Drew Brees tossed three touchdown passes as the red-hot New Orleans Saints romped to a 45-28 victory over the Detroit Lions in their NFL wild-card shootout on Saturday.
The Saints, Super Bowl champions two years ago, raced into the post-season as the NFL’s hottest team and rode that momentum to a ninth straight win to set up a divisional showdown against the San Francisco 49ers next weekend.
“I feel like our offense, our team, is built for whatever conditions,” Brees told reporters looking ahead to next weekend’s game outdoors in San Francisco. “We play indoors here, but we feel we’re the type of team that should be able to go anywhere, anytime and play the type of football we know how to play. We scored on every drive in the second half, I guess that’s what you hope for.”
Only four quarterbacks have passed for more than 5,000 yards in a single NFL season and two of them, Brees and the Lions’ Matthew Stafford, were on the field in New Orleans, promising a night of offensive fireworks at the Louisiana Superdome.
As usual, it was Brees at the controls of the NFL’s top offense, providing most of the pyrotechnics as the Saints attack piled up a post-season record of 626 total yards.
Brees, who set the new single-season passing mark, zeroed in on some playoff records, completing 33 of 43 passes for 466 yards, the second most in the NFL post-season behind Bernie Kosar’s 489 yards with the Cleveland Browns.
After a slow start, the Saints were unstoppable in the second half, when Brees had all his touchdown passes, including a 56-yarder to Robert Meachem and a 41-yard strike to Devery Henderson, as New Orleans outscored Detroit 35-14 over the final two quarters.
Jimmy Graham was also on the receiving end of a Brees touchdown pass, while Darren Sproles ran for a pair of scores and Pierre Thomas added one late in the game.
“I thought the big plays in the second half really helped us,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Us being able to come out to get those two [touchdowns] and we took the lead, it was really the tale of two halves. I think Detroit played extremely well in the first half, forced some turnover, made enough big plays offensively and really had control of the game, but we were lucky enough to get that momentum back in the third quarter.”
Stafford provided his share of thrills, completing 28 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns, one to Will Heller and a pair to the NFL’s leading receiver Calvin Johnson, who had 12 catches for 211 yards in his playoff debut.
The Lions pounced early, Stafford hitting Heller with a 10-yard touchdown strike to cap an opening 80-yard drive, quieting a Superdome crowd that had come ready to party.
In the second quarter, Brees had New Orleans’ powerhouse attack back in gear, marching the Saints 89 yards, with the diminutive Sproles scampering the final two yards to open the second quarter.
However Detroit, back in the playoffs for the first time since 1999, quickly regained control, Johnson hauling in a 13-yard pass to restore their lead.
Brees was sharp in the opening half, completing 17 of 21 passes, but he could not find the end zone, the Saints settling for a 24-yard John Kasay field goal to send New Orleans into the intermission trailing 14-10.
However, Brees came out gunning in the second half, finding Henderson with a 41-yard bomb, then following up the quick strike score with a long drive and a short touchdown pass to Graham.