The way Drew Brees is playing as the heart and soul of the New Orleans Saints, nothing is safe.
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Not Dan Marino’s single-season passing record, not Aaron Rodgers’ presumed MVP award, and perhaps not even the label for best team in the NFC.
Brees threw for 412 yards and five touchdowns to lead the surging Saints to their sixth win in a row, 42-20 over the free-falling Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
”I’d definitely vote him MVP,” Saints guard Carl Nicks said. ”But I don’t think what I say goes and I’m definitely biased, but he’s not going to get it. This is the year of the quarterback, him, Rodgers, (Tom) Brady. He might break the yardage record and Rodgers might break the touchdowns record. What do you value more?”
The answer is clear in the Big Easy.
Brees completed 32 of 40 passes to help the Saints (11-3) overcome a slow and sloppy start to stay two games ahead of Atlanta in the NFC South. They turned the ball over twice deep in their own territory in the first half, botched a surprise onside kick and had a 40-yard TD pass called back because of a penalty.
But Brees threw two touchdowns to Lance Moore and one each to Darren Sproles, John Gilmore and Jimmy Graham in just over three quarters of work to keep the Saints steamrolling toward another NFC South title.
The 412 yards gives Brees 4,780 yards for the season, putting him 304 away from Marino’s single season record set in 1984 with two games to play.
”I’m aware that we’re close,” Brees said of Marino’s hallowed mark. ”I just know if we keep doing what we’re doing all of that stuff will take care of itself.”
He also has already set a career high with 37 TD passes and on Sunday became the first player in league history to throw for more than 400 with five TDs, and complete percent of his passes with no interceptions in a game.
”I’m as comfortable now in this offense as I’ve ever been,” said Brees, who led the Saints to a Super Bowl win in 2009.
The much-maligned Saints secondary held the Vikings to 94 net yards passing and sacked rookie Christian Ponder four times.
Ponder completed 14 of 31 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns to Toby Gerhart, but most of that production came in the final six minutes of garbage time.
The Saints outgained the Vikings 573-207 and Brees had his fifth TD pass and was out of the game before Ponder had his fifth completion.
Adrian Peterson rushed for 60 yards in his return from a three-game absence, but the Vikings dropped their sixth straight game. Their depleted secondary lost cornerback Asher Allen to a concussion in the first half and they had no chance once Brees and the Saints got rolling.
”You can break down every player – good, bad or ugly – but we just aren’t good enough as a team, as a group,” Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said.
The Saints stumbled out of the gates, with Graham fumbling a first-down catch, Sproles dropping what would have been another first down and Robert Meachem’s 40-yard touchdown catch wiped out because of a holding call on fullback Jed Collins.
After Brees hit Moore for a 5-yard touchdown, the Saints turned the ball over again when Brees wasn’t ready for a shotgun snap from Brian De La Puente that squirted right past him. Everson Griffen scooped the ball up and gave the Vikings great field position at the New Orleans 21.
The Vikings only went backward, settling for a 49-yard field goal to make it 7-6. Brees threw a 1-yard fade to Graham for a touchdown midway through the second quarter, but coach Sean Payton’s decision to try a surprise onside kick backfired and let the Vikings back in the game.
Griffen recovered the kick to give Minnesota good field position, Peterson ripped off a 39-yard run and Gerhart scored on a 10-yard shovel pass to make it 14-13, breathing a little life into a stale Metrodome crowd.
”We were shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who held Jared Allen without a sack. ”We had to lean on the defense to get us out of some jams.”
After losing to the lowly St. Louis Rams on Oct. 30, the Saints weren’t about to drop another one to an overmatched opponent with the second seed in the NFC playoffs on the line.
Brees put his foot on the gas and didn’t let up.
He threw a 13-yard touchdown to Sproles toward the end of the first half, then started the third quarter with a 2-yard TD to Gilmore and hooked up with Moore on a 47-yard score.
”Not the missed assignments this time,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said about his defense’s struggles. ”Just a very good quarterback. If you give him time, you’ll have problems.”
Notes: Brees went over 40,000 yards passing for his career and became the first QB to top 350 yards passing in a game seven times in a season. … Moore had five catches for 91 yards, Marques Colston had eight catches for 91 yards and Graham had seven catches for 70 yards. … Saints CB Patrick Robinson intercepted Ponder on the last play of the game. … Vikings CB Benny Sapp was benched for the first two plays of the game for disciplinary reasons.