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Brees, Saints must cure their ills, whatever they are

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees isn't the only thing wrong with the New Orleans Saints.

He's just not right, and it's becoming increasingly more evident every week.

Never could it be more apparent than Sunday when he threw four interceptions, two returned for touchdowns directly leading to the Cleveland Browns' 30-17 thrashing of the Saints in the Superdome. And yes, "thrashing" would be the correct term for it despite the score.

It's only the second time in Brees' career he has thrown four interceptions. The last time was Sept. 24, 2007, against the Titans. That loss was the worst of the team's 0-4 start that season coming off what was the Saints' best finish the previous year.

Brees could have easily been picked off six times Sunday. Browns safety T.J. Ward could have made it three interceptions for touchdowns as he jumped a route in front of Jeremy Shockey, but Ward couldn't hang on to the ball.

"Anytime you throw a pick, you're going to be upset about it," Brees said. "Anytime you throw two, you're really upset. Three, you're really, really upset. Four, that's not [me]. I don't have days like that.

"I've had one of those days in my entire career. Despite how they happen, whether they're bad decisions or bad throws or tipped balls, deflections, whatever. It doesn't excuse the fact that the ball was turned over. Are interceptions going to happen? Yeah, they're part of the game.

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"In order to be a good quarterback, you have to be able to anticipate and trust. There's times where you're throwing a ball to a spot and you feel like a guy is going to be there and maybe he's not. At times they're going to fool you or whatever. Four interceptions, that's hard to swallow."

So something's not right. Even Brees knows it.

Brees now has 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season. It's his most recent three games that are even more troubling -- eight interceptions, with three brought back for touchdowns.

That's not Brees-like. That's, I don't know, say Aaron Brooks-like.

Former teammate Scott Fujita is among the Browns defenders to hound Drew Brees. (AP)  
Former teammate Scott Fujita is among the Browns defenders to hound Drew Brees. (AP)  
"I don't feel like we're doing anything different this year. ... I'm in there now [the Saints facility] more than I ever have been," Brees said. "And so for things then to not happen, at times you say, 'This is puzzling.' There's going to be peaks and valleys in this game. You've got to fight through adversity at times."

Even the opposition knows it.

"I don't recall ever seeing that happen," Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said, a former Brees teammate and a Brees interceptor on Sunday. "We tried all day to make him uncomfortable."

Coach Sean Payton clearly didn't want to throw his prized quarterback under the bus when I asked him if there was anything he saw faulty in Brees through any of the interceptions. He simply said, "No."

Payton is a smart guy. He knows something isn't right with Brees. Otherwise he wouldn't be throwing interceptions left and right. It doesn't get any more elementary than that.

Well, what's the problem?

Let's start physically.

Brees sustained a slightly sprained MCL in his left knee during Week 3 against the Falcons. He wore a brace to protect his knee for a couple of weeks, but it didn't seem to hinder his movement or Payton's play calling. Brees was asked a couple of weeks ago if his shoulder was ailing him and he said, "Everything's fine."

CBSSports.com Grades
Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns
A
The Browns came in as double-digit underdogs and dominated the defending Super Bowl champs. The defense led by LBs David Bowens and Scott Fujita flustered Drew Brees nearly the entire game. And the three trick plays caught the Saints off guard every time.
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints
D-
It's blatantly apparent that this isn't the same team from 2009. Drew Brees admittedly didn't play like himself, Sean Payton was easily outcoached by Eric Mangini and the Saints beat themselves again with turnovers and penalties. A recipe for missing the playoffs if this keeps up.
By Larry Holder
RapidReports Correspondent

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Let's look mentally.

Two poor decisions stick in my mind with Brees this season. He tried to throw an underhanded pass as he was falling down against Atlanta and the ball was easily picked off. Then Brees attempted to dump the ball off to someone (I still don't know who it was intended to) where the ball bounced off the back of Saints guard Jahri Evans and landed in the arms of Browns linebacker David Bowens, who rumbled for the first of his two interception returns for scores. (Insert joke of Brees thinking he's playing catch with his newborn second son Bowen here.)

"When [a pick-six] happens once, you've probably got a 20 percent chance of winning," Brees said. "When it happens twice, you can just go ahead and throw it out the door."

Brees said the Saints need to be open-minded and eliminate the distractions. I'm not going to say all the post-Super Bowl hoopla that seemingly lasted 13 years is affecting Brees. I think Brees is more mentally tough than that.

But it's now a fair question.

"We're obviously all doing a little soul searching," Brees said. "We know how good we are and we know how good we can be. Obviously we're not playing that way right now. We're doing things that are unlike what we talk about and what we preach."

I've heard the cliché of where the quarterback gets more credit than he deserves when things are super swell and more blame than he deserves when things super smell. Case in point, Saints tackle Zach Strief: "It's never all him, good or bad."

But Brees is to blame for some of it, and that might be being too soft on him. Until he figures out exactly what's going on, this team will appear more like a team destined to become the next Super Bowl hangover statistic rather than a team destined to celebrate and wake up from a hangover after the Super Bowl.

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