Saints offense looks to break more records
By BRETT MARTEL AP Sports Writer
“It means a lot,” the running back said after Thursday’s practice. “It’s something that I’m always going to have to cherish for the rest of my life and say, `I was a part of that team when we did that.”’
In this case, Thomas was referring to records the Saints offense already has set through 15 games.
New Orleans has 6,857 yards from scrimmage this season, easily eclipsing the previous club mark of 6,571 set in 2008. Thomas, who often turns screen passes into substantial gains, also helped quarterback Drew Brees(notes) throw for an NFL record 5,087 yards this season, breaking Dan Marino’s 27-year-old mark of 5,084.
Heading into Sunday’s season finale against Carolina, the Saints’ offense is 219 yards from breaking the NFL team record of 7,075 yards set by the 2000 St. Louis Rams.
While Thomas won’t deny he’d like to see the Saints capture that mark against the Panthers, he’s a little less comfortable talking about something that has not yet been accomplished.
“We have to treat it just like any other game we’ve been playing, no matter what record is in front of us that we might be able to break,” Thomas said of Sunday’s regular-season finale in the Superdome. “We have to go out there and play our game. Otherwise if we go out there thinking about records and not staying focused, we’re going to lose this game.”
The yardage mark is one of several records the Saints could set. They are 10 completions from breaking the single-season NFL mark of 450, set in 2010 by both New Orleans and Indianapolis. They need nine points to break the club record 510 they scored in 2009.
One dilemma for Saints coach Sean Payton is that the result of New Orleans’ matchup with Carolina might have no bearing on playoff seedings. Scoreboard updates all around the Superdome will show how San Francisco is faring in its bid to lock up the No. 2 seed in St. Louis. If the 49ers win, the Saints cannot improve their No. 3 seeding in the NFC.
If San Francisco pulls out a big early lead, it might make more sense to start resting key players to avoid the risk of injury.
“I would say what’s most important for us with everything that’s at stake is we have a chance still at that 2 seed and that definite opportunity to improve this week,” Payton said. “Hopefully, the other stuff takes care of itself.”
Whatever happens, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the 2011 Saints offense is one of the best the NFL has seen.
“Truthfully, all I can say is, `Wow.”’ It really is,” Rivera said. “It’s a good group of football players that have come together at the right time.”
The Saints have had a formidable offense since Payton and Brees arrived together in 2006. Payton designs the offense and calls the plays. Brees makes all the key throws.
Brees has been highly productive in the past with a veteran receiving corps of Marques Colston(notes), Lance Moore(notes), Devery Henderson(notes) and Robert Meachem(notes). Two substantial differences this season have been the emergence of second-year tight end Jimmy Graham(notes) and the addition of versatile running back Darren Sproles(notes).
Graham has a team-leading 91 catches for 1,213 yards and 10 touchdowns. Sproles has 1,244 yards from scrimmage, including 81 catches for 681 yards and six TDs.
“As you watch them, you see the things people look for when they talk about hot teams - the quarterback making good decisions, putting the ball where it needs to be and the players going out and making plays,” Rivera said. “Those elements of the game have kind of come together for them. I like what they do and the way they do it. Sean’s one of the finer coaches around.”
Brees enters Sunday’s game 190 yards ahead of New England’s Tom Brady(notes), meaning he might need to play at his usual level for at least a half to prevent Brady from taking over the yards passing record.
It sounds like the Saints’ quarterback expects to have an opportunity to do that and more.
“There’s a lot of records out there we could potentially set, break. I think our mindset above and beyond that is how do we put ourselves in the best position to play and win in the playoffs,” Brees said. “Our mindset is that we want to continue to progress and continue to get better, because I think there are things that serve you well in this game if you can continue to stay in the rise as you head into the playoffs, whether they’re confidence builders or situations that come up that you fight through.”
Notes: Ingram (toe, left foot), WR Lance Moore (hamstring), and TE John Gilmore(notes) (toe, right foot) did not practice. Payton said Ingram, who had practiced earlier this week, had “a setback.” … FS Malcolm Jenkins(notes) (neck) and LB Jon Vilma (left knee) were limited. … LB Jonathan Casillas(notes) (right knee), who has missed the past three games, practiced fully.