NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees and the Saints' offense are delivering a bold message to the rest of the NFL: New Orleans may be the best team this side of the Rockies.
Hitting on all cylinders, Brees threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns passes, two to tight end Jimmy Graham, in a 38-17 rout of the Miami Dolphins on Monday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The lopsided victory gave the Saints (4-0) a 2 1/2-game lead in the NFC South.
"We still haven't played our best football," Brees said after completing 30 of 39 passes while targeting nine receivers, including scat back Darren Sproles, who caught seven passes for 114 yards. "It's a good thing to be 4-0 and say we still haven't played our best. We scored 38, and it should've been more. We're going to need those plays as we progress through the season."
Brees was his typically patient self early in the game. He didn't throw a pass in Graham's direction in the first 22 minutes because the Dolphins (3-1) decided to double-cover Graham whenever he split out like a wide receiver.
However, Graham scored on catches of 27 and 43 yards -- giving him six TD catches in four games -- and the rout was on.
Brees threw his first pass in Graham's direction midway through the second quarter. The tight end was double-covered by Jamar Taylor and Brent Grimes, but Brees simply lofted the ball into the left side of the end zone and had the 6-foot-6 Graham go up and grab it.
"Drew is one of the most accurate quarterbacks of all time," said Graham, who finished with four catches for 100 yards. "I told him after the play, 'Thanks for believing in me. I'll go up and get it for you.' It was probably a better throw than a catch."
Taylor said of Graham, "He made a great play. Both Brent and I were right there on the coverage, and we reacted when the ball was in the air. But it was angled such that he went up and made a great play."
Sproles carved up the Miami secondary with quick releases and had Miami's linebackers running in his shadow all night. Sproles was open because the Dolphins concentrated their coverage on Graham, and Brees took full advantage.
"We move him around so much and can do so many things with him," Brees said. "It's hard for a defense to get a key on exactly where he's going to be. The tempo at which we play forces defense to be, at times, a little on their heels while they are trying to check into a certain defense."
Miami coach Joe Philbin said Ryan Tannehill's two second-quarter turnovers -- a fumble forced by linebacker Curtis Lofton and an interception by cornerback Jabari Greer that set up the Saints at the Miami 23 -- were critical mistakes. Both turnovers led to touchdowns, turning a four-point game into a 21-10 halftime deficit.
"They were huge," Philbin said. "While we hadn't played great up to that point, we were right in the ballgame and hanging around with an opportunity. That is not a good formula."
What the Saints said:
"We have high expectations for ourselves. That's something we practice a lot. I'm very confident throwing those balls to him high and away. He's 6-6 and can jump out of the gym. Even if I have him covered, I feel like I can put the ball up and it's Jimmy or nobody." -- Quarterback Drew Brees, on tight end Jimmy Graham.
What the Dolphins said:
"We tried a variety of different coverages. We tried zone. We tried man. We tried some pressure. (Drew Brees) played excellently. He had a very good command. He threw the ball accurately and he made good decisions. He's one of the best in the business." -- Coach Joe Philbin.
What we learned about the Saints:
1. Drew Brees is simply unstoppable when he has time to set his feet. He made big plays out of the pocket, but Brees seemed to be one step ahead of the defense all night by catching the Dolphins in some awful mismatches, using formation and motion. Brees' 48-yard pass to Darren Sproles on a wheel route on the second play of the game was so wide open there wasn't a defender within 5 yards of the scat back. The Dolphins struggled to line up properly all night, and when Brees finally went to Jimmy Graham, the result were two big touchdown strikes of 27 and 43 yards. With Brees, the ball comes out on time, every time. His 13-yard touchdown pass to Sproles at the end of the half was perfection -- an inch more to the right, and it could have been an interception. Instead, it was seven points.
2. Despite effectively throwing the ball all over the park, the Saints still struggle to get their running game on track. They rushed for just 10 yards on eight carries in the first half and finished with 68 yards on 24 attempts -- a 2.8-yard average -- as Sean Payton tried to get backup Khiry Robinson some meaningful snaps in the final two quarters. Running back Mark Ingram (toe) was inactive for the second consecutive game, but with the Saints, the short passing game is better than pounding the ball with the run.
What we learned about the Dolphins:
1. Despite the defeat, the Dolphins (3-1) must feel fairly good about their position, especially after beating the Indianapolis Colts on the road and the Atlanta Falcons at home in Weeks 2 and 3, respectively. Now they have a big home game Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, but few expected them to be 3-1 at this point.
2. Ryan Tannehill is a big-time talent -- he has the strong arm and enough speed to keep the Dolphins' offense churning -- but he committed two huge second-quarter turnovers to tilt the game in the Saints' favor. The first came after his scramble up the middle when linebacker Curtis Lofton separated him from the ball. He has to be more careful with the ball. It was his sixth fumble in four games, and he lost three. The second turnover was an interception by cornerback Jabari Greer on a slant to Brian Hartline, setting up the Saints at the Miami 23, leading to a 21-10 halftime deficit. Tannehill finished with three interceptions. The Dolphins entered the game plus-two in takeaways but were minus-3 at New Orleans.