Drew Brees on Case Keenum: 'I always root for guys like that'

METAIRIE, La. -- Drew Brees deftly avoided the media blitz Wednesday, refusing to play along with the “playoff experience matters” storyline.

The New Orleans Saints quarterback will be making his 13th career postseason start on Sunday, while Minnesota Vikings QB Case Keenum will be making his first. But whenever the subject came up, Brees just talked about how he has always treated every game with the same magnitude, even when he was making his own first playoff start 13 years ago with the then-San Diego Chargers.

Brees also spoke highly of Keenum -- a fellow undersized underdog at 6-foot-1, who went undrafted out of the University of Houston in 2012 and switched teams four times (Texans/Rams/Texans/Rams/Vikings) before this breakout season.

“I always root for guys like that, kind of the undersized guy coming out that nobody wants to give any credit and just always plays with a chip on his shoulder,” Brees said. “Case has done a phenomenal job, phenomenal job. I’ve been really happy for him, just knowing him a little bit and knowing the road he’s traveled to get where he is.

“Case is his own guy, but we can relate. I think there’s just kind of that mentality of having the chip on your shoulder, always being told you couldn’t do it for whatever reason, height whatever. But I love the way that guy plays, and he’s played extremely well for his team.”

Likewise, Keenum has long followed the 6-foot tall Brees, who is the gold standard for guys like him.

“Great player, even better human being,” Keenum said of Brees. “He’s obviously a guy I’ve looked up to for a long time. I study him just about every offseason, just looking at things that he does well mechanically, decision-making. An elite guy that has been playing at a really high level for a really long time.

“Plus he’s from Texas. You know, the Texas quarterback thing there. We have some pride coming from Texas.”

Obviously neither QB will take this week’s opportunity for granted.

One thing Brees has learned through 17 years of NFL experience is how hard it is to get to a Super Bowl -- he has only done it once. And the Saints missed the playoffs at 7-9 in each of the past three years.

Brees, who turns 39 next week, downplayed the idea that he appreciates this opportunity more because his window is closing. But he sure played like a guy who doesn’t plan on squandering this opportunity last week.

Brees had his best full-game performance of the entire season in New Orleans’ 31-26 wild-card victory over the Carolina Panthers, with 376 yards and two touchdowns.

“Even if I was in Year 2, not Year 17, it’s still the fact that it gets whittled down the further you go here,” Brees said. “We’re in the ‘Elite Eight,’ trying to get to the ‘Final Four,’ then trying to get a chance to win it all. This is crunch time. This is where you want to be playing your best. This is what you play the regular season for.

“You get paid to play in the regular season, this is for free. I’d pay it all back just to be in this position. This is where it’s fun.”

The Panthers screwed up a bit by focusing so much on stopping the Saints’ outstanding rushing attack, led by Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara -- and basically dared Brees to beat them.

He happily obliged.

“You’re always ready for that,” said Brees, who didn’t complain all season about his slightly diminished role in the offense (he had his fewest attempts, yards, touchdowns and interceptions per game in 12 seasons with the Saints, while setting the NFL record for completion percentage).

“It’s just a matter of when the opportunities will come and if you’re in that type of game,” Brees said. “We’ve had plenty of those game in the past. It doesn’t change the way I prepare or visualize the game as I go through the week. You’re always ready to be in position to make the play if you’re called upon.”

This week will offer an even stiffer challenge, though, because the Vikings' No. 1-ranked defense is built to stop the run and the pass at the same time (as they did in a 29-19 Week 1 victory over the Saints, when they held New Orleans to 60 rushing yards on 21 carries).

Brees finished with 291 passing yards and a touchdown in that game, but 75 of those yards and the TD came in the final four minutes after the game had been decided.

Brees and Saints coach Sean Payton both praised the Vikings this week for having a lethal combination of great coach (Mike Zimmer), great scheme and great players. Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith are both first-team All-Pros, while edge rusher Everson Griffen is a second-teamer.

Brees’ 13th playoff start will have to be one of his best if he plans on making No. 14 in the NFC Championship Game.