Have you heard the one about the 40-year-old quarterback having the best season of his career and playing like an MVP?
OK, so Drew Brees is still 39 and doesn’t turn 40 until Jan. 15. But his 18th NFL season might be his finest, as the Saints have won eight straight games to establish themselves as Super Bowl favorites, and Brees has emerged as the front-runner for his first MVP award (believe it or not).
Brees and those marching Saints are where we begin the Week 10 review:
■ Brees is doing it all this year, much like Tom Brady did for the Patriots in 2016 and ’17. Most important, he’s winning. With an 8-1 record, the Saints are in the top spot in the NFC playoff race, thanks to impressive wins over the Ravens, Vikings, Rams, and Bengals in consecutive weeks. The Saints will own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Rams for the No. 1 seed.
Brees is absolutely shredding defenses. The Saints lead the NFL in scoring (36.7 points per game), with five games of more than 40 points, and are scoring points on what would be an NFL-record 61 percent of their drives. Sunday’s 51-14 win over the Bengals was a clinic, as the Saints scored touchdowns on all five possessions of the first half, and scored points on all nine possessions before the final drive of the game.
Brees was a surgical 22 of 25 for 265 yards, 3 touchdowns, and a 150.4 rating, earning the Bengals’ defensive coordinator a pink slip Monday.
And stats-wise, Brees is airing it out like the 2009 vintage, if not better. He is first in the NFL with a 21-1 touchdown-interception ratio. His 123.8 passer rating would be the best in NFL history (Aaron Rodgers, 122.5 in 2011). His completion percentage is an absurd 77.3, which also would be the best in NFL history (Brees 72.0 in 2017). He is fifth in yards per attempt, tied for fourth in touchdown passes, and 10th in passing yards per game.
Brees is an 11-time Pro Bowler, three-time first-team All-Pro, two-time Offensive Player of the Year (2008, 2011), and the Super Bowl XLIV MVP. Yet he has never won an MVP. Now at almost 40, his time is coming.
■ Speaking of quarterbacks airing it out, this season is one for the gunslingers. Looking at yards per attempt, four of the top 15 single seasons are being compiled in 2018.
That probably will change by the end of the season, when the weather gets colder and some of these quarterbacks regress. But they have been able to push the ball down the field this year like never before.
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 9.77 yards per attempt would be No. 2 all-time (Kurt Warner, 9.88 in 2000). Yes, you read that right. Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Jared Goff is fourth at 9.44, Patrick Mahomes is 11th at 9.13, and Philip Rivers is 15th at 9.04. The NFL loves touting its astronomical stats, but clearly the league has tilted the field in favor of the quarterbacks.
■ Two coaches I feel good for today:
No. 1. Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. It hasn’t been an easy season for the former Patriots assistant, now in his first year with the Bills. Daboll was given arguably the worst QB depth chart in the league — a not-ready-yet Josh Allen, the disaster that is Nathan Peterman (mercifully released Monday), and Derek Anderson off the street — and predictably, the Bills are last in the league in scoring.
But Daboll had a heck of a day Sunday, as the Bills pummeled the Jets, 41-10, with another street quarterback. Matt Barkley was exhumed and completed 15 of 25 passes for 232 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. The Bills also racked up 212 rushing yards and held the ball for 39:22.
The Bills are still just 3-7, going nowhere, and need to get Allen some valuable reps. But Daboll is a better coach than the Bills’ stats suggest, and Sunday’s win was well-deserved.
No. 2. Colts offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo. The former Patriots offensive line coach was fired a day after his unit got torched in the 2016 AFC Championship game by the Broncos. And after kicking around as the Chargers’ assistant offensive line coach (2016) and Dolphins’ offensive line coach (2017), DeGuglielmo thought he was going to reunite with Josh McDaniels this year in Indianapolis, accepting the Colts’ OL coach job in January.
McDaniels didn’t go to Indy, of course, and left DeGuglielmo in a bit of a lurch. But new head coach Frank Reich kept him on staff, and the Colts’ offensive line, a laughingstock not long ago, is now one of the best in the NFL.
The Colts’ 29-26 win over Jacksonville Sunday marked the fourth straight game that Andrew Luck was not sacked. Luck, sacked 41 times in 2016, has been sacked only 10 times in nine games, and his sack percentage (2.6 percent of passing plays) is the lowest in the NFL. Good for “The Googe,” who seemed to be scapegoated a bit at the end of his two-year Patriots tenure.
■ As for the Jets, well, Todd Bowles might want to put his house on the market. The Jets probably didn’t have realistic playoff dreams this year with rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, but they should at least be competitive at home against Buffalo. Losing 41-10 and gaining only 199 yards is unacceptable, even with Josh McCown at quarterback.
The Jets have lost four in a row, three by double digits, and Bowles’s defense is 20th in the NFL in points allowed. With Darnold at quarterback and a ton of cap space, the Jets job should be fairly attractive if (when) they fire Bowles.
■ Bengals defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has been one of the top names in head coaching searches for several years, but the Bengals had no choice but to fire him after Sunday’s embarrassing loss to the Saints. The Bengals have given up 45, 34, and 51 points the last three weeks, and they became the first team in NFL history to allow 500 yards in three straight games.
The Bengals, somehow, still own the No. 6 seed in the AFC. Marvin Lewis will once again run the defense, and Hue Jackson is back to help coach the defense. But the Bengals aren’t scaring anyone if they make the playoffs.
■ The Rams keep winning, but Sunday’s 36-31 win over the Seahawks came at a steep cost, as receiver Cooper Kupp suffered a torn ACL and is out for the season. Kupp is third on the Rams with 40 catches for 566 yards, but he leads the team with six touchdowns and is their most reliable third-down receiver.
Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Todd Gurley, and Kupp account for 84.5 percent of the Rams’ receiving yards, so the depth will certainly be tested.
The Rams opened as 1½-point favorites for Monday night’s showdown against the Chiefs in Mexico City, a potential Super Bowl preview. The website BetDSI says the over/under of 63 is the highest in NFL history.
■ The craziest performance of the week goes to the Buccaneers, who set an NFL record for all the wrong reasons. They gained 501 yards of offense but scored just 3 points in a 16-3 loss to the Redskins.
It was the first time in NFL history a team gained 500 yards and scored just 3 points, and it wasn’t easy for the Bucs to pull off. Fitzpatrick threw an interception in the end zone, Chandler Catanzaro missed a 30-yard field goal attempt, Jacquizz Rodgers fumbled out of the back of the end zone, and Fitzpatrick was strip-sacked on the Redskins’ 7-yard line at the end of the game.
The Buccaneers already announced that Fitzpatrick will start this week against the Giants, which adds fuel to the fire that the Bucs are done with Jameis Winston. There’s no real reason to play Fitzpatrick instead of Winston, but Winston’s 2019 salary of $20.922 million is guaranteed for injury only until March, and they can release him before then at no cost. Benching him for the rest of the season is a sign that the Bucs are going to move on, and don’t want Winston to get hurt.
■ Remember when the Patriots revolutionized the two-tight-end offense earlier this decade? Reich is taking it to the next level this season.
In Week 8, the Colts became the first team in NFL history to have three tight ends catch TD passes in the same game (Eric Ebron, Jack Doyle, and Mo Alie-Cox). And in Sunday’s win over the Jaguars, the tight ends scored all four touchdowns. Ebron caught two TD passes, and Alie-Cox caught one. Ebron rushed for a 2-yard score on the rarely called tight end end-around. And the Colts ran a “four verticals” route with three tight ends.
Reich has revived Ebron’s career. Ebron has 463 yards and nine touchdowns after busting out in Detroit.
■ Rams WR Brandin Cooks: Led the Rams in targets (12), catches (10), and yards (100), though he didn’t reach the end zone. Cooks also had three carries for 17 yards, and played 63 of 65 snaps. It will be interesting to see if he gets extra defensive attention now that Kupp is out.
■ Dolphins WR Danny Amendola: Had a team-high 7 catches for 72 yards (long of 39) in the Dolphins’ 31-12 loss to the Packers. The Dolphins are scuffling at 5-5, but Amendola isn’t the problem. He leads the team with 61 targets, 47 receptions, and 456 yards, though he has only one touchdown.
Amendola’s most impressive stat: He has played in 523 snaps (86.6 percent), second-most on the Miami offense. He seemed to constantly battle injuries with the Patriots, but his durability with Miami has been impressive.
■ Giants LT Nate Solder: Eli Manning, who had taken the NFL’s second-most sacks (31) entering Monday night’s game, took just one sack in the Giants’ 27-23 win over the 49ers. Progress!
Favorites stats and nuggets
■ Rams RB Todd Gurley has scored a touchdown in all 10 games this season, joining O.J. Simpson (1975), Lenny Moore (1964), and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch (1951) as the only players to accomplish the feat.
■ Just five times in NFL history has a game ended 31-12, but it happened twice this season: Jaguars over Jets in Week 4, and Packers over Dolphins in Week 10. The most recent previous result had been in 2008.
■ Via NFL Next Gen Stats: Raiders punter Johnny Townsend reached a top speed of 20.48 miles per hour on his 42-yard fake-punt run — faster than any speed for Alvin Kamara or Kareem Hunt this season.
■ The Redskins have played all nine games without a single lead change taking place. Whichever team scores first holds the lead the entire game. Simply amazing.
■ With 50 receiving yards in a 26-14 loss to the Chiefs, the Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald surpassed Terrell Owens and now is second all-time in receiving yards (15,939). Jerry Rice is first (22,895).
■ Nick Chubb’s 92-yard touchdown run was the longest run in the 70-year history of the Cleveland Browns (Bobby Mitchell, 90 yards, 1959).
■ Mahomes has set the Chiefs’ season record for touchdown passes (31) . . . and still has six games to go.
■ The Bills have five touchdown catches this season, and offensive tackle Dion Dawkins has one of them, a 7-yard score in Sunday’s win over the Jets.