By Gary Estwick / Special to The Sun Herald
The Meridian Star
METAIRIE, La. —
Two statistics summarize Drew Brees' roller coaster season with the Saints.
Brees finished with a league-high 43 touchdowns. He also tied for the league's most interceptions (19).
Because of his sporadic play, it came as no surprise that Brees pointed at himself after Sunday's 44-38 loss to Carolina in the regular-season finale, saying offensive improvements must start with him.
"I've got to hold myself accountable and those have to come down," Brees said of his interceptions, the second-highest season total of his career. In 2010, he threw 33 TDs with 22 interceptions.
"I understand that and I'm going to do my best to fix that."
Brees finished his 12th NFL season with several milestones, adding to his already-impressive Hall of Fame resume. He joined Dan Marino as the only quarterbacks to throw 40 or more TD passes in two or more seasons. Brees also became the first quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards in three different seasons. This season, his 5,177 passing yards led the league, a feat he has accomplished four times in New Orleans.
For all his passing heroics, Brees added too many miscues. There's no way of knowing how much better he and the offense would have performed with head coach Sean Payton, who was suspended for the entire 2012 season for his alleged role in the team's pay-to-injury scandal. What is known is that the final product fell short of last season's NFL record for total offense (7,474). He also completed 71.2 percent of his passes and threw for 5,347 yards -- both records.
While this season could not be deemed subpar, it did fall short of his record-setting, lofty standards.
An interception returned for a score at Carolina shifted momentum. Another two interceptions were returned for TDs during a loss to San Francisco. Another five at Atlanta.
During a season in which the Saints defense set an NFL record for ineptitude, Brees struggled in four quarters where timely scoring possessions meant the different between playoffs or watching the postseason from the sideline, as the Saints will do for the first time since 2008.
Although coaches often side-stepped heavy criticism of Brees, it was clear that in the midst of a losing season, he started pressing, trying to do too much. Throwing passes that weren't there, trying to turn the nearly impossible into the completed pass -- something he has earned a reputation for accomplishing with the Saints.
"When you have seasons where you're winning 12, 13 or more games, it seems like you made those plays and the ball bounced your way and you got that call," he said. "Then you have seasons like this one.
You feel like, man, we didn't get any breaks. And yet, (there's) a lot of things we gotta own up to and get better."
He knows that starts with him.