Brees, Saints sky-high

OWINGS MILLS. Md. -- Drew Brees' defiant career renaissance has closely mirrored the resurgence of the New Orleans Saints. The quarterback with the surgically repaired right shoulder has regained his gunslinging Pro Bowl form, silencing doubters who predicted he would never be the same after tearing his labrum late last year.

And the Saints, a traditionally downtrodden franchise that skidded to a 3-13 mark last season that threatened their existence in New Orleans with the owner threatening to move them to Los Angeles, have emerged as a heroic, hopeful symbol for a region devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
Behind Brees' clutch passing that ranks seventh in the NFL statistically, the Saints (5-1) have reached an unusual position. They're leading the NFC South heading into Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens.
"I play with poise and leadership," Brees said. "That's what I pride myself on, and what I tell myself all the time. I know I'm prepared and can make every throw, and I know every situation that comes up. I have a plan."
Brees' arrival in New Orleans was paved by the Saints taking a medical risk on him that his former team -- the San Diego Chargers who chose promising youngster Philip Rivers over him -- and multiple other quarterback-needy teams, including Baltimore, were unwilling to chance. The Saints signed Brees to a six-year, $60 million contract without hesitation.
Brees, who was only seriously pursued by the Saints and Miami Dolphins, chose to join a historically inept organization infamous for its fans wearing bags over their heads.
"I had a lot of people tell me that I was crazy for even considering it, but I didn't even look at it like that," Brees said. "I looked at it as a fresh start for me. I feel like it was my calling, like it was what I was meant to do.
"I believe everything happens for a reason, and this was the next step in my life: an opportunity that I couldn't pass up."
The Saints are thrilled with Brees' leadership and production.
It was Brees who led them to a 27-24 triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles that dispelled criticism that the Saints hadn't beaten anyone legitimate.
He set up John Carney's game-winning field goal by engineering a flawless drive where he completed all eight of his passes for 68 yards. He completed 27 of 37 passes for 275 yards against a stingy Philadelphia defense.
"I think he's got a calming demeanor that's important to have," first-year Saints coach Sean Payton said.
Brees has completed 66.7 percent of his throws for 1,509 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions and a 92.8 passer rating. He has taken advantage of his weapons, spreading the football around to multi-dimensional running back Reggie Bush (38 catches), seventh-round discovery Marques Colston (27 catches, four touchdowns) and veteran Joe Horn (25 catches).
"They have great confidence in him," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He's a big part of why they are where they are right now."
Brees has mastered the fourth quarter where he leads the league with a 127.8 rating. In the fourth quarter, he has 71.4 percent accuracy for three touchdowns and no interceptions.
"He's a smart quarterback," linebacker Bart Scott said. "He knows where the ball is supposed to go. He's making quick decisions and putting the balls in the hands of his playmakers."
Brees almost never got to this point where he could reap the rewards of a grueling offseason of rehabilitation after being operated on by Dr. James Andrews, the renowned orthopedic surgeon.
When Brees fumbled against the Denver Broncos on New Year's Eve last year and defensive tackle Gerard Warren damaged his shoulder by pouncing on him, he thought his career might be over.
"Right when it happened, I was scared to death," Brees recounted. "Of all the terrible things that could have happened, that was just about the worst. Right when it happened, I just had a bad feeling that was the last time I was going to put on a San Diego Chargers uniform."
Since Brees' prescient feeling, Rivers has thrived in his first year as the Chargers' starter.
And Brees is back to familiar, winning business. Just as he did following a torn knee ligament to lead Austin's Westlake High School to a Texas state title, just as he did when he helped Purdue win a share of its first Big Ten title in 33 years and just as he spearheaded the Chargers to an AFC West title, Brees is getting the job done in New Orleans.
"I just looked at it as a tremendous challenge," Brees said. "I was going to come back and be stronger than I had ever been before."
The Saints convinced Brees to make them his first visit in free agency, aggressively pursuing him by sending owner Tom Benson's private jet to fly in Brees and his wife.
It didn't take long to strike a deal.
"It really was just a matter of me looking them in the eye and saying, ‘You are going to have to trust in me that I'm going to overcome this and that I'm going to come back,'" Brees said. "There was not a shred of doubt in their eyes, I promise that.
"They were the only team that didn't have that shred of doubt, and that's why I'm here. The confidence they had in me matched the confidence in myself."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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