NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees was still on the Superdome field nearly two hours after what was probably his final game in the New Orleans Saints' historic home building.
Brees, who is widely expected to retire after 20 seasons, did not officially announce his intentions after a disappointing 30-20 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional round of the playoffs on Sunday. But he made sure to soak it all in.
Brees and his wife, Brittany, spent time playing with their four children -- some football and some gymnastics. He also chatted with longtime friend and rival Tom Brady. After the two all-time great quarterbacks shared a hug, Brady even threw a pass to one of Brees' kids, before ultimately moving on to the NFC Championship Game.
Brees, who turned 42 on Friday, was hoping to reach his fourth NFC title game and his second Super Bowl this year. Instead, he threw three interceptions in a playoff game for the first time in his career, while Brady and Tampa Bay rallied back from a 20-13 deficit in the third quarter.
"I'm gonna give myself an opportunity to think about the season, think about a lot of things, just like I did last year, and make a decision," Brees said when asked directly if he just played his final game.
He said his performance on Sunday or the way the season ended would have no bearing on his decision. But when asked what would weigh into the decision, Brees said, "I'll keep that to myself right now."
Brees did add, however, that he had no regrets about coming back this season after he nearly retired following the 2019 campaign.
"I would never regret it. Never," said Brees, who missed four games in November and December because of a punctured lung and 11 broken ribs but still helped the Saints earn the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a 12-4 record before their disappointing finish.
"No complaints. No regrets. Man, I've always tried to play this game with a great respect and a great reverence for it. And I appreciate all that this game has given to me," said Brees, who led the Saints to their only Super Bowl win in franchise history in 2009 and holds the NFL record for career passing yards. "There are obviously so many incredible memories, so many incredible relationships that have come as a result of playing this game. And, man, you find out so much about yourself and you have to fight through so much when you play this game.
"And I'd say this season, I probably had to fight through more than I've ever had to in any other season in my career -- from injury to all the COVID stuff to just crazy circumstances. And it was worth every moment of it. Absolutely."
Saints coach Sean Payton also said he couldn't speak for Brees and didn't want to spend time reflecting on Brees' Hall of Fame career just yet.
"Oh, listen, I think that's probably for another press conference," Payton said. "That would take up all of my time on your question tonight. Obviously, he's been tremendous for this team, this city; I could go on and on. But let's wait and answer that at the right time."
Other teammates, from veteran linebacker Demario Davis to young wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith, used the exact same word when asked what Brees has meant to them: "Everything."
If this was Brees' final game, he didn't get the kind of career send-off fellow all-time greats such as John Elway or Peyton Manning got. It was the exact opposite.
Brees completed 19 of 34 passes for just 134 yards with one touchdown on a night when he struggled to get the ball downfield even more than usual. The Saints' biggest passing play came when backup QB Jameis Winston threw a 56-yard TD pass on a flea-flicker that New Orleans stole from the Chicago Bears, who tried it against the Saints a week earlier.
And Brees failed to connect even once with top wideout Michael Thomas on four targets. Brees' first interception, in the second quarter, came when the Saints were leading 6-3 and he underthrew Thomas. Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting pounced in front of it and nearly returned it for a score.
Brees then threw another pick in the fourth quarter when the Saints were trailing 23-20 and linebacker Devin White undercut Alvin Kamara down the middle of the field. His third interception came on a tipped pass when the Saints were trailing 30-20 with less than five minutes remaining.
Tight end Jared Cook also lost a critical fumble in the third quarter when the Saints were leading 20-13 and had just crossed midfield.
"I'd say it's pretty uncharacteristic because we preach playing 'winning football.' And you turn the ball over four times, that's not 'winning football' -- especially in the playoffs, especially against a team like that," said Brees, who blamed himself for the interceptions.
"Well, a couple of them I probably shouldn't have thrown and maybe forced it in there. And we were probably just a little off on the overall execution. But at the end of the day, that's what this game came down to was those turnovers."