Drew Brees and Saints’ performances deserve a thumbs-up all around
NEW ORLEANS – That’s a thumbs-up all the way around.
The most-discussed thumb in New Orleans held up just fine and the Saints kept rolling with a 31-9 victory against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday afternoon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Drew Brees played for the first time since undergoing thumb surgery on Sept. 18 and threw 43 passes. He completed 34 to 11 different receivers, including touchdowns to Latavius Murray, Taysom Hill and Michael Thomas.
The Saints (7-1) won their sixth straight game and got their first victory with Brees since a 30-28 win against Houston in the season opener 48 days earlier
It was a triumphant return for Brees, but the Saints demonstrated their completeness as a team just as they had in going undefeated with Teddy Bridgewater filling in ably for Brees.
Thomas caught 11 passes to add to his NFL-leading total and finished with 112 yards.
Murray had his second straight 100-yard game as a replacement for Alvin Kamara, who was inactive for a second consecutive game because of an ankle injury, finishing with 102 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.
New Orleans out-gained Arizona 510-237, holding their fifth consecutive opponent to fewer than 260 yards and their second opponent in three weeks without a touchdown.
The Saints led just 17-9 after three quarters, but finally took command when Brees threw fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Hill and Thomas.
That allowed head coach Sean Payton to pull Brees and send in Bridgewater for the final possession. The Saints fans, who had serenaded Bridgewater with chants of “Ted-dy, Ted-dy, Ted-dy” when he appeared on the video screens, gave him a loud ovation and resumed the chant when he entered the game.
Payton said neither the game plan nor the play calling was limited because of Brees’ thumb.
And Brees showed no ill effects from the injury, the layoff or the light protective splint he wore on the thumb.
The Saints, who operate primarily out of the shotgun formation, had Brees under center for the game’s first play as if to demonstrate that the thumb could handle the more stressful snap.
Brees had no problem accepting the snap and handed off to Murray. On the second play he overthrew tight end Dan Arnold.
“Early on there was a lot of excitement,” Brees said, “shaking the rust off.”
Brees’ only mistake was a third-quarter interception by former LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, but he said the thumb had nothing to do with it.
“Just a bad decision,” he said. “I got greedy.”
The Saints could have been considered a little greedy for playing Brees this week and bypassing the two-weeks-for-one recuperative opportunity offered by the bye week next week.
But Brees said “this is the week I had in my mind from the moment I got hurt.”
Payton’s approach was simple: he was going to play Brees as soon as Brees was physically able to play.
That became clear after Brees looked “fabulous all week in practice,” according to Payton.
Now Brees has plenty of time to get over any soreness that might result from Sunday’s game. Kamara did get the two-for-one deal as he recovers from a high ankle sprain.
The Saints reached the mid-point of the season with sole possession of the NFC South, which they will still have when they return to play Atlanta on Nov. 10 in the Superdome.
“This is a close, resilient group,” Payton said when asked what he had learned of this team after eight games.
There were reminders everywhere Sunday of where this group could be headed, especially with Brees back and apparently as good as ever.
It was Saints Hall of Fame weekend. Two key members of New Orleans’ only Super Bowl team – Reggie Bush and Marques Colston – were enshrined Saturday night and celebrated throughout Sunday’s game.
The opponent was the same one Bush and Colston helped the Saints beat to kick off their post-season run in that championship season 10 years ago.
And the MVP of that Super Bowl was back and looking like he and his team are capable of reprising that performance.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…