Carolina Panthers

Saints' Brees: Beating Panthers comes before setting record

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees gets off a pass in front of Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers in the teams' first meeting Oct. 19. Brees needs 402 yards Sunday against the Panthers to break Dan Marino's single-season record for passing yards.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees gets off a pass in front of Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers in the teams' first meeting Oct. 19. Brees needs 402 yards Sunday against the Panthers to break Dan Marino's single-season record for passing yards.

CHARLOTTE -- Sure, the record's out there, close enough they can see it.

At the same time, the New Orleans Saints recognize that if quarterback Drew Brees sets the league's all-time passing record Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, it might not be the best signal.

Brees enters this week needing 402 yards to pass Dan Marino for the highest single-season total in league history. That might be out of reach unless things get crazy, but even 148 yards would push him past Kurt Warner's 2001 season in St. Louis for second-most.

"There is a little bit of a conflict there in that our goal and focus is on doing everything we can to win this football game," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "You're not talking about 207 yards or 300 yards, we're talking about over 400 yards. It's received a lot of attention, but I think Drew would be the first one to tell you that the most important thing is to play well enough to win.

"Chances are, if you're in that area, and again this is just from experience, you're probably not winning the game, you're at the end of the game trying to get back in it. Hopefully, we've got balance and we're able to come out and play better than the last time around."

Brees was likewise nonchalant about the record, since getting there would be an almost superhuman feat and the Saints have already been eliminated from postseason contention.

"I'm really trying not to think about it," he said this week. "When you start thinking about 'Hey, I need 400 yards,' you're liable to just start slinging the ball all over the place trying to pick up yardage as opposed to playing to win. My philosophy is like it always is, which is to throw completions, move the ball and get first downs. The more you can do that, the more of a chance you have at getting it."

"Certainly, our No. 1 priority is winning this football game, and if breaking the record falls within winning the game, so be it. If it doesn't happen, it wasn't meant to be and we will move on. Certainly, that's a huge record, and who knows if I will ever get this close again. It would be an honor to break it if we do, but if not, I guess it wasn't meant to be."

It's worth pointing out here that the Panthers have a say in this. They're 11th in the league in pass defense, giving up 201.3 yards per game. They've only allowed 300 yards once when Warner put up 375 with Arizona in October. They've held nine opponents under 200 passing yards.

While Brees has an impressive 95.5 rating, the Panthers have held opponent passers to a combined 79.1 rating, even though they often can't catch the interceptions that hit them in the hands.

So while the record is in the back of their minds, Carolina players are trying to improve in general in order to go into the playoffs on a better note.

"That's what they say," Panthers cornerback Ken Lucas said of the record. "It gives us a lot of opportunities to make plays, also. That's why they pay us all the money on the edges -- to go out and cover their wide receivers. Regardless if he's trying to go for the record, we've got to go out and cover anyway.

"It's going to be a great challenge. Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and has been for a couple years now."

Lucas laughed when asked the key to slowing Brees down.

"I can't tell you that," he said. "We've just got to go out there and cover. We can't give the game plan away. As bad as we've been playing the last couple of weeks as a defense, we need to keep all secrets to ourselves right now.

"This is a very key game for us. We need to get this bye week so we can heal up and rest a little bit. We know New Orleans is not going to give it to us easy."

There's been nothing easy about stopping Brees since he came to New Orleans in 2006, cast aside by San Diego so the Chargers could make room for Philip Rivers. He quickly became the most decorated passer in Saints history, though that wasn't the most demanding feat. Since signing with New Orleans, he leads the NFL with 13,524 passing yards.

"He's played tremendously," Panthers coach John Fox said of Brees. "Whether he breaks the record or not, he's had a tremendous season. What they've accomplished offensively pretty much stands on its own."

The Saints lead the league in scoring (28.8 points per game), yards (410.3 per game) and passing yards (307.3). They've done it without leading receiver Marques Colston, tight end Jeremy Shockey and running back Reggie Bush for large chunks of the season.

"It's been impressive," Payton said of Brees' circumstances. "When you look at the body of work for him and you look at what he's been able to do with the number of guys being hurt ... you look at his efficiency down the field with throws over 20 yards, over 30 yards. His completion percentage, his red-zone (production), his third-down scoring offense, he's first in every one of those categories.

"He's worked extremely hard, and when you see what he does in preparation during the work week, it's amazing."

Can he get there?

Saints QB Drew Brees needs 402 passing yards to break Dan Marino's record for most in a single season. Even with an ordinary day, he safely figures to be second all-time. Here's a look at where Brees through 15 games ranks on the all-time list:

1. Dan MarinoMia, 19845,0842. Kurt WarnerStL, 20014,8303. Tom BradyNE, 20074,8064. Dan FoutsSD, 19814,8025. Dan MarinoMia, 19864,7466. Daunte CulpepperMin, 20044,7177. Dan FoutsSD, 19804,7158. Warren MoonHou, 19914,690t9 Rich GannonOak, 20024,689t9 Warren MoonHou, 19904,689

11. Drew Brees

NO, 20084,683

• Panthers notes • 3D