The Saints have never been here before after nine games, and I am not talking about wins and losses. Their current 8-1 record stands second to the 9-0 start run off by the eventual Super Bowl champions in 2009, but that’s not the HERE I am talking about. At this point of the season, no Saints player has been the leading candidate for NFL Most Valuable Player. Not even during the magical Super Bowl year was QB Drew Brees given as much consideration for the honor as previous winners Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
This season, Brees has played magnificent, MVP-calibre football, as his performance Sunday at Cincinnati will attest. Watching Brees dismantle the Bengals was like watching your GPS smoothly maneuver you over obscure highways and strange byways as you simply follow blindly along and wonder “how did it do that?” Against Cincinnati, Brees led the team to scoring drives on their first nine possessions, which is one off the all-time record, including a surgical 22 of 25 completions for 265 yards and three touchdowns. Throw in rushing performances by Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, only one penalty the entire game and a defense that resembled the ’85 Bears, and you saw perfection.
In fact, during the game, I was thinking of Don Larsen, the journeyman Yankees pitcher who threw the only perfect game in World Series history, over the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. I had already written the headline for this column: “Apologies to Don Larsen, but Saints toss perfect game!” My Louisville pal, Jeff Duncan of the local wipe, had the same idea and wrote it today with Coach Sean Payton’s qualifier that it wasn’t perfect but it was close.
But perfect, schmerfect, it was team win to the standards that Brees has been providing all season. His completion percentage is 77.3 percent which is ahead of the all-time season mark of 72%, held by none other than Drew Brees. Throw in 2,601 passing yards and 21 touchdowns versus one lone interception. His passer rating of 123.8 is running ahead of Aaron Rodgers’ current high mark of 122, set in 2011 during his own MVP season. A week ago in the team’s biggest game of the year, Brees laced the 8-0 Rams with 346 passing yards and four touchdowns, including a game-saving 72-yard TD to Michael Thomas.
Watching Brees operate, it is hard not to agree with former Chiefs and Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez who says Brees is not simply one of the best quarterbacks to play the game. He is the greatest quarterback to play the game. We can empty a few kegs arguing that one, but the immediate question? Is Brees the 2018 NFL MVP?
Some observers believe team performance influences the voters? Must the Saints win the Super Bowl for Brees to have a chance at the award? Interestingly, the numbers don’t back that up. Looking at every Associated Press MVP since the Saints came into the League in 1967, only six quarterbacks whose team won the Super Bowl were voted the league MVP by the Associated Press. The numbers even suggest that losing the Super Bowl might enhance a quarterback’s MVP hopes. Over the same time period, 13 quarterbacks whose team lost the Super Bowl were eventually named league MVP.
I know, figures can lie and liars can figure, so where does that leave Brees’ chances to win the 2018 MVP award? I would say that his total body of work, including all-time passing yards leader, second now to Peyton Manning in lifetime touchdown passes, a chance to finish the year with the all-time best QB rating for a season and the best all-time completion percentage, weighs heavily in his favor. A subliminal factor is the sentimental vote, which counts for something. Brees will be 40 in January. But it’s his time because he deserves it. -------
by Jim Miller
His new book, "Integrated: the Lincoln Institute, Basketball and a Vanished Tradition" is now available from the University Press of Kentucky or at Amazon.com.