Drew Brees started his first game with the Saints on September 10th, 2006. The highs and lows began almost immediately.
2006: Highs and Lows
The 2006 Saints were coming off one of their worst seasons in franchise history. They won just three games.
The 2006 Saints matched that tally in three games, the third game being the famed Steve Gleason game.
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New Orleans rattled off 10 wins in total, winning their first NFC South title and first division title since 2000. It was just their third division title in franchise history (1991). They led the NFL in total offense, the first time since 1979 they were even in the top 10.
The Saints became the second 10-6 team to earn the No. 2 seed in the history of the 12-team format (1993 49ers). They knocked off the Eagles in the divisional round, but they were no match for the Bears who had scoring runs of 16-0 and 23-0 surrounding a pair of Brees touchdown passes.
Brees was named to the All-Pro team, usurping Peyton Manning. Bress led the NFL in passing yards, smashing his previous career-high by nearly 900 yards.
2007 was a step in the wrong direction as the Saints finished with a 7-9 record and Brees failed to make the Pro Bowl.
In 2008, it clicked offensively for New Orleans again. Brees led the NFL with 5,069 passing yards and 34 touchdowns, career highs. He was named Offensive Player of the Year, but Peyton Manning took home MVP and the All-Pro nod.
2009: The High
With one season as the NFL’s top scoring and total offense under his belt, Brees guided the 2009 Saints to a repeat performance. New Orleans was so dominant offensively that they clinched the league’s top scoring offense with two full games left to play. At the time, only the 2007 Patriots had scored more points through 13 games.
Brees led the NFL in completion percentage, touchdowns, touchdown percentage, passer rating, and QBR. His 70.6 completion percentage matched Ken Anderson’s NFL record.
However, the regular season did not compare to New Orleans’ trio of playoff wins over Arizona, Minnesota, and Indianapolis. Manning may have won both MVPs and All-Pro nods in 2008 and 2009, but Brees won the Super Bowl and accompanying MVP.
2010: The Highs and Lows
The 2010 Saints were not quite as good as the 2009 Saints offensively, but the defense became one of the best units in the NFL. They were seventh in scoring defense and fourth in total defense. They were even fifth in third-down defense.
New Orleans went on the road to Seattle, an unassuming 7-9 team with a below-average offense and a below-average defense.
The Saints hopped out to a 10-0 lead and led 17-7 two minutes into the second quarter.
Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck threw his second and third touchdowns of the half, and the Seahawks went into the half leading by four., They scored 10 points in the third quarter and led by 14 entering the fourth.
New Orleans had time, a great quarterback, and one of the better defenses in the NFL.
New Orleans scored 10 points to cut the lead down to four with nine minutes to play.
They traded punts.
Seattle trotted back onto the field with four minutes left. After a run stuff on first down, Marshawn Lynch happened.
The Saints lost that game.
2011: The Highs and Lows
The 2011 Saints came back even better. They led the NFL in point differential and would have led the NFL in scoring if Matt Flynn did not throw for six touchdowns in Week 17. The 13-3 Saints became just the second team ever to win 13 games and not be a top-two seed in the conference (remember this).
New Orleans killed Detroit the next week, likely revenge for Detroit letting Green Bay and Flynn score 45 points in Week 17.
The Saints headed to San Francisco for a divisional round showdown. The 49ers entered the fourth quarter with a 20-14 lead, but the Saints took the lead with four minutes left in regulation.
Even with time dwindling, there were fireworks left in the tank. After a 44-yard touchdown to Darren Sproles, the Saints needed one stop to close out the game. New Orleans allowed two first downs in three plays, including a 37-yard pass to Vernon Davis. New Orleans forced the 49ers into a 3rd-and-long. San Francisco called a quarterback power play with Alex Smith.
Second later, Smith was celebrating in the end zone.
On the ensuing drive, Brees hit Jimmy Graham for a 66-yard touchdown.
The stage was set for heartbreak.
Smith hit Davis for another huge gain, setting the 49ers up in the red zone.
Three plays later, Davis caught “The Catch III” and ended the Saints’ season.
2011 was Brees’ masterpiece. He set the NFL record for completions, completion percentage, and passing yards. He threw for a career-high and NFL-leading 46 touchdowns. Brees won his second Offensive Player of the Year award, but Aaron Rodgers slipped away with the league’s MVP.
2012: The Highs and Lows
In 2012, Brees eclipsed 5,000 yards for the third time, adding 43 touchdowns as well. It was the fourth time in five years that he led the NFL in passing touchdowns. The Saints rewarded Brees by allowing 7,000 yards, shattering the NFL record for defensive ineptitude.
2013-2016: The Lows
From 2013 to 2016, it was much of the same. Brees posted at least 4,870 yards and 32 touchdowns in each season. He led the NFL in passing yards thrice, including a mammoth 5,208 in 2016. After a top five scoring and total defense in 2013, New Orleans failed to place better than 27th in either statistic in 2014, 2015, or 2016. The Saints went 7-9 in all three seasons.
The 2014 and 2016 Saints led the NFL in total offense, marking the fifth and sixth times Brees had led New Orleans to the league’s best.
2017: The Highs and Lows
The 2017 Saints were a juggernaut. They had the usual elite offense, and the defense escaped the doldrums. New Orleans returned to the playoffs, winning the NFC South for the first time since 2011.
New Orrleans knocked off Carolina (one of the rare times a team has swept three games against an opponent), setting up a matchup in Minneapolis.
Minnesota had won the season-opening clash at home, but the Saints were a different team. They had won 12 of 14 games.
New Orleans-Minnesota, Divisional Round, 2017
However, the last 14 weeks did not matter early as the Vikings opened up a 17-0 lead in the first half. With just 17 minutes left in their season, New Orleans was still scoreless.
The game then drank the same Kool-Aid as the 2011 Saints-49ers clash.
Brees hit Michael Thomas near the end of the third quarter to finally put the Saints on the board. Three minutes later, Brees hit Thomas for a second touchdown. Minnesota replied with a field goal, but the Saints had momentum and had 10 minutes left to spring the upset.
New Orleans and Minnesota exchanged punts, but the Saints blocked Minnesota’s punt, setting Brees up 40 yards from the end zone with five minutes left. Four plays later, Brees found Alvin Kamara for the touchdown and the lead.
It would not last.
Brees got the ball back with 89 seconds. He fired two quick completions to Josh Hill and Ted Ginn before stalling out to a fourth down. With 45 seconds left and 10 yards to gain, Brees found Willi Snead to put the Saints in field goal range. Kamara was stuffed on a 3rd-and-short, and Wil Lutz nailed a 43-yard field goal with 29 seconds to play.
After a false start, Minnesota needed about 45 yards to get into realistic field goal range for Forbath. Case Keenum found Stefon Diggs for 19 yards and a first down, but Minnesota used their final timeout with 18 seconds left. Keenum launched two more incompletions to set up a third down with 10 seconds left.
Joe Buck can take the rest.
“Keenum steps into it.”
“Pass is … CAUGHT!”
Four words followed. Diggs. Sideline. Touchdown. Unbelievable.