By Casey Gisclair
I think Father Time is slowly, steadily beginning to get its tentacles around Drew Brees.
That was exactly the thought that kept coming back to my mind on Sunday afternoon as I watched the final seconds tick off the clock in the Saints’ latest close loss – a one-point, 24-23 disappointment at the hands of the Detroit Lions.
This was a game that New Orleans should have won. This was a game that New Orleans would have won three or four seasons ago. This is a game that showed that the brightest days of this team’s glorious decade-long run may now be in the past.
Okay, okay, it is at this point in the column that we must explain exactly what we mean out of fear of absolutely infuriating the loyalist Saints fans.
No, I’m not saying Drew Brees is washed up. He’s not a has-been. Heck, he’s not even mediocre or above average. He’s still really, really good.
But is he still the elite quarterback that was arguably the NFL’s best throughout the past five years? Umm. I tend to think not, and here’s why: It all starts with the deep ball.
Brees’ arm was never the best in the NFL, but for a man of small stature, he was always capable of stretching the field enough to make big plays through the air.
But in the past few seasons, Brees’ deep threat just isn’t there. Too often those shots down the field are underthrown, limiting the team’s chance to make a play. Too often, the defensive back is the one with the most realistic opportunity to catch the football when it’s dangling in the air.
Sure, Brees’ numbers are still nice. The completion percentage is still elite. The yardage numbers are still thick. And 11 TDs to seven picks isn’t great, but it’s not awful either – it’s a line that an NFL team could live with when one considers that four of the team’s six games have been played on the road.
But without the deep ball, it’s just not the same. New Orleans’ high-powered offense now is incapable of getting fat yardage in big chunks. Without the deep passing game, the Saints must now rely on an inconsistent running game and a shorter passing attack geared toward moving down the field in small chunks.
There’s no shame in playing that way, but doing so means that any one penalty, sack or negative play throws a team well off schedule. Being off schedule in an offense without a vertical passing game is a recipe for a lot of punts, field goals and close losses in games that it feels like you should win.
See also – the 2014-15 version of the New Orleans Saints, a team that routinely can’t quite score enough to win those annoyingly close road games.
Sure, the counter argument to all of these points are that the Saints’ defense is bad and that the team’s weapons are nowhere near as elite as they once were in the past when names like Darren Sproles, Devery Henderson, Chris Ivory, Lance Moore and others spiced up New Orleans’ offense.
That’s valid. The Saints’ weapons (besides Jimmy Graham) aren’t great, but with Graham, Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills and Marques Colston, they’re still fielding a respectable group.
Sure, it can also be said that Brees’ defense isn’t helping matters, either – routinely surrendering points in abundance against any offense with a pulse throughout the season.
But at the end of the day, it’s all about Father Time, and like it or not, Brees is going to be 36 when this season ends.
And he’s slowing down a tad. There’s no other way to put it.
And now is the time that the team needs to be proactive in plotting out a few plans to begin thinking about who they want their next starting quarterback to be?
Is it Ryan Griffin? Is it someone in the college ranks? Is it a backup somewhere that can cheaply be had in a trade?
Whoever it is, those plans need to be considered this offseason because life without Brees could be here sooner than we all realize.
Heck, the downward slide has already begun.
Just look at that slow, ugly, wobbly spiral on his next deep ball and tell me I’m wrong.