The Saints (14-3) will host the the Rams (14-3) in the NFC Championship game at 3:05 p.m. Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The winner advances to play the Chiefs-Patriots winner in Super Bowl LIII, which will be played Feb. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Here’s what Saints quarterback Drew Brees had to say to reporters during his media availability session Friday:
We hear so much about Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones, when do you think (Saints wide receiver) Michael Thomas is going to get some of the attention perhaps he deserves?
“I don’t know. But you turn on the tape and watch him. I think whether you're a football professional, a coach, or a player, somebody who really knows the game, or a member of the media, or a fan. I mean, look at the numbers, look at the results and I can tell you as his teammate, as his quarterback, there’s not a guy who prepares harder (and) works harder in practice. What you see on gameday’s exactly what we see every day, in the locker room, on the practice field. Every rep’s a Super Bowl rep to Michael Thomas. And that is why he just continues to improve, improve and he's visualized himself being in this situation before any of us ever saw it. So, he deserves a ton of credit.”
Do you think he matches your intensity?
“Yeah. And even – it's two different positions, obviously. But I would say our sense of urgency is very much the same. Every rep I try to visualize as a game rep, a Super Bowl rep, a win the game on this rep type deal. And he takes the same approach. So when we're able to practice like that, I feel like it carries over to the game.”
Have you ever noticed how his on-field persona seems to agitate some of his opponents at times?
“I'm sure it does. I'm sure they hate him. But we love him. I would say some of the greatest players I've ever played with or against had that same type of persona. Where if he was your teammate, you loved him. But if you were playing against him, you hate him.”
Have you had time to maybe reflect on the fact that so many of the guys that have contributed to this run were almost in middle school the last time the team made it this far?
“I haven't thought about that. Time kind of flies by. It was funny, it was just on in the lunchroom I guess the NFC championship game from ’09 and everybody was saying I had a lot more hair back then. So it doesn’t feel like that long ago, but I guess it was.”
You've been here in this city for a long time. Why do you think the city and (Saints coach) Sean (Payton) have clicked so well together? Winning is obviously one thing, but beyond the fact that he’s had success.
“Well, I think from Day 1, ’06, you go back to that time when a lot of us came here six months post-Katrina. All of us leaning on one another. You know, this was this is a new environment for Sean. It was a new situation, first-time head coach. Man, he had his hands full trying to put together a staff and a team to try to put together a winner to give the people of New Orleans and this community something to cheer about. I think he drew the connection very quickly. He helped to create that bond. He had to create the culture here that fits the mold of this city, you know, and the Who Dat Nation. So I think he's always embraced that. So that's one of the big reasons why there's such a connection between the two.”
Do you think you appreciate it in ’09 how much of a once-in-a-decade opportunity it was, or was there more of a sense of we’re going to be back here?
“Well, I mean go back further than that. You know, ’06, we go to the NFC Championship game and lose that to Chicago. And I think we way overachieved that year. We had the spirit of the city behind us for all the reasons I just mentioned post-Katrina. That Monday night game in the dome (against the Falcons in 2006) and just all the things that season that just seemed to come together, but with kind of a ragtag group of castaways. And so I think after that season we're like, ‘Ah man, you know we're just going to come back in ’07. We're going to take the next step and we go to the Super Bowl.’ And we missed the playoffs that year. We missed the playoffs in ’08, but I think that's when you realize just how hard it is. And we went out and started getting some more pieces to the puzzle and then put it all together in ‘09. But still realizing that it takes a lot of work and you got to have some breaks go your way, but with the right people, the right culture, right locker room and the right set of circumstances to get it done.”
Along those lines, why do you think this year you’re able to get further than you did last year?
“Well I'd say it has a lot to do with the character, toughness and intelligence of the guys that we have. A huge credit to Mickey Loomis our GM, our scouting department Jeff Ireland, Sean Payton and all those involved with going out and finding the right type of guys, whether it be through the draft or through free agency, those have been key contributors for us, not just last year, but this year. And the way that a lot of those maybe first or second-year players grew from last year to this year. The mindset coming off of that tough loss at Minnesota last year, where I think we felt like we were hitting our stride right at the right time and on our way to another championship game. To bounce back and to become stronger as a result of that and to come back stronger this season, I think says a lot about the type of guys we have and obviously the talent as well. We're a talented, young team that I feel like can continue to improve and get better.”
So many times coaches want to block out the noise, block on the expectations. Sean (Payton) told us on Wednesday he saw some of the expectations and, obviously, you guys had high expectations for yourself but he puts the big banner up ‘Prove Them Right.’ Can you talk about what that does for the team when a coach says, ‘You know what? Embrace it and attack it.’
“Yeah, I think a lot is talked about the underdog mentality. And I think that's an easy thing for people to rally around and, you know, chip on the shoulder. An underdog, nobody thinks we can do it. And then you go out and you are proven wrong. But what's really not talked about a whole lot is when you do have the hype, or when you do have everyone picking you as a preseason contender and all that stuff. You know, I think it's much harder to handle success than it is failure. Everybody is going to want to bounce back with their best effort after failure, and yet, after success or after people picking you to be one of the top teams, it's easier to get complacent. And so I think Sean has done a great job of making sure that there's always a sense of urgency with us in the way we practice and the way we prepare, but also embracing that role a little bit and challenging ourselves to see how good we can be.”
Are there times when you can still tell that he played quarterback. Does that still come out of him every now and then?
“Oh yeah, every time we have a quarterback challenge, he wants to be involved in it. So yes it does.”
I wonder if you could put in perspective (ex-Saint Steve Gleason’s) enduring presence in the community, and with the team, and kind of how that influences guys’ outlooks on things on the club.
“Yeah. I think it says a lot about this organization as well in that you have a guy like Steve Gleason, who I think everyone’s well aware of his story now, well aware of what he meant to this organization while he was a player here and what he meant to this community. But so much of our team there are only maybe a handful of guys that played with Steve Gleason, or knew Steve Gleason as a player directly. And yet, this team’s embraced him. He’s absolutely one of us. And he inspires all of us every day. He inspires so many people in this community every day. And look at all the guys that continue to come back to our games. Guys that we're a part of this program, helped build this program over the last 13 years. They didn’t just come back down the playoffs here but have come back in years past. And this organization welcomes them with open arms. And they’re in the locker room, and they're at practice, and they speak to the team the night before games, and I think they just reinforce what Sean (Payton) and Mickey (Loomis) have tried to build here with this team and the culture from the very beginning. And I think that that puts a face with it and that that that gives a great example for the young guys who are hearing it from the coaches, and yet, now they see it from former players when they come back. And they see the twinkle in Sean's eye when he sees these guys. Especially, the guys who were part of that Super Bowl team. The statement was made by Joe Vitt when we were here during that time that, ‘You win one of these, you walk together forever.’ And you truly do. I mean it's a brotherhood that's created and you may go your separate ways for a long time, but when you come back it's like no time has passed. There's a connection there, and that's what this organization has built.”
From the numbers with Aqib Talib on the field for the Rams secondary seems like he just makes such a massive difference. Obviously, he was out the last contest but from what you've seen on film being with the team this back half of the season, what difference does he make?
“Yeah, there's definitely a presence there. He's a very good player. He's been a very good player for a long time. He's one of their captains, so you can see a lot of respect that his teammates have for him. Yeah, he's definitely a difference maker.”
Is it an expectation to have him shade (Michael) Thomas throughout the entirety of the game?
“I don't know. They haven't really shown to do that. But you know, we'll see.”
It’s taken nine years to get back here. Does it make you at least in the back of your mind think that this might be your last shot at it or do you even think like that?
“No I don't think like that. Just another game.”
People always talk about the idea of the ability to narrow the space of the field you look at to reduce the field on a certain play. Can you explain in your interpretation of what he means by that? And has the way you see the field changed over the course of your career?
“You become a smarter, you become wiser, you become more experienced. Many years in this offense even though we've evolved quite a bit and personnel changes. But yes, I think you try to simplify things on any given play. And so even though our play may have a ton of moving parts, at the snap, you try to narrow it down to whatever it is that you're looking at. Whether it's a progression, or whether it's a certain defender, or a certain area, you try to simplify things so that you can play very, very quickly and with confidence.”
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