He donned the oh-so-familiar white No. 9 jersey, complete with the gold numbers, gold letters and gold-and-black trim. And he led the New Orleans Saints again on Monday night, this time against the Raiders in the first game at Allegiant Stadium.
But the man who quarterbacked the Saints to a 34-24 loss to Las Vegas didn’t resemble the Drew Brees of the past 15 years.
Not one bit.
The 41-year-old Brees struggled by his standards for the second consecutive week, finishing 26 of 38 for 312 yards, a touchdown and an interception to Raiders linebacker Nicholas Morrow before halftime. He was pedestrian in Week One, too, finishing with 160 passing yards in a 34-23 home victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose 43-year-old quarterback had his own struggles during his debut with a new team.
But mediocrity didn’t suffice this week like it did last week against Tom Brady. Not against Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who completed 28 of 38 passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns.
“The last two weeks, I think it’s been average at best offensively,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “We’re not functioning well enough and taking advantage of some of the opportunities we’ve had.”
Brees didn’t have star wide receiver Michael Thomas, who set an NFL record in 2019 with 149 receptions for 1,725 yards and injured his ankle against the Buccaneers. But he had plenty of other open targets Monday night. Like wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith, wide receiver Deonte Harris and tight end Jared Cook, all of whom ran free against an inexperienced Las Vegas secondary.
And all of whom he missed at one point or another.
Brees wasn’t sacked, and pressure was hardly an issue against a Raiders front that ranks 27th in pressure rate, per NFL’s Next Gen Stats. Only 33 percent of his passing yards Monday were through the air, according to Pro Football Focus, marking his lowest single-game percentage in three years.
“We know what wins football games and we know what makes it very difficult to win football games,” said Brees, who is averaging 4.82 air yards per pass through two games — the fewest by any quarterback through two games since Brett Favre in 2009. “Obviously, we made way too many mistakes.”
Brees’ struggles probably wouldn’t be so startling if he wasn’t the most statistically accomplished quarterback in NFL history. He holds league records for passing yards (77,576), touchdown passes (549) and completion percentage (67.7). He completed at least 72 percent of his passes in each of the last three seasons.
But attrition is inevitable, even for greats like Brees.
It engulfed Favre at the age of 41 in 2010. It engulfed Peyton Manning at the age of 39 in 2015. Both quarterbacks had been Pro Bowlers in the previous seasons — like Brees was in 2019.
It has only two weeks, though, and Brees has plenty of time to right the ship and round back into Hall of Fame form.
But time is ticking.
“My job is not to have the most air yards or throw the ball down the field the most or anything like that,” Brees said. “My job is to help us win. … That’s all I’m focused on.”