Saints quarterback Drew Brees celebrated his 40th birthday Tuesday.
“Time kind of flies by,” Brees said.
The future Hall of Famer hopes to show that old men can still pass when the Saints (14-3) play the Rams (14-3) and their 24-year-old quarterback Jared Goff in the NFC Championship game at 3:05 p.m. Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“He seems like he's only getting better,” Goff said. “Have so much respect for him and everything he's brought to the game.”
The winner advances to play the Chiefs-Patriots winner in Super Bowl LIII, which will be played Feb. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“It’s an interesting pairing between the two,” said Fox Sports analyst Troy Aikman, who will call the game. “You’ve got Drew Brees in his 18th season and is the all-time leader in passing yards and all that he’s accomplished and what he’s meant to the city of New Orleans.”
Goff was the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft out of California and has been compared with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
“Jared Goff is off to a great start in his career,” Aikman said. “He’s been voted to the last two Pro Bowls. Now he has a playoff win under his belt. He’s trying to achieve, ultimately what Drew has already achieved, and that is to win a Super Bowl title.”
Brees guided the Saints to back-to-back NFC South titles for the first time in franchise history. After a first-round bye, they made a dramatic comeback in the divisional round to defeat Philadelphia, 20-14.
Brees has dazzling array of weapons at his disposal.
“Drew Brees, as great as he’s been, I think he’s benefited from a guy like (Saints coach) Sean Payton,” Aikman said. “I believe that what we have seen of those two, Payton and Brees, we are witnessing is greatness.”
The Rams, who repeated as NFC West champions, have leaned heavily on the running-back combination of Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson to reach the title game. Goff has thrown only six touchdown passes over his past six games.
Goff struggled as a rookie, but took off last season under the tutelage of Rams coach Sean McVay, who was raised in Atlanta and is a Marist School grad.
“With McVay and Jared Goff, I know firsthand how important those guys are, the guy who’s coordinating the offense and getting good players around you,” Aikman said. “Both of these guys, although great players, have certainly benefited from what they’ve had in the supporting casts and along with the guys who coordinated it. In this case, it’s both of their head coaches.”
The Saints prevailed 45-35 in a regular-season matchup Nov. 14 in New Orleans.
Brees has completed a staggering 74.4 percent (364 of 498) of his passes, the highest single-season completion percentage in NFL history and has a league-leading 115.7 passer rating.
Goff ranks fourth in the NFL in passing yards with 4,688 and was one of three quarterbacks with more than 4,500 yards passing and a passer rating (101.1) of over 100.
“When you’re drafted in the first round … you are not drafted to make Pro Bowls,” Aikman said. “You are not drafted to win passing titles. You’re drafted to win a Super Bowl championship for the franchise. That’s what they envision when they made that pick.
“I do believe that Jared Goff is going to win a Super Bowl, if not more, by the time his career is over. Maybe it’s this year. He’s been outstanding.”
While most give the advantage to Brees, especially at home before the Saints’ rowdy Mardi Gras-styled crowd, Aikman is still high on Goff.
“He has made throws that I’ve seen this year that I would put against any throws that I’ve seen ever,” Aikman said. “Whether it was back when I was playing and some of the great quarterbacks that I got to watch during that period or as a broadcaster. I think he’s been just terrific.”
The Rams’ defensive charge will be led by tackle Aaron Donald, who led the league with 20.5 sacks and was named the Professional Football Writers of America’s defensive player of the year.
"Anytime you play against a great quarterback like (Brees), he’s going to do things a normal quarterback ain’t going to do,” Donald said to reporters in Los Angeles last week. “So, we know what to expect. We try to do what we got to do to try our best to make him uncomfortable and get after him. … (We’ve) got to stop the run first before we think about rushing the passer.”
The Rams are hoping that Donald will get some help from defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who turned in his best performance of the season in the divisional-round win over the Cowboys, according to McVay.
“He has a tremendous presence,” Payton said of Suh to New Orleans reporters. “He's a real good football player. He’s explosive. He has size. He's smart. Those are some of the challenges he presents.”
In the previous meeting, the Rams didn’t sack Brees, but had four quarterback hits.
Also, Rams cornerback Aqib Talib didn’t play in the Week 9 game. With Talib out, the Saints openly attacked cornerback Marcus Peters with wide receiver Michael Thomas, who finished with 15 catches for 211 yards and a touchdown.
“We definitely watched the tape a bunch of times,” Talib said. “Watched really, for the most part, their season and we're aware that the tight ends -- anybody can get active in this offense.
“It's Brees, man. He finds everybody. So (we’ve) got to have everybody covered, simple as that."
The Saint know Talib is a game-changer.
“He's been a very good player for a long time,” Brees said. “He's one of their captains, so you can see a lot of respect that his teammates have for him.”
The Saints likely will try to stuff Gurley and Anderson and make Goff beat them passing the ball.
McVay doesn’t believe his quarterback is in a slump.
"Sometimes it can be just the fact of a ball bouncing one way or the other,” McVay said.
Goff’s decision-making and ability to distribute the ball is key for the Rams.
“I think everybody wants to make a big deal of the way that he was playing,” McVay said. “But, I think in large part, it's because he was playing at such an elite level, he almost became a victim of his own success. But, he really didn't fall off at all.”
Goff is tired of talk about his perceived slump.
"It was a bad game or two,” Goff said. “I hate having to keep talking about it, but if you guys keep asking about it – you can call it three games if you want. If you're going to take three out of 16, I'm OK with that."
The home team has won the past five NFC title games and before that the road team won the four consecutive, including San Francisco’s win over the Falcons after the 2012 season.
“They were the best teams from start to finish,” Aikman said. “If it’s anything like the game that we called the last time these two teams met, it’s going to be epic.”
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