For QB Drew Brees, 2011 may be a season to remember for a multitude of reasons. Whether it is his continued run to break Dan Marino's all-time passing yards (in a single season) record, his effort to keep his passing TDs in consecutive games streak alive or his constant contract talks with the New Orleans Saints organization, one thing is for certain: this season is turning out to be a career year for #9. Ever since he arrived in New Orleans back in 2006, Brees has essentially become everything that any Saints fan could have asked for. He's a model citizen, a family man, a mentor and, of course, a talented and experienced Super Bowl-winning QB. He's won everything from MVP of the World Championship to "Sportsman of the Year;" however, the remainder of the 2011-2012 campaign will test his mind and his attitude more than any other previous event could.
To say that there's a lot at stake before this season ends is quite an understatement. Following the squad's upset loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the 2010-2011 postseason, the Saints appeared determined to show the world that such a contest would never occur again. Even with a lockout crushing the hopes of NFL fans and players around the league, Brees kept things moving in the "Big Easy," as he hosted player workouts and helped to recruit new members to the rebounding Saints squad. In an offseason of turmoil, Brees found the positives, and when the black cloud looming over the entirety of the NFL finally cleared, New Orleans appeared primed and ready to make noise in the NFC.
This past offseason, the Saints watched as their veteran TE, Jeremy Shockey, was let go and acquired by the division rival Carolina Panthers. This was done for a reason, though, as Brees had found a new weapon that was waiting in the wings. TE Jimmy Graham, who was taken by New Orleans in the 2010 NFL Draft, had shown flashes of brilliance during his rookie campaign. Now in his second season, Graham is considered to be amongst the best TEs in the league, with the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski being the only man worthy of calling himself better at the position.
Also, Brees' offseason efforts brought one of the most versatile RBs in the AFC to New Orleans, as the Black and Gold signed Darren Sproles to replace RB Reggie Bush in a rebuilding backfield. Sproles, who played with Brees back in San Diego, has been a pivotal piece of the top-ranked offense in the league, as he currently leads the NFL in all-purpose yards. He has added a new dimension to the squad as a whole, as his kick/punt return abilities are just as exquisite as his acceleration out of the backfield.
Needless to say, these two rising stars have been aided by the fact that Brees is having a career season. Brees, who has completed 385/543 passes for 4368 yards and 32 TDs, is currently on pace to have one of the greatest QB campaigns in NFL history, as he has the Saints flying high at 10-3 and in first place in the NFC South. The "Who Dat Nation" knew that Brees would have his squad ready to make up for the letdown that occurred in Seattle at the end of last season; however, I'm not sure that anyone in New Orleans was ready for the production that the Saints' offense was ready to create. Currently ranked first in the league in total yards per game (447.8), first in passing yards per game (325.2) and eighth in rushing yards per contest (122.6), New Orleans has the most intimidating offense in football. So intimidating, in fact, that many analysts believe that it is the only corp that could successfully win a shootout with the currently-undefeated Green Bay Packers in the playoffs.
In order to truly be successful, though, Brees will have to show mental toughness unlike any QB before him. The amount of distractions plaguing the franchise QB seem insurmountable; between two records, a contract dispute and a playoff run, it's safe to say that Brees has plenty to ponder about. Brees understands that one poor performance on the playing surface could ultimately kill three of these four goals, and in the world of the New Orleans QB, failure does not appear to be an option. In this weekend's contest against the Minnesota Vikings, Brees has the opportunity to keep many of his hopes alive. With the Vikings' pass defense surrendering 248.8 yard per game through the air (ranked 26th in the league), the Saints' QB should have no trouble slicing through the poor Minnesota secondary en route to Marino's record.
Add on the fact that Brees has officially stopped his contract negotiations until after the 2011-2012 season (reported by the Times-Picayune), and suddenly these plaguing obstacles do not appear to be as overwhelming as they were only a week ago. Regardless, one thing must be noted: it will certainly be interesting to see how Brees reacts as the regular season comes to a close and the records begin to make themselves more apparent. It will be even more interesting once the playoffs finally come to an end, and Brees becomes a free agent (Granted, I'm pretty sure he's not going anywhere, but it's still a point worth noting.). All in all, it will certainly be an interesting end to what has been a roller-coaster 2011 year for Brees. For New Orleans' sake, let's just hope that the coaster finally evens out sometime soon.
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