Drew Brees is on the verge of breaking an NFL record that has stood for more than 50 years.
There’s one number that matters to Brees, however, and that’s leading the New Orleans Saints to their first win.
Poised to throw a touchdown pass in his 48th consecutive game, Brees looks to help the Saints avoid opening 0-5 for the first time in 16 years Sunday night when they host the San Diego Chargers.
In Green Bay last Sunday, Brees’ first of three touchdown passes tied him with Johnny Unitas’ record set in 1960. Despite the three scores and a season-high 446 yards passing from Brees, the result was the same as each of the previous three games for the Saints (0-4).
“Obviously, I’d like to be talking about it after a win,” Brees said of the record following the 28-27 loss. “But certainly it’s significant to even be in the same realm as a guy like Johnny Unitas.”
Brees hasn’t had a game without a TD pass since Oct. 4, 2009, against the New York Jets, and seems likely to throw one against San Diego (3-1), which has allowed one in each of its last seven contests.
Brees’ former team is also a bit thin in the secondary. With only three healthy cornerbacks on the roster, the Chargers signed free agent Chris Carr on Wednesday.
In his only game against San Diego on Oct. 26, 2008, Brees passed for 339 yards and three TDs in a 37-32 victory at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Although the Saints are off to their worst start since 2007, they’re remaining optimistic. All of their losses have been by single digits and the last two by a combined four points.
“You can see more positives,” interim coach Aaron Kromer said. “We really feel that we’re on the cusp of getting on a roll.”
Brees and the offense certainly look like they’re starting to get on the same page. The six-time Pro Bowler had a season-high 109.0 quarterback rating against the Packers after having a rating of 77.0 through the first three games. He found Marques Colston nine times for 153 yards and a touchdown.
Colston, who had 10 receptions for 160 yards through the first three weeks, has caught 22 of the 114 TDs Brees has during his streak - the most of any receiver.
“This was the first time all year that Drew and I have had it going like that,” Colston said. “It is a good step in the right direction.”
While the Saints are a loss away from opening 0-5 for the first time since 1996, the playoffs aren’t out of the question. In 1992, San Diego lost its first four games but still made the playoffs.
No one, however, has repeated the Chargers’ feat since.
“It’s been many years since I’ve been around Drew but he’s treating today like they’re 4-0,” San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said. “He’s very steady. And that’s how you bounce back from a situation like they’re in. In a Drew Brees team with what they’ve been though, you can’t ever count them out of anything. We’ll get their best and we’ve got to prepare to make sure that we give them our best.”
New Orleans’ best on defense hasn’t been nearly good enough.
The Saints have allowed a league-worst 463.3 yards per game - 40 more than the next-closest team - and an average of 32.5 points. Opposing quarterbacks have a 107.0 rating and have been sacked six times.
“We have to find a way to affect the quarterback more,” first-year defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said.
Rivers hasn’t put up eye-popping numbers, averaging 224.3 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions, but he has the Chargers atop the AFC West. By throwing for 209 yards in last Sunday’s 37-20 win at Kansas City, he brought his career total to 25,182 yards in 104 games, becoming the seventh-fastest player to 25,000.
Brees reached the mark in 103 games.
Rivers has been aided by a running game that is finding its stride, averaging 122.7 yards over the last three weeks. Against the Chiefs, Ryan Mathews finished with a team-high 61 yards on 14 carries in his second game after breaking his collarbone in the exhibition opener, while Jackie Battle ran for 39 yards and a TD.