New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees' return from injury got off to a rough start with no completions and one interception on his first six passes.
The 41-year-old Brees had moments where he looked like his old, record-setting self. But there were too many others when he didn't, contributing to a 32-29 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
“I can tell you the first four drives were not what we wanted with four three and outs,” said Brees, who completed just 15 of 34 passes after connecting on 73.5% of his previous passes this season. “We didn’t really find our rhythm until the second quarter and fourth quarter. Unfortunately there were quire a few instances when we couldn’t get that first first down.”
By game's end, Brees had passed for 234 yards and three touchdowns, which wasn't quite enough to knock off the AFC-leading Chiefs.
When the 2020 NFL schedule first came out, Sunday’s matchup had the makings of a showdown between two dynamic offensive units led by two prolific quarterbacks, Brees and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes.
Brees and the Saints offence didn’t live up to that billing.
The Saints' offence came in ranked fifth in the NFL on third down, converting 46.5 per cent of the time.
But they were outclassed by Kansas City in that department. The Chiefs converted 9 of 18 while the Saints went 1-for-11 for their worst mark in a game in eight years. The result was a nearly 21-minute advantage in time of possession for Kansas City.
“You’ve got to be better on third down and when you’re not, you don’t have those attempts, those snaps, that time of possession — all the things you need against a good offensive team like that,” coach Sean Payton said.
Brees often was off target on those critical downs, underthrowing or overthrowing receivers, and miscommunicating teammates.
Symbolic of the struggles was a play late in the third quarter when it looked like Brees was expecting his receiver to run a deep route along the sideline. Instead, the receiver cut short and Brees was called for intentional grounding after throwing deep.
“They brought an all-out pressure,” Brees said, explaining the Saints didn't have enough blockers on the play. “We had talked about various things during the week and unfortunately got signals crossed.”
With New Orleans trailing 32-22 in the fourth, Brees finally found his rhythm, going 6-for-8 to lead the Saints on an eight play, 75-yard drive that cut the Chiefs’ lead to 32-29.
But Brees conceded afterward he wasn’t 100%, though he said he was “on his way.”
“I still have a little ways to go to be honest,” Brees said. “There’s some things that I’m still kind of working on. But it is what it is."
New Orleans now has a short week of practice before hosting the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Day. It will be working to break its second two-game losing skid of the season and will try a third straight week to clinch an NFC South Division title for the fourth consecutive season.
“At this point, listen, every game is so important,” Brees said. “Down the stretch, everybody is battling something. Everybody is fighting to get on the field to put out the best effort. ... Right now the most important thing is getting our next win so we can win our division.”
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By Bradley Handwerger, The Associated Press