METAIRIE, La. -- Drew Brees has not announced when he plans to retire. So there has been no sort of formal “farewell tour” surrounding his 20th NFL season.
But just in case this happens to be his last Monday Night Football appearance, it’s worth appreciating how many special moments the New Orleans Saints quarterback has experienced on this prime-time stage.
According to ESPN Stats and Info, Brees broke the NFL records for career passing yards, career passing touchdowns, single-season passing yards and single-game completion percentage on Monday nights. He produced the only perfect passer rating of his career in a Monday night win over the New England Patriots during the Saints’ 2009 Super Bowl season. And no one in New Orleans will ever forget the night Brees, Steve Gleason and the Saints helped breathe new life into the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina in 2006.
Brees has racked up 17 300-yard passing games and six games with at least four touchdown passes on Monday nights -- both the most in NFL history.
It’s “absolutely” still special, the 41-year-old said as he heads into Monday’s game against his former team, the Los Angeles Chargers, in the Superdome (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).
“There’s a level of nostalgia there, from being a kid watching it to having the opportunity to play on Monday Night Football,” Brees said. “And now going on 20 years, there’s been some great moments, some very memorable moments, some huge games that we’ve been able to be a part of. So hopefully that continues.”
This will almost certainly be Brees’ final game against the Chargers -- the team that drafted him in 2001 and let him leave in free agency in 2006 -- since NFC and AFC teams only meet once every four years.
Brees is 3-0 in his previous revenge matches. He was less nostalgic about what the opponent means to him -- though he said he’d be “lying” if he didn’t admit he would be a little sentimental.
“It’s part of the journey,” Brees said. “When I was drafted by the Chargers back in ’01, it was my hope, my plan to be the franchise quarterback there for my whole career. And obviously that didn’t happen, and that was for a reason. There was some divine intervention there, I believe. And it brought me here -- probably one of the last places I thought I would ever end up. And yet, when you look at the last 15 years here with Sean Payton and so many others, that’s the way it was supposed to be.”
More than anything on Monday night, however, Brees wants to make sure he and the Saints (2-2) head into the Week 6 bye on a high note.
They revived their season with a come-from-behind win at Detroit last week, which included the best performance of the year so far from Brees and New Orleans’ offense.
The low point actually came on another Monday night in Week 2, when the Saints lost 34-24 at Las Vegas -- and Brees was heavily scrutinized for not getting the ball downfield.
But Brees and the offense have found a better rhythm over the past two weeks, and now they might get receiver Michael Thomas back from a Week 1 ankle injury.
“I don’t think you can really make a true determination whether (the Saints’ lack of downfield throws) is weapon-related, Drew-related, or what it is. I think we still need more time,” said Monday Night Football analyst Louis Riddick, who said we will learn more once Thomas returns and Brees continues to develop a rhythm with newly-signed receiver Emmanuel Sanders, among others. “But I do start to worry. Because, look, I’ve seen quarterbacks in my front office career, I’ve played against quarterbacks who were aging. It’s gonna happen to everyone.
“I think you’re seeing that with Drew, I think you’re seeing that he’s had to change his style. But as they would tell you, too, efficiency is the name of the game, moving the football is the name of the game, scoring points is the name of the game. And if they can still do that, then they don’t really care.
“It doesn’t look quite the same, I will say that. … He’s not the same player he was five years ago, obviously, and I don’t think anyone would expect him to be. But I am still waiting to see over time here how much his physical skills have actually diminished, because everyone’s do.”
Brees’ friend and former Chargers teammate LaDainian Tomlinson also pointed to the adjustments Brees has had to make with Thomas out of the lineup and with no offseason to work with Sanders. So he said that he thinks the intense scrutiny Brees was under a couple weeks ago was premature.
“That’s what happens as you get older, people question if this is it, if this is the cliff that you’re gonna fall off of,” said Tomlinson, who is now an analyst for the NFL Network. “I just think it’s remarkable what Drew continues to do, even at his age to continuously get better and adjust his game to what this team needs -- not the Drew of five, seven, eight years ago.”
Indeed, Brees’ Monday night highlights span his 20s, 30s and 40s. Here are his top five moments.
Sept. 25, 2006: Saints 23, Falcons 3
In the unforgettable words of former MNF broadcaster Mike Tirico, “Touchdown, New Orleans!”
Brees threw for 191 yards and no touchdowns in his home debut for the Saints -- but it still might rank as the most memorable regular-season win of his career. It was the night the Saints returned home to the rebuilt Superdome one year after Katrina devastated the city and forced the team to spend a season in San Antonio. Gleason blocked a punt on the opening drive, producing an unforgettable eruption of emotion from the home crowd. The Saints beat their biggest rivals and ushered in the greatest era in franchise history under Brees and new coach Sean Payton.
Nov. 30, 2009: Saints 38, Patriots 17
The Saints were already 10-0 on their way to the Super Bowl title. But Brees took perfection to a new level in this prove-it victory over Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Brees completed 18 of 23 passes for 371 yards, five TDs and no interceptions to produce the only perfect 158.3 passer rating of his career.
Dec. 26, 2011: Saints 45, Falcons 16
Brees needed just 15 games to break Dan Marino’s 27-year-old NFL record for single-season passing yards, which he did with a 9-yard TD pass to Darren Sproles in the final minutes. Alas, his record of 5,476 yards was broken by Peyton Manning two years later. But the Saints’ team record of 7,474 yards gained in 2011 still stands.
Oct. 8, 2018: Saints 43, Redskins 19
We knew going into the game Brees would break Manning’s record of 71,940 career passing yards. But the way he did it was spectacular -- a 62-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Tre’Quan Smith en route to 363 yards and three TDs.
“It played out even greater than I ever could've imagined," Brees said after the game, which included a midgame ceremony on the field with his family present to commemorate the moment. At the time, Brees’ completion percentage of 89.7 in that game (23-of-26) was a career best. But stay tuned …
Dec. 16, 2019: Saints 34, Colts 7
At this point Brees’ broken records are starting to feel like -- well, a broken record. This time, Brees broke Manning’s record of 539 career TD passes with a 5-yarder to tight end Josh Hill. And he did it while completing an NFL single-game record 96.7% of his passes (29-of-30) for 307 yards, four TDs and no interceptions at age 40.
“I don't know how they pick 'em,” Brees said after the game. “Monday Night Football, playing the Colts, the team that we won the Super Bowl against 10 years ago. So the whole Super Bowl XLIV team is back for the 10th anniversary. And, obviously, national television, big game, and now that record in the balance as well. It just kind of makes you shake your head. 'Are you kidding me?'"