In the last two weeks alone, Brees has thrown for 784 yards in a loss to Denver and a win over San Francisco. He has hit on 62 of 83 passes with four TDs and one interception and has a passer rating of 114.7 for those two outings.
In short, the Saints are on a roll when it comes to the passing game. And the kind of hot hand Brees currently possesses should come in handy when the Saints (2-2) take on the Minnesota Vikings (1-3) on Monday night in the Superdome.
While the Saints had some semblance of a running game in the win over the 49ers, thanks to the return of power back Deuce McAllister, they still rank near the bottom of the league with an average of 87.0 yards per game.
Since the Vikings rank third in the NFL in allowing just 71.8 rushing yards a game, the Saints will likely be inclined to ride Brees' right arm again — especially if they can do even the slightest damage with the run.
The Saints certainly are airing it out like they did in 2006 in Payton's first season with the team. After recording just eight passes of 40 yards or more in all of 2007, the Saints already have six pass plays that have gone for 40 yards or more in just four games — including gains of 47, 52 and 81 yards against the Niners.
"I was encouraged with the down-the-field throws we were able to hit," Payton said Monday. "That aspect of our offense has improved so far, and it's something we have to be able to continue to improve and work on."
The encouraging thing is the Saints have done that without their top two wide receivers — Marques Colston and David Patten — because of injuries. Backups Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem have come up big in their absence.
Moore, a practice squad player in 2005 and most of ‘06, has caught 14 passes for 179 yards and two TDs in the last two games. Meachem is averaging 40.8 yards per catch on five receptions and Henderson has averaged 35.5 yards on six grabs, which rank 1-2 in the league.
Brees has connected with Henderson (84 and 81) and Meachem (74) for three of the seven longest pass plays in the league so far this season.
"One of the things you're seeing with Drew is he's got a great ability to see the defense," said Payton, an aggressive play caller by nature. "His decision-making has been outstanding. He's seeing the game in its entirety, and it's real clear where he wants to go with the ball. And we have some big-body guys that can run and stretch the field, and that makes it easier."
Payton said he's called more deep passes so far this season because of Brees' hot hand and because his quarterback quickly finds a check-down or an alternate receiver in the long ball isn't there, thus avoiding second- or third-and-10 situations.
"(The receivers) understand the importance of painting a clear picture for Drew and letting him sort through where he wants to go with it," Payton said. "As long as we continue to work on painting the right picture for the quarterback, it allows me as a play caller to be real aggressive and not have to be conservative."
SERIES HISTORY: 25th meeting. The Vikings lead the series, 17-7, and have won three in a row as well as six of the last seven matchups dating to the 1994 season. In their most recent meeting, the Vikings claimed a 33-16 victory in the Metrodome on Sept. 25, 2005. The Vikings also hold a 2-0 edge in postseason play, beating the Saints in 1987 and 2000.
With the exception of wide receiver Marques Colston (thumb), tight end Jeremy Shockey (sports hernia) and cornerback Aaron Glenn (ankle), the Saints seem to be close to returning to full strength after a spate of injuries the last three weeks.
Only five players did not practice Wednesday and there were only 12 players on the injury report compared to 14 last Friday.
Some of the seven players who worked on a limited basis Wednesday did so because the team had an extra practice scheduled since they play on Monday night this week.
BY THE NUMBERS: 18 — Players on the Saints' Opening Day roster who have already missed at least one game because of injury or NFL suspension.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Thirteen penalties (are) really unacceptable and is something we have to work on. That will cost us down the road if we can't get that corrected." — Saints coach Sean Payton on the penalties assessed against his team last Sunday, the most in his 38-game tenure (counting playoffs) as the team's coach.