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Week 8 in the NFL

Brees goes to edge

Spurned by the Chargers' front office, quarterback recovers quickly from an injured shoulder to make Saints a success story

October 29, 2006|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS — Doctors and physical therapists helped repair the extensive labrum and rotator-cuff tears in the throwing shoulder of quarterback Drew Brees.

As for the chip on his shoulder? Brees preferred to keep that.

"Yeah, I guess I've got one," said the quarterback who has helped reverse the fortunes of the once-hapless New Orleans Saints. "You always have to find an edge every year. ... My injury made me stronger mentally. It's going to make me stronger physically."

Cast aside by San Diego in favor of untested Philip Rivers, Brees has bounced back in dramatic fashion. He has guided the Saints to a 5-1 start, and has stunned coaches and team executives with his astounding recovery from an injury that some thought would spell the end of his NFL career.

"We knew he would get healthy, but sometimes that's a one or two-year process," Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said. "We were just betting on him as a person on whether he could come back quickly enough to impact this season. And he certainly has."

Heading into today's game against visiting Baltimore, Brees is ranked second in the league with a completion percentage of 66.7. Already, he has thrown for 353 yards at Green Bay and 349 yards at Carolina -- both top-10 yardage performances in Saints history.

Brees, 27, spent the first five years of his career with the Chargers, and passed for more than 3,000 yards in three of his last four seasons. In the 2004 draft, when San Diego traded for No. 4 pick Rivers, it looked as if Brees' days were numbered. But he came back and led the team to the playoffs, turning Rivers into a spectacularly well-paid backup.

But Brees never felt as if he had the support of Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith.

"There was kind of a pessimistic attitude that came down from the top," said Brees, who at 6 feet 1 is not the prototypical NFL quarterback. "I don't want to say they were hoping something bad would happen to me. But it's like they were just waiting for me to either screw up or get hurt to give the other guy a chance."

Brees said there was never a flicker of doubt coming from his teammates, or Chargers Coach Marty Schottenheimer and his staff.

"Those guys believed in me, and I believed in them," he said. "It was just one or two people at the top who wanted to give Philip a shot."

Things have worked out well for both teams. The Chargers (4-2) have gotten very solid play out of Rivers -- last Sunday's loss at Kansas City notwithstanding -- and Brees has been terrific with the Saints, perhaps exceeding the popularity of rookie Reggie Bush in New Orleans.

"When things start going bad, Drew just doesn't let it happen," said quarterback Jamie Martin, his backup. "It's like he wills things to go well."

Brees, who probably could have signed with Miami, instead chose the league's biggest reclamation project. The Saints were coming off a 3-13 season and hadn't played a regular-season game at home since 2004. They were displaced by the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, and in 2005 played "home" games in San Antonio, Baton Rouge, La., and, in a bizarre "Monday Night Football" spectacle, at the New Jersey Meadowlands.

After starting the season with an emotional upset at Carolina, the Saints lost 13 of their next 15 games.

"We had the opportunity to write the story ourselves last year and kind of failed on it," running back Deuce McAllister said. "Now we have another opportunity."

It's a fresh start for Brees too, a player who has been overlooked and undervalued throughout his career. He led his high school team to a Texas state championship but wasn't recruited by Texas, the place he had dreamed of playing. Instead he went to Purdue, and wound up leading the Boilermakers to the Rose Bowl.

In the 2001 draft, many predicted he would go in the first round, but he slipped to the top of the second, where the Chargers took him with the 32nd pick. He struggled his first few seasons but felt slighted when San Diego used the No. 1 pick on Eli Manning then swapped him for Rivers.

Then came the shoulder injury in the 2005 finale, the stiff-arm from San Diego, and his personal mission to prove he still belonged as a starting quarterback.

"People are always telling him, 'Hey, you're not good enough,' and he's always proving them wrong," Loomis said. "He's an exact metaphor for our team. He's a guy who was injured and damaged last year, having to come back and prove to the world that, 'Hey, I'm OK and I can do this.' In a lot of ways, this is the perfect spot for him."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Instant offense

Drew Brees and Baltimore's Steve McNair, whose teams play each other today, are looking to lead their teams to the postseason in the first season with their clubs. They would be the first starting quarterbacks in three years to do so after changing teams:

*--* Year Quarterback New Team Old Team 2000 Jay Fiedler Dolphins Jaguars 2000 Jeff Blake Saints Bengals 2001 Brad Johnson Buccaneers Redskins 2001 Elvis Grbac Ravens Chiefs 2003 Jake Plummer Broncos Cardinals 2003 Jake Delhomme Panthers Saints

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Source: STATS LLC

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