NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees didn't miss a beat after the longest absence of his career, throwing for 373 yards and three touchdowns in the New Orleans Saints' 31-9 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
Brees returned to the field just five weeks after he underwent surgery to repair the thumb on his right (throwing) hand. He completed 34 of 43 passes while extending his NFL-record total to 117 career 300-yard games.
And the Saints (7-1) won their sixth straight game heading into a Week 9 bye.
"It felt really good," said Brees, who said he had to shake off some early rust and maybe a few more butterflies and extra excitement than usual.
But he said there was never a hesitation about wanting to return this early -- even though he was aware that many fans thought he should wait two more weeks.
"I know the thought would be, 'Hey, why don't you just wait until after the bye week? Everything seems to be going well. So why take the chance?'" Brees said. "But, hey, I'm a football player. ... As soon as I could get back, I was gonna get back."
Brees, who tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb, said this was the week he was targeting "from the moment that I got hurt" even though he said the doctors were also pointing to Week 10 early in the process.
"I haven't been reckless with this," said Brees, who wore a small plastic splint on the thumb Sunday that he is hoping to shed before his next game against the Atlanta Falcons. "I've been in touch with the doctor and got an MRI, and he had the chance to look at the level of healing.
Everything had to pass certain parameters in order for this to happen. And we -- the team, Sean Payton, the doctor, the therapist, everybody -- felt like I was good to go."
Payton agreed, stressing that the Saints "weren't gonna be careless" with the decision, but that Brees looked "fabulous all week in practice" and Payton trusted him to be honest about he felt.
Payton also said there were no limitations on what Brees could do or the plays he called, etc.
"None," Payton said. "He was 100 percent."
Brees looked sharp throughout the day. He completed eight of his first nine pass attempts. Then he completed three second-half TD passes to running back Latavius Murray, backup quarterback Taysom Hill and receiver Michael Thomas.
Brees' one miscue came on a deep interception that was snagged by Cardinals eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson in the third quarter. Brees made an ill-advised decision to throw deep to fullback Zach Line on the play even though he was well covered.
Brees said he got "greedy" on the play and called it a "bad decision."
But Peterson wasn't able to put the clamps on Thomas, New Orleans' All-Pro receiver. Thomas finished with 11 catches for 112 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets -- giving him a whopping 73 catches through eight games.
Murray also had another spectacular performance while replacing injured Saints running back Alvin Kamara. Murray finished with 21 carries for 102 yards, nine catches for 55 yards and two total touchdowns.
Brees said his overwhelming emotion once game time approached was "gratitude" for everyone who helped him get back on the field -- and for the opportunity to get back to playing with his teammates.
The respect was evident from across the field as well.
"I'm glad to see him back out there playing. He's a great man, and a wonderful ambassador of this league," Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "First-ballot Hall of Famer, competing, taking charge, doing what leaders do. He was Drew Brees. There's a reason he's the all-time leading passer in the history of this game. Been doing this a hundred years, and he's the most to ever do it. So hats off to him and what he's able to accomplish."
Saints fans also showed plenty of love to Brees' backup, Teddy Bridgewater -- who went 5-0 in Brees' absence. The home crowd chanted "Ted-dy! Ted-dy!" when he was shown on the giant scoreboards at one point. They resurrected the chant when he replaced Brees late in the game.