METAIRIE, La. -- Once again, the New Orleans Saints passing offense made NFL history this year.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Saints became the first team ever to have four players with at least 70 receptions (tight end Jimmy Graham 86, running back Pierre Thomas 77, receiver Marques Colston 75, Darren Sproles 71).
Quarterback Drew Brees said he wasn't aware of the accomplishment -- but he was excited to hear it.
“Spread the wealth,” Brees said with a smile.
That's pretty much been the Saints' offensive mantra ever since Brees and coach Sean Payton arrived in New Orleans in 2006.They throw the ball a lot -- but instead of just targeting any one or two guys, they throw to whomever is open.
That's really the combination that's necessary to record such an achievement.
This year was a little unique, since the Saints targeted their two running backs so often. Last year, they had four players with 65 receptions, but the fourth was receiver Lance Moore.
Brees' 446 completions and 5,162 passing yards this year both ranked fifth in NFL history. And in both categories, Brees holds three of the top five spots in the all-time rankings.
Future signings: The New Orleans Saints have inked two players to reserve/futures contracts as teams around the league start to put together their expanded offseason rosters: cornerback Derrius Brooks and kicker Derek Dimke.
The Saints plucked Brooks from the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampeders -- the same place they found defensive lineman Tom Johnson three years ago. The speedy 5-foot-10, 195-pounder, who played in college at Western Kentucky, had five interceptions over the past two years for Calgary.
The Saints have a good relationship with the Stampeders' assistant general manager John Murphy, who is based out of Metairie.
“(Brooks) has been a versatile defender for us and has exceptional speed,” said Murphy, who said five or six teams were interested in him. “He runs in the 4.3 range and showed the ability to man cover some of the best wide receivers in our league.”
Dimke is a second-year kicker out of Illinois who has spent time with the Detroit Lions, New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the past two offseasons. He has made 8-of-9 field goal attempts over the past two preseasons, but he hasn't made an active roster yet.
Motivational fuel: Payton pulled out one of his old motivational ploys on Thursday -- one of many that he stole from mentor Bill Parcells -- when he distributed gas cans to the older veterans on the team. The message is essentially to make sure they have enough gas in the tank this late in the season (presumably even more important in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles, who run a fast-tempo offense that leads to more snaps than typical games).
“It depends on how you look at it,” Saints linebacker Parys Haralson said when asked to describe the message. “But it's a ‘don't-run-out-of-gas' league.”
The final tally for the Saints' remarkable defensive turnaround this year was an improvement of 134.4 yards per game allowed (from 440.1 to 305.7). According to ESPN Stats & Information, that is by far the largest drop since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. The next closest was 97.9 yards by the 1998 Oakland Raiders.
Also from ESPN Stats & Info: The Eagles ranked second in the NFL this year with 51 offensive touchdowns, while the Saints were third with 49. (Neither came close to the Denver Broncos, who led the league with 71).
Worth a click:
Two Saints cracked ESPN's John Clayton's 2013 All-Pro team -- tight end Jimmy Graham and right tackle Zach Strief. Good to see Strief getting some love at a position that usually operates in the shadows. As I said when the Pro Bowl announcements were made, he would have had a great shot at his first trip to Hawaii if they specifically designated spots for right tackles. He was very steady all year for an offense that demands versatility from its linemen.
Grantland.com analyst Bill Barnwell takes the most extensive look you'll see anywhere at the Saints' and Brees' history in road games and various weather conditions -- and finds a lot of conflicting patterns.
ESPN.com Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan and I joined ESPN's Robert Flores and Matt Williamson to break down Saturday's matchup in this playoff preview podcast.
The Eagles were the more popular pick among ESPN's panel of analysts this week.