David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Katherine Terrell, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
August 24, 2014 at 2:07 AM
Indianapolis — If New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees grew tired of the questions about the potential of a rusty game in his two interviews with the local media this week, he didn’t show it.
Brees patiently answered the question with a smile creeping on his face behind the goatee he’d been growing during his preseason hiatus. Brees did not play in the first two preseason games and missed two weeks of practice with a strained left oblique.
The goatee will be gone soon. After Saturday, it could be assumed the questions about rustiness will go that way, too.
Brees looked crisp in his return to the field, completing 9-of-15 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns in the Saints’ 23-17 win against the Indianapolis Colts. It was the best the Saints offense would look all night, as New Orleans (3-0) struggled to find the end zone behind backups Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin.
Brees converted 3-of-4 third downs, including two third-and-8 situations. On the first, he fired a pass to Marques Colston.
“I think Marques made a good play on our sideline,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “So that’s encouraging. And I thought over the course of the week, Drew specifically looked real sharp.”
On the second, Brees tucked the ball and ran for the yardage marker, strained oblique and all.
When asked if hesitated about scrambling, he shrugged and laughed.
“It’s third-and-10, the end zone is right there,” he said. “You’ve got to go get it.”
Payton said it was good to see Brees back on the field and was pleased with his rhythm, particularly on third down.
“I felt what was real important in those drives, especially the first one, were the third-down conversions,” Payton said. “I think we had to convert two or three to keep the drive going and stay out of a long-yardage situation.”
Brees admitted after the game that he wasn’t quite 100 percent yet — in both timing and health — but said his rhythm with the first string was on a fairly even keel.
“Great way to start the game.” Brees said. “We talked about coming in and playing with great tempo and great balance. We talked about taking our shots where we could. For the most part, when the ones were in there, it was kind of methodical.”
It didn’t hurt that Brees had the benefit of playing behind an offensive line that was intact for the first time this preseason, with Pro Bowl guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans returning from injury.
“I think we were just able to get into a pretty good rhythm,” Colston said. “Having those guys was definitely huge.”
However, Brees was down two receivers in fairly quick fashion. Brandin Cooks did not play and Kenny Stills aggravated his quad while trying to catch a pass, causing him to leave the game.
In an interesting twist, Brees’ biggest targets were running backs and tight ends. Brees completed several screen passes to running back Pierre Thomas, including one on second-and-8 for 19 yards, a four-yard completion to convert a third-and-3, and a 26-yard pass.
Brees also fired a deep ball to tight end Jimmy Graham for 38 yards.
Payton said he’s not yet sure how much, or if, Brees will play in the fourth preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens next Thursday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Brees’ participation in the final preseason game has varied, and he did not play last year.
“We’ll be smart, especially being a short week,” Payton said. “The key is just getting reps during practice and he’s experienced enough to understand the difference between practice and game speed. But I thought during the course of the week … I thought the ball was coming off his hand really sharp, accurate, and I think the same thing existed tonight. …
“How much or if he plays, we’ll sit down and go through that.”