ATLANTA — Drew Brees stood in front of his locker, brown leather bag in front of him neatly packed, suit jacket crisply falling off his shoulders.
But his post-game getup belied what had just transpired on the Georgia Dome playing surface.
Simply put, Brees, the $100 million man, has been the sloppiest of players wearing the golden helmet festooned with a black fleur de lis on each side.
In the past six quarters, the player the Saints almost certainly knew they could rely on in spite of everything else might be the one to have taken the Saints out of the playoffs.
And he knows it.
“I pride myself on being a great decision-maker and a guy that’s going to help us win and not be a detriment by turning the ball over like that,” a solemn Brees said Thursday night,
The five interceptions against the Falcons in New Orleans’ 23-13 loss don’t even begin to explain how the one-time Super Bowl MOP has cracked recently.
No, the single-most incomprehensible series that explains just how far Brees has fallen happened with less than two minutes to play in the first half.
With no timeouts remaining and 71 yards of field to traverse, few would have believed that Brees, of all people, wouldn’t be able to manage.
He did, of course, peppering the Falcons’ secondary with a 29-yard pass to Lance Moore, a 21-yard pass to Marques Colston and a 14-yard pass to Darren Sproles.
In fact, he even hit Sproles for what appeared to be a seven-yard touchdown pass. But tight end Jimmy Graham was called for pass interference and, with 45 seconds to play, Brees again went to Sproles, who traveled 12 yards to the Atlanta 5.
But then were only 12 seconds left and no timeouts. Of course Brees would realize the situation, understand that the middle of the field was off limits and that, at the very least, a field goal was follow.
Only, Brees threw to the middle, hoping Sproles could make a move and get into the end zone. By the time he spiked the ball, no time remained on the clock. Instead of at least a seven-point halftime deficit, the Saints were down by 10.
They’d never recover.
“That’s my mistake,” Brees said. “That can’t happen. Should have gotten points, at least three, and definitely another shot at the end zone. That was on me. That can’t happen.”
What makes Brees’ past two weeks so disconcerting and so unimaginable is that it has been so unlike him. He has seven interceptions in the past seven quarters. Two were returned for touchdowns and two were turned into 10 more points.
Superman appears to be human.
“Yes, we all are,” Saints guard Jahri Evans said, a smile greeting what seems like a ludicrous question. “That’s the thing. When you’re doing something great for so long – for seven years he has always been on top – eventually some things catch up. Right now he’s in a little slide but it’s all good. He’ll get it corrected.”
We shouldn’t be surprised because, in reality, everything that could go wrong seemingly has, in fact, gone wrong this season.
From the preseason injuries at linebacker to the awkward switching of coaches to the 0-4 start to the head-scratching home loss to Kansas City and to the endless injuries at right tackle, the Saints have been battling against everything.
Thursday was just everything condensed into 60 minutes.
“I hate to say that this game was a microcosm of our season but it kind of seems to be,” receiver Lance Moore said. “Just a bunch of lost opportunities and they’ve bitten us in the butt.”
Yet, that’s where Brees is supposed to step in and be, well, Brees. In a way, he did afterwards, taking credit for the losses that are suddenly mounting.
Evans still believes Brees is the best quarterback in the league. Thursday night wasn’t hard for him to watch. Not knowing who Brees is.
“That’s not the hard thing because you know he’s going to bounce back because he just puts too much time in not too,” Evans said. “You are what you put into it and I don’t know anybody that’s puts more time in than he does.”
That’s why it’s eventually going to be OK. Maybe not next week and maybe not the rest of this season. But eventually.
And then his postgame suit will once again match his on-field play – crisp, clean and leading-man worthy.