The Saints have had, over the past two years, heartbreaking exits from the postseason. Coach Sean Payton has expressed confidence that they’ll be able to return to 0-0 and climb once again.
Maybe they’ll be able to process the heartbreak of the Minneapolis Miracle and the NFC Championship non-call debacle, but there will be another potential challenge to deal with in 2019: Will quarterback Drew Brees still be quarterback Drew Brees, or will he begin to feel the effects of Father Time?
Tom Brady has made us all think that through sheer force of will (and avocado ice cream), quarterbacks can play well, well into their 40s. Brees turned 40 in January. And some would say that, already, age is starting to affect his game.
How often did the Saints use Taysom Hill to throw the deep ball last year? How often did Brees throw a deep ball that didn’t go quite as deep as he wanted?
The first play from scrimmage in the divisional-round game against the Eagles was a long ball to Ted Ginn, but Brees underthrew it, the Eagles picked it off, and before the smoke had cleared from pre-game introductions Philly led 14-0. The next week, when receiver Tommylee Lewis was uncovered and Nickell Robey-Coleman was sprinting across the defensive formation, Brees didn’t get the ball to Lewis fast enough to take advantage of the obvious hole in the Rams’ defense.
Other potential evidence would be more subtle. How often were big plays the result of expertly-designed plays by Payton, and how often were big plays the result of Brees making a big throw in a big spot? There’s a creative and healthy tension between play designer and quarterback; it’s fair to wonder whether Brees is, and more importantly, will be holding up his end of the bargain by making decisions and throws and crisply and forcefully as he once did.
If he can’t, the Saints won’t have to worry about another heartbreaking loss in the playoffs, because they likely won’t make it that far.