7. jakek2 says: Dec 27, 2011 5:41 PM

    Payton loves the stats. If he plays Brees into the 4th Q to preserve that meaningless, watered-down stat, nothing would be better to that score-runner-upper than Brees getting slammed on his throwing shoulder.

  8. bordner says: Dec 27, 2011 5:44 PM

    Rodgers could theoretically break Brady’s record for TD’s in a season if he played the whole game this Sunday, but that’s never going to happen. Those kinds of records are nice, but it’s not worth it if the single most important player on your team gets hurt and knocked out of the playoffs trying to set the record.

    Even if Brady passes him this year, the way NO throws the ball, Brees will probably be in the same position next year. And even if he does end up with the record at the end of this season, with the way the league is becoming more pass-happy each year, his record won’t last as long as Marino’s did anyway.

  9. cdsaints says: Dec 27, 2011 5:46 PM

    Dec 27, 2011 5:29 PM
    These records must be super important to these guys. I have to wonder how many yards and TDs Rodgers would have had this year if McCarthy had a little more Belichick/Payton in him and called an entire game like they were losing by 14 instead of up by 3 scores. Rodgers has the numbers he does basically in 13 games since he has been pulled a number of times and often they go into kneel down mode with 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter.

    ========================

    Don’t kid yourself there. Brees has been pulled in the 4th on at least two occasions that I can think of.

  10. commandercornpone says: Dec 27, 2011 5:55 PM

    here’s a thought. brady has to play the whole game cause the pats have zero pass defense.

    they had a 3 td lead and were covering over indy. then indy scored TWICE and had the ball when time ran out.

    they are hard to pick as a (large) favorite.

  11. teal379 says: Dec 27, 2011 5:55 PM

    13forgbp says:
    Dec 27, 2011 5:29 PM
    These records must be super important to these guys. I have to wonder how many yards and TDs Rodgers would have had this year if McCarthy had a little more Belichick/Payton in him and called an entire game like they were losing by 14 instead of up by 3 scores. Rodgers has the numbers he does basically in 13 games since he has been pulled a number of times and often they go into kneel down mode with 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter.

    *********************************************
    Drew has 622 attempts to Aaron’s 502 attempts. If you assume Aaron holds his completion percentage the same and had the same attempts that Drew has – he’d end up with 424 completed passes with an average completion of 13.5 yards per completion this year.

    Aaron would have 5724 yards and 56 TD’s already this season. He averages a TD every 11.1 pass attempt so if he held that across Drew’s attempts – that’s 56 TDs this year.

    None of it really means anything -they’re both truly elite QB’s (a word more overused these days).

    That said – Aaron and Brady DO play outside alot – Aaron’s outside a minimum of 9 games a year, 13 times this year. This year, Drew played inside 11 games this year.

    Comparing the 2 is just mental games really – in the end I don’t know of a team that wouldn’t want either guy running their offense.

  12. grandpoopah says: Dec 27, 2011 6:16 PM

    Give me a break. Obviously, the passing record is of the utmost importance to Payton and Brees, so of course Payton will play his starters (at least on offense). Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been passing last night with the game already well in hand. Expect Brees to throw 50+ passes on Sunday.

  13. 504in860 says: Dec 27, 2011 6:18 PM

    southcakpanther says:
    Dec 27, 2011 5:39 PM
    I hope the Saints take my Panthers lightly this Sunday.
    ———————————————–

    Better hope that horrible Panthers D figures out a way to stop the Saints O in the Superdome…where the Saints are averaging 40 points per game this season.

  14. kevpft says: Dec 27, 2011 6:25 PM

    I suspect Brees will play the full game, because unless the 49ers-Rams game is an early blowout, the outcome of that one probably won’t be determined until late. The 49ers probably won’t score too many points, so even if they control the game they won’t be out of reach of the Rams until late, if at all.

    It’s possible that the Pats could also blow the Bills out early, but even if that happens, the stakes are so much higher for them that I’d expect Brady to be throwing right up to the end of the game. I would not want to bet on Belichick relaxing, ever.

    And besides, Payton already kept Brees in the game once when it was unnecessary – when the game was already decided on Monday – so why wouldn’t he do it again?

    As for the record, even if Brees ends up with it, it will most likely end up as a year when two QBs broke Marino’s record, not just one. It’s a big-deal record to have, but no matter which guy ends up with it, it’ll be a little less shiny for two people blowing past the old mark.

  15. mistersmith22 says: Dec 27, 2011 6:59 PM

    Forget that stupid record, especially since he didn’t lock it up he just claimed it for now — because the real question is why were Brees, Graham, Sproles, etc. still in the game in the 4th quarter LAST NIGHT?

  16. childressrulz says: Dec 27, 2011 7:52 PM

    Brees better take advantage and pad his stats while he can. He is getting old and throwing a lot of picks these days.

  17. imjinbrdgr says: Dec 27, 2011 8:13 PM

    You can’t hit the QB. You can’t hit the receiver. Wake me up when someone passes for 10,000 yds

  18. jaltreality says: Dec 27, 2011 8:46 PM

    @mistersmith22 and others:

    In the fourth quarter, the game was still a two-score game for the Falcons. It is beyond conceivable, certainly possible, not unheard of, though obviously short of probable, that the Falcons could have mounted a come back.

    The Falcons did not waive a white flag. They went for it on fourth down three or four times in the fourth quarter. They did not pull their starters.

    Why should the Saints have pulled their starters at their point? The game only became a true rout in the last final minutes. Besides, why not get rid of the media distraction that was the Marino record before Week 17? And, finally, if you were an athlete, wouldn’t you want the record too?

    All of this stuff is nonsense. Were they concerned about the record? Of course. And they should be: they are competitors. It’s also why the Packers should have gone for a perfect season if they could have, and why the Colts should have gone for it as well. Setting history is a part of the wonderful world of sports.

    But if they were as obsessed as some think, they wouldn’t have pulled Drew & Co. in the fourth quarter against the Vikings, or against the Colts in that destruction of their team earlier in the year. They would have left them in to pad the stats. Yet they did pull them.

  19. 504in860 says: Dec 27, 2011 9:35 PM

    childressrulz says:
    Dec 27, 2011 7:52 PM
    Brees better take advantage and pad his stats while he can. He is getting old and throwing a lot of picks these days.
    ———————————————-

    Hadn’t thrown 1 in almost 2 months until last night. He also throws lots of TDs too…no?

  20. fmwarner says: Dec 27, 2011 9:51 PM

    They should play their starters simply because they have a chance at a bye. The Rams may be 2-13, but they did beat the Saints. Anything can happen.

  21. gimmeabruschi says: Dec 27, 2011 9:57 PM

    Of course Brees will play, and probably the whole game. He and the Saints want that record badly. If he gets hurt after the game is well in hand because he stayed in to keep ahead of Brady then the grab for the glory will be costly indeed.

  22. 1fast84 says: Dec 27, 2011 10:13 PM

    Hey do you know who broke drew brees’ single season passing record at Purdue= Curtis Painter I’m not lying look it up!

  23. j0esixpack says: Dec 27, 2011 11:38 PM

    It’s an interesting question – do you let a player go for a record and jeopardize a potential Super Bowl year?

    Belichick would probably put the best interests of the team first – yet even he is very cognizant of NFL history, and we definitely saw him go all in for 19-0 when teams like the Colts and Packers caved under pressure.

    My guess would be that if Brees sits and the Patriots had a blowout win he’d sit Brady to save him and protect him – maybe we’ll even see that happen.

  24. dvdman123 says: Dec 28, 2011 12:59 AM

    The Saints still have a shot a No. 2 seed so it’s a no brainer that Brees will play. Remember this is the Rams team the Niners are playing that in some miraculous fashion beat the Saints this season.

  25. rezburna says: Dec 28, 2011 2:39 AM

    teal379 says:
    Dec 27, 2011 5:55 PM

    Drew has 622 attempts to Aaron’s 502 attempts. If you assume Aaron holds his completion percentage the same and had the same attempts that Drew has – he’d end up with 424 completed passes with an average completion of 13.5 yards per completion this year.

    Aaron would have 5724 yards and 56 TD’s already this season. He averages a TD every 11.1 pass attempt so if he held that across Drew’s attempts – that’s 56 TDs this year.

    None of it really means anything -they’re both truly elite QB’s (a word more overused these days).

    That said – Aaron and Brady DO play outside alot – Aaron’s outside a minimum of 9 games a year, 13 times this year. This year, Drew played inside 11 games this year.

    Comparing the 2 is just mental games really – in the end I don’t know of a team that wouldn’t want either guy running their offense.
    ___________________________________

    It’s a testament to Drew Brees that even though he has over 100 more attempts, his completion percentage is still better. The Saints also have a very solid running game. A top 10 running game actually. They play pretty balanced football. We can pick these guys apart all day, but Aaron Rodgers isn’t better then Brees, and Brees isn’t better then Rodgers. They’re dead even. Including their Super Bowl victories.

  26. bearsstillsuck says: Dec 28, 2011 2:57 AM

    Everybody knows brees will play. I had respect for him until he was throwing throwing pass late in the falcons game when they were up twenty. Clearly he cares more about the record than anything else and for that I lost all respect for brees and the franchise.

  27. CKL says: Dec 28, 2011 11:26 AM

    Crikey, grow up you people whining about Brees throwing late. Let me guess…you ALSO wish the rules were less flag football like but you are complaining about offenses still keeping their feet on the gas pedal?

    Teams go for records all the time, whether it’s team records or NFL. No shame in it . IMO As long as WINNING is the #1 goal (unlike how the Colts handled it when they went for individual records in 09 after wimping out on the TEAM achievement of a perfect season) it’s fine.

  28. dukemarc says: Dec 28, 2011 12:03 PM

    @jaltreality says: Dec 27, 2011 8:46 PM

    22 Points is two scores these days? That’s some crazy NOLA math you got going there.

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