Saints quarterback Drew Brees wore an NFL Films microphone for Sunday’s regular-season finale, and the audio that was played on Inside the NFL this week showed that Brees spent much of the second half concerned about recognition for his teammates — but declining recognition for himself.
The Saints have been criticized in some quarters for continuing to play their top offensive players deep into their final two wins over the Falcons and the Panthers in an attempt to pad their stats, and there’s no question they were doing that late in the game against the Panthers. Brees, coach Sean Payton and others on the sideline were keenly aware of how much yardage Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles needed to break the records for receiving yards in a season by a tight end and for all-purpose yards in a season.
Backup quarterback Chase Daniel checked the stats and went to Brees on the sideline and said, “Jimmy’s like 25 away.” Brees then went to Graham and told him the route he wanted Graham to run to get him those 25 yards.
Later, Payton approached Brees and said, “Sproles is four yards shy of the all time–” and before Payton could finish, Brees said, “Get it to him. Get it to him.”
Payton then told Brees that he should hand off to Sproles on the first play of the next drive and then come out of the game, so that Brees could get one last ovation from the home fans as he trotted off the field. But Brees told Payton that if it was time to put Daniel in, he should do it immediately.
“Coach, you don’t need to do that,” Brees said.
Brees then went to Daniel and told him he’d go in to start the next possession.
“He wanted to pull me out after the first play so everybody could clap, but I told him that’s not necessary,” Brees told Daniel. “You’re up. It’s your show.”
Daniel then went in, and his first play was a handoff to Sproles for eight yards, earning the new all-purpose yardage record. Daniel also threw twice to Graham, who briefly held the tight end receiving yardage record, although he lost that record within minutes, as the Patriots also had their backup quarterback throwing late in the game, and New England’s Rob Gronkowski ended up taking the record from Graham.