METAIRIE, La. — Drew Brees spreads credit for another NFL record that he’s on the verge of reclaiming this week.
When the New Orleans Saints’ star quarterback takes the field in Tampa Bay on Sunday, he’ll do so with a completion rate of 71.9 percent, slightly better than the single-season record of 71.7 percent set by Minnesota’s Sam Bradford last season.
Unless Brees has one of his worst games this season against the Buccaneers’ last-ranked pass defense, he’ll own that record again as he prepares for New Orleans’ first trip to the playoffs in four seasons.
“We’ve got guys that run good routes and catch the ball. We’ve got a good scheme, got guys that block,” Brees said. “There’s so much that goes into that.”
Still, the statistic indicates how efficient Brees has been, even while throwing for potentially his fewest yards passing in a season since joining the Saints and offensive-minded coach Sean Payton in 2006.
But if New Orleans is asking Brees to do less, it seems to have less to do with his age — he turns 39 next month — than the lessons of seasons past; Brees’ 2017 numbers most closely resemble those of 2009, a season in which New Orleans won its only Super Bowl.
“We’re not in the business of playing fantasy football,” Saints coach Sean Payton said when asked about Brees on Wednesday. “We’re in the business of winning.
“So, if that upsets all the people that have a player on our offense or defense or somewhere in the fantasy games of the world, then that’s tough,” Payton continued. “Our job is to win, and that’s probably one of the first criteria that you’re graded at as quarterback. And he knows that.”
Brees, who has four 5,000-yard seasons and two others of better than 4,800, said many of his most prolific yardage totals have come “out of necessity.”
In many of those seasons, the Saints might have struggled defensively or weren’t running the ball as well as they are now — or both.
Currently, the championship run of 2009 also ranks as Brees’ least prolific in terms of yards passing with 4,388. This season, he has 4,089 with one game left.
That season, the backfield tandem of Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush helped the Saints rank sixth in rushing and gave Brees two effective options in the screen pass game.
This season, the tandem of Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara has provided Brees with similar support.
New Orleans ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing and the Saints’ screen game has enjoyed a resurgence.
“New Orleans is doing on offense what every team in the NFL wants to do. They’re controlling the game with their running game and then they have a (likely) Hall of Fame quarterback that takes advantage of every mistake a secondary makes,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said.
“When you’re running the football, you get cleaner looks in the passing game. He’s always been an unbelievably accurate quarterback and they’re throwing a ton of screens. That’s always good for your percentage as well.”
Indeed, Brees’ 2017 numbers resemble those of 2009 in several categories.
Brees completed a then-NFL record 71.6 percent of his passes in his Super Bowl MVP season. He also had a 3-1 TD pass to interception ratio (34-11) and averaged 8.5 yards per attempt.
With one game left this season, Brees has passed for similar yardage, has a slightly better completion percentage, is approaching a 3-1 TD-interception ratio (22-8) and has averaged 8.1 yards per attempt.
Brees was intercepted on only 2.1 percent of his passes in 2009. He’s at 1.6 percent — lowest mark of his career — with one game left this season.
Brees has averaged about 34 attempts per game. If that number holds at Tampa Bay, and Brees completes 56 percent or better of his throws for the game, he’s virtually assured of eclipsing Bradford’s mark.
“Drew is just so consistent,” Ingram said. “There’s no secret why he’s had so much success. It’s just his preparation, his attention to detail, his passion and his desire to be great. If we’re running the ball effectively, that’s just going to help him elevate his game even more.”
NOTES: Brees said he’ll travel to Texas early next week to attend funeral services for his grandfather, Ray Akins, a World War II veteran and longtime high school football coach, who died Tuesday at age 92. Brees said he had a chance to see Akins at his ranch in Texas several weeks ago and “had a feeling that might be the last time. … He lived an unbelievable life. He taught me so much about life, about respecting others, about caring for others, about discipline, about hard work.” … Saints fullback John Kuhn returned to practice after being designated to return from injured reserve. Kuhn, who went on injured reserve with a biceps injury in Week 4, won’t be able to play again this season unless the Saints win their first playoff game.