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Kristian Garic

Talk sports and more with Kristian and T-Bob Hebert on "Double Coverage!" 

Weeknights 8pm-Midnight

Twitter: @kristiangaric
Email: kristian@wwl.com

Brees: Turnovers sank Saints in Kansas City, but offense has bright spots

The Saints had this one! Well they could have had it if not for two turnovers and 10 penalties!

"The turnovers resulted in 10 or 14 point swings. We were 9 of 14 on third down here in K.C and that usually wins you a lot of games," Drew Brees explained. The loud crowd at Arrowhead stadium was a factor but not an excuse. "Doesn't matter how loud it is, it's communication... unfortunately it happened that put us in unfavorable positions that killed drives," he added.

The Saints stayed patient in the running game, rushing for over 100 yards for the first time this season. "We put together a nice drive to start the second half, with good balance and great compliment, it's something we always emphasize," Brees said. Unfortunately Mark Ingram fumbled when the team was driving in the red zone for points.

The bright spot on offense has been the play of rookie WR Michael Thomas. "He's humble, and feisty, and he's so focused. I love his approach and work ethic. The sky is the limit for a guy like that," he added. Thomas had 10 catches for over 130 yards.

Next up for the Saints, the Seattle Seahawks in the Superdome. Seattle has beaten the Saints in three straight games, in fact the last time the Saints won against Seattle it came in 2010 at home in the Superdome. "We've haven't played these guys in a few years, we know what type of team they are. They've got a lot of good players. They've built a winning program, we know what to expect from these guys," Brees said. The Saints are 2-4 and need a win badly this Sunday against Seattle. ​

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Kristian: This is the game that will haunt the Saints the rest of the season

First down: If the Saints finish the season 7-9 or 8-8 this season, there will be plenty of the "what if" scenario. What if the team had made one or two more plays in just two games? Heck, you won't even need that - it's not the Raiders game, or the Giants game that will come back to haunt the Saints this season. The game that will haunt them will be the week seven match up with Kansas City. The Saints had their chances, but penalties and turnovers proved to be their undoing in a 27-21 loss on Sunday.

Second down: The Saints matched up perfectly with the Chiefs despite being down a few players. Kansas City scored 20 offensive points, and the Saints squandered at least 3 points, likely 6, when Mark Ingram fumbled late in the fourth quarter when the Saints were marching in the red zone. "We didn't do enough smart things to win," explained coach Sean Payton after the game. Payton was spot on, when Nick Fairley was flagged for a senseless personal foul penalty as the Saints were hoping to get the ball back on a third down play that was successfully defended, but negated by the wrestling move after the play from Fairley.

Third down: Let's be clear, not taking anything away from the Chiefs, but the Saints beat themselves. As I mentioned above the penalties and turnovers were the difference in this one. "We're not good enough to overcome those kind of mistakes," Payton said after the game. Exactly. The Saints pretty much have to play perfect in order to win games. The reason for that is talent, there aren't enough talented players to overcome those mistakes.

Fourth Down: Just when you think the Saints are breaking through, you get a game like this one in Kansas City. However, in a strange way I agree with the overall assessment that the Saints are getting better. I think they are, but not fast enough. The Saints are doing some things better, but then something else crops up as the problem. One step forward and two backward.

Extra point: At 2-4 the Saints face the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday in the Superdome. It will be the return of Tight End Jimmy Graham to the Superdome for the first time since he was traded to Seattle 2 off-seasons ago. The Saints have lost three straight games to the Seahawks, all of which were in Seattle. The Saints haven't played them at home since 2010, and the fan base will certainly be energized, with their first shot at Seattle at home in six years. The Seahawks have knocked the Saints out of the post-season twice since 2010. ​
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Kristian: Saints release final injury report ahead of Chiefs game

The Saints final injury report of the week has a new player listed.

LB Stephone Anthony (hamstring) was a late add to the list this week and has been ruled out for this Sunday against the Chiefs. LB Dannell Ellerbe (quad), CB Delvin Breaux (fibula), RB Daniel Lasco (hamstring), CB Sterling Moore (abdomen), and OT Andrus Peat (Groin), have all been ruled out as well.

LT Terron Armstead (knee) was limited in practice all week and is listed as questionable, along with DE Paul Kruger (back). The bigger loss of the players that were in action a week ago will be Sterling Moore. I like the way he's played after joining the Saints late in the preseason. The secondary has just been decimated with injuries this year.

So here it is, a chance for the Saints to get back to .500 against the 3-2 Chiefs this Sunday. Three weeks ago I wouldn't have dreamed of taking the Saints to win this game. Now, I don't know that it's not possible. With that said, I'm picking the Chiefs to beat the Saints.

The reason? The Chiefs defense is much better than Carolina, and the Saints won't put up 41 points this week on the road in a tough place like Arrowhead Stadium. It won't be a 7 point spread that Vegas is predicting but none the less the Saints nor the Chiefs will care if the spread is covered.
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Kristian: Terron Armstead hoping to join Saints on Sunday

Saints left tackle Terron Armstead says he is going to try and play this Sunday against the Chiefs. New Orleans is looking to run their record to 3-3 and get back to .500.

Armstead has been out with a knee injury and hasn't played since week two, and the Saints are especially thin at that tackle spot with Andrus Peat going down in the first half of the game last week against the Panthers. He's one of the best left tackles in the league, and with Peat already sidelined this would be huge for the Saints against a pretty good Chiefs pass rush.

If Armstead can't play, the Saints will be down to their third string left tackle in Tony Hills.

The Saints list Terron Armstead (knee) and Dannell Ellerbe (quad) as limited on Thursday's injury report. Delvin Breaux (fibula), Nick Fairley (not injury related), Paul Kruger (back), CB Sterling Moore (abdomen), Andrus Peat (Groin) all were listed as Did Not Practice.
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Kristian: Big names return to Saints practice today

Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead is back - well at practice at least. Armstead participated in the potion of practice that was open to the media on Wednesday, and was listed on the injury report as limited in participation.

Terron hasn't played since week 2 of the season after suffering a knee injury in the loss to the Giants. Having Armstead back this week would be key for a number of reasons, but more importanlty because Andrus Peat did not practice after suffering a leg injury in the win over the Panthers. CB Delvin Breaux also returned to the practice field for the first time since week 1 after he broke his fibula, but the team officially designated him as "Did Not Practice." In addition, rookie DT Sheldon Rankins also returned to the practice field. Rankins officially can't come back until week 9. He was activated on the Reserve Injured list, and the team has two weeks to activate him to the roster.

Cornerback Sterling Moore (Abdomen) DT Nick Fairley (Not Injury related) DE Paul Kruger (back) are also officially listed as "Did Not Practice." Moore's injury could be significant for a secondary that has laundry list of injuries this season, and if he can't play Sunday it's definitely a loss. Moore has been the Saints most consistent defensive back this season despite joining them right before the start of the season. B.W. Webb could take on a larger role with Moore's injury. OT Andrus Peat (groin) also missed practice.

The Kansas City Chiefs aren't exactly the picture of health either, the team's best pass rusher Justin Houston could be out for Sunday's game according to coach Andy Reid. "I think the odds are against him (Houston) playing this week. That's not what I'm looking at, it's just a matter of him getting back and kind of getting back in the swing of things. I think that would be premature." That's a welcome sign if you're a Saints fan already worried about a depleted offensive line with Tony Hills likely the starter this week.
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Payton: Saints will play Chiefs in "one of the toughest places in the league"

The Saints expected a nip and tuck kind of game last week against the Carolina Panthers, explained coach Sean Payton on "The Saints Coaches Show" tonight. "In our history here, throw the records out the window when these two teams meet. We knew the game was going to be one we had to play well and finish. I thought defensively in the first half we were off the field early. We knew it was a game we knew we had to finish." Payton and the Saints are 2-3 while the Panthers fall to 1-5 on the season.

The Saints were creative and tricky on offense. Breaking tendencies on a crucial 4th and 2 call at the Panthers goal line, the Saints dialed up the old tight end jet sweep. "I think every once and a while when you're game planning, we just thought the leverage was something we could take advantage of. We put it in the goal line Friday. We felt like we had a decent goal line play. Josh Hill did a good job, the exchange between Fleener and Drew was clean," Payton said.

The Saints and Coach Payton knew what they were up against with the Panthers special teams unit and Ted Ginn, but the team handled it well. "We knew they had a dangerous return game, Thomas did a good job with directional location. We covered them real well. There were a couple of times we weren't able to flip the field (offensively). He (Morstead) bailed us out a number of times, and we covered well." Ginn was a non factor in the game last week.

Now the Saints travel to Kansas City to battle the 3-2 Chiefs. The Saints and coach Sean Payton are looking for their third straight win this season. "Andy Reid has put together a great staff. The QB is playing well, the defense is outstanding. They do a lot of things well. They're are extremely talented on defense, when you play them in KC it's one of the toughest places to play in the league." It will be difficult, but all of a sudden the Saints are climbing the mountain... will they get knocked off or continue to climb? We'll find out Sunday. ​

To hear the full interview with Coach Payton, click the link below.

FULL AUDIO: Saints Coaches Show with Sean Payton
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Brees: Saints have proven that they are battle-tested

Saints QB Drew Brees told me after the team beat the Chargers two weeks ago he felt like the team was battle tested, having played a lot of close nip and tuck games. Sunday's 41-38 win over the Panthers proved that.

"Yeah I agree we proved that. We were poised in critical situations, when it was time for someone to make the play we made the play. A lot of games in the NFL come down to this, the fact we've had 5 in a row... we understand we're an ascending team, we're getting a little bit better every week. Hopefully there is a lot more of this every week," Brees explained.

Brees hooked up with TE Coby Fleener for a 50 yard touchdown in the win, in a pass that looked like it was designed or meant for someone else, but Fleener was the target. "It was intended for Coby, he did a great job of catching it and looking around and thinking that he could score," Brees added. Fleener had one touchdown reception and one touchdown rushing to open the scoring on a 4th and goal situation early the first half.

Brees and WR Brandin Cooks hooked up again on another long touchdown strike of 87 yards in the win. "We just felt like we could run by them at that moment, and we had him on a double move, if you can hit him in stride and you hit him in stride there is a good chance he'll go the distance," he explained.

In the win over the Panthers, Brees passed Peyton Manning Manning with his 15th 400 yard passing game of his career, the most all time. However, that's not top of mind for Brees right now. "There are a lot of things that my sights are set on, in regards to victories for this team. It's cool, I think all those game were here and a lot of guys that had a hand in those." He doesn't have to reflect on it but the fans that have witnessed it would agree it's special.

The Saints wanted to make sure they established the home field advantage in this ball game. Prior to Sunday, the Saints were 4-11 in their last 15 games in the Superdome, a place once feared by opponents. "We need to do that, we were 0-2 coming into today. We gotta make this place a bear for another team to come to. This is our our home, our house, our dome. We want to put our best foot forward here for our fans but also for what it does for your season. Our best seasons here we were 8-0 ,7-1, 6-2 and that leads to the playoffs."

Now the Saints head to Kansas City to battle the Chiefs looking for their third straight win, something they haven't done since 2013. Brees loves playing in Kansas City. "I love Arrowhead, it's probably one of my favorite places to play. It's just one of those venues that makes you love football." All of a sudden the Saints have a chance to get to five hundred at 3-3. Three weeks ago I would have said Donald Trump had a better chance of winning the election! ​

To hear Brees' full interview, click the link below.

FULL AUDIO: Drew Brees on Monday Morning Quarterback
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Kristian: 5 key takeaways from Saints win over Panthers

Sure the Saints coughed up a 21 point lead against the Panthers in a 41-38 win; but if you watched the game closely you could see it coming.

Here is why - it's almost like a basketball team that comes out with a flurry of momentum shooting lights out, then goes ice cold. That's what I thought early in this ball game against the Panthers. I figured the NFC champions would have something to say about the outcome of the game, and they did.

First Down: I rolled my eyes when Quarterback Drew Brees said the Saints were an 'ascending' team a few weeks ago, before the team beat the San Diego Chargers. However, I'm starting to think maybe he's right. The Saints have won two in a row, and while that won't get them in the playoffs, it certainly can make it interesting or at least more interesting then I thought they could have made it at any point this season. After the team went 0-3 to start, I figured we were in the midst of watching a 3-13 team, and I'm probably wrong. The Saints haven't had a three game winning streak since 2013 (the last time the team made the playoffs). New Orleans will look to do that this week against the Chiefs.

Second Down: This season has dispelled the theory that Drew Brees is "slipping" or "declining." Are you serious? I never thought that, but I know some members of the Who Dat Nation started to think about it. Through 5 games this season, Brees has 14 touchdown passes and 4 interceptions. Those are MVP stats, not stats of a declining player. He's completing 66% of his passes. If the Saints weren't 2-3 on the season I am certain you would hear Brees's name mentioned among the MVP discussion through the early part of the season. Yeah, he's that good! It's simple. In fact I think he might even be better with less then he was in 2009.

Third Down: Mike Thomas is going to be a mega super star! Yeah, the rookie out of Ohio State is something else to watch. From the moment he stepped on the field in May; Michael Thomas has acted like a player that belongs. He's proven time and time again, the game isn't too big for him and not only does he belong but he'll be around for a while. The Saints found one heck of a player in Thomas.

Fourth Down: Clearly the Saints are snakebitten with injuries - I could fill up the page with injuries to the Saints team this year but after Sunday's win over Carolina the injuries continue. LT Andrus Peat suffered a right leg injury and didn't return in the second half. The Saints played the entire second half with their third string tackle Tony Hills. Also, Saints CB Sterling Moore left the game with an undisclosed injury and did not return. Already missing from the training camp roster at cornerback are Delvin Breaux (Fibula) Keenan Lewis (released) Damian Swann (Injured Reserve) and P.J Williams (Injured Reserve). If you count Kyle Wilson, who was put on injured reserve in the spring just before training camp, that makes five CBs that have been lost for the season.

Extra Point: When Sean Payton said rookie K Will Lutz will be kicking in this league 'long after I'm gone from here (New Orleans)' I thought well it's just Sean being Sean. Payton might be right. Lutz missed a long FG in the ball game that looked like it could have been the turning point of the game, but later came back and nailed a 52 yard FG that proved to be the game winner. Maybe Lutz will be around for a long time. ​

Photo via USA TODAY
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Kristian: Saints release final injury report for Panthers game

Saints running back Mark Ingram returned to practice today, after missing yesterday with an undisclosed illness. Ingram was not on today's injury report.

The Saints placed Safety Erik Harris on injured reserved after he tore his ACL in Monday's practice. LT Terron Armstead (knee) LB Dannell Ellerbe (quad) and CB Delvin Breaux (fibula) have all been ruled out for this week.

The Saints also continued to tweak their roster today claiming QB Joe Callahan, after he was put on waivers today by the Green Bay Packers. To make room for Callahan on the roster the Saints released OL Khalif Barnes. "What are they telling you by the decision to sign another QB?" Saints color analyst Deuce McAllister asked, and then answered, "they are telling you they aren't happy with Garret Grayson's development. Callahan was an un-drafted rookie free agent out of Division III Wesley College.

DE Paul Kruger (back) LB James Laurinaitis (quad) TE Josh Hill (ankle) G Senio Kelemete (hamstring) are all questionable for this week against the Panthers. Laurinaitis and Hill likely have the best chance to return to the lineup this week. Slowly but surely the Saints are getting healthier. If DE Paul Kruger can't play, I would expect to see Kasim Edebali take a lot of Kruger's snaps in the game.

Rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins is expected to return to practice next week, after suffering a broken fibula in the first week of training camp. Rankins was placed on injured reserve, and is eligible for recall off IR next week. The Saints would then have two weeks to activate him to the 53 man roster thus making him eligible to play in a game. I would think a reasonable time table for Rankins to make his Saints debut would be November 6th against the San Francisco 49ers.
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Kristian: Ingram misses Saints practice

Saints running back Mark Ingram missed practice today with an undisclosed illness. At this time it's not known how that might impact his playing status for Sunday against the Panthers.

If Ingram isn't able to go this week, I would guess Tim Hightower and rookie Daniel Lasco will take on a bigger role in the rushing attack. If he's not on the field tomorrow, that will tell us more about his status for the Panthers match up. Ingram is the only change to the injury report from yesterday. The offensive attack figures to center around the passing game this week, because Carolina has struggled in that area on defense this season, so Drew Brees could be in line for a big day through the air.

Here is the official injury report: Left Tackle Terron Armstead (knee), DE Paul Kruger (back) CB Delvin Breaux (fibula) S Erric Harris (knee) and LB Dannell Ellerbe (quad) did not practice today according to the team. The bye week did help in returning some players to the field. TE Josh Hill (ankle) OG Senio Kalemete (hamstring) LB James Laurinatis (quad) were all limited in practice today. RB Mark Ingram Did Not Practice (illness).

The Saints spent the bye week working on a variety of things, namely on the defensive side of the ball. Head coach Sean Payton hinted at personal variations in certain alignments and he along with Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen met a few times during the bye week.

The team also emphasized forcing more turnovers in the final 12 games remaining this season. The Saints forced three turnovers in the win over San Diego (2 were gift fumbles). B.W. Webb has the teams only interception of the season in that game against the Chargers. The Saints have forced a total of 6 turnovers this season through 4 games which isn't bad, it's more than one per contest.
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Kristian: Saints are preparing to face Cam Newton Sunday

Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton missed the team's game on Monday night, a loss to Tampa Bay, with a concussion but returned to practice on a limited basis today. The Saints, however, expect him to play.

"I don't think it presents a challenge, honestly. I think in our case, we're preparing for him. We feel he's going to play and starting with Monday's practice, I think that's clearly the only way to approach it - and yet we understand the strengths and weaknesses of Derek (Anderson) and the other players who may and may not play on their team, but in this case, our plan is to see him and we're planning accordingly," explained coach Sean Payton.

Safety Kenny Vaccaro said he hopes that Newton is able to play this week. "From a competitors standpoint, you want to face the best. I like playing teams at full strength, that's just me!" Vaccaro added his favorite team to play is the Panthers: "It always has a little extra juice, the intensity is a little higher for these guys," he explained. The Saints (1-3) and the Panthers (1-4) are both desperate for wins. The Saints hope to capitalize on a win in week 4 before the bye week and establish some momentum, while the Panthers need this one to save their season and stop the tailspin.

Left Tackle Terron Armstead (knee), DE Paul Kruger (back) CB Delvin Breaux (fibula) S Erric Harris (knee) and LB Dannell Ellerbe (quad) did not practice today according to the teams official injury report. The bye week did help in returning some players to the field. TE Josh Hill (ankle) OG Senio Kalemete (hamstring) LB James Laurinatis (quad) were all limited in practice today. The Panthers designated QB Cam Newton (head) as limited in practice. In other words Newton took less than his usual number of reps in practice. However, if he's practicing that means he has cleared the concussion protocol.

Photo via USA Today
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Kristian: Saints get back to work after bye week

The Saints are off the bye week and ready to attack the 12 games remaining on the team's schedule. How did the they spend the open date? Coach Sean Payton says reviewing the teams plan. "Not only our self scout, but our personnel and so there is a handful of things we look closely at. Not only what we're doing but who we're doing it with." Payton is always reviewing the teams personnel and deciding who are the right guys to have in the right positions to help the team.

As for the week, the team is focusing on this Sunday's match up with the Panthers. "We're into our game week schedule, we went outside we had a good practice, a padded practice," Payton said. The Panthers are banged up coming off a short week having played the Bucs on a short week - and the Saints are coming off their bye week. That should be an advantage for New Orleans, the more well rested team.

The Saints have been focusing on defense and getting the ball down the field offensively. "For us, defensively, during up the big plays, we're forcing those guys the points they're getting, as opposed to giving up the big strike," explained coach Sean Payton. who also hinted at the notion that he wants to see big plays return to the offense after a hiatus in that regard during the teams week 4 win over San Diego.

The Saints should be healthier at linebacker after the bye with LB Dannell Ellerbe returning to the line up with a quad injury "He's close to being able to start and play, he was close before the bye. We'll keep continuing with his rehab," Payton said. Tight End Josh Hill, Tackle Terron Armstead and Ellerbe are all close to being back in the line up, according to Payton. ​

To hear Payton's full interview on the Saints Coaches Show, click the link below.

FULL AUDIO: Sean Payton on the Saints Coaches Show
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Kristian: Saints' mood, confidence elevated heading into the bye week

The Saints finally won a close game, a game that honestly they had no business winning, and wouldn't have, save for two gift turnovers on back to back drives from the Chargers, squandering a 13 points fourth quarter lead.

I've covered over 120 Saints games, and I've never seen a game turn out like that one. Sure there was Miami in 2009, where the Saints erased a huge second half deficit to beat the Dolphins, that game we know propelled them to a 13-3 regular season record and a Super Bowl. I'm pretty sure you won't see the 35-34 win over the Chargers do that for the Saints in 2016. I quipped at a text I received from a friend that said "Great come back." I responded with, "and equally great choke job from the Chargers." Hey a win is a win in the NFL, and while the Saints shouldn't apologize for it, they should certainly thank the Chargers for that one!

I'm really impressed with WR Michael Thomas, and his big clutch play ability. Since Thomas arrived as a second round draft in April, he's done nothing but make plays, including a huge fourth and goal TD grab to draw the Saints within 6 points in the fourth quarter on a very difficult fade in the corner of the end zone. If Thomas doesn't haul that catch in, game over, no chance, and the Saints squander another opportunity.

I like some of the changes the Saints made on defense. Rookie Vonn Bell started over Jarius Byrd. Bell didn't look like a rookie and didn't make grave mistakes - in fact I saw him several times lining the back end players up on critical snaps during the game. For his first start I thought he did very well. Two guys from Ohio State, Thomas and Bell, paying early dividends for the Saints, both were picked in the second round. Byrd was hurt during the game, and didn't return to the field in the second half.

Winning won't cure all that ails the Saints, but it sure does help the confidence level and the mood of the team that's for sure. You could tell the players weren't ready to throw in the towel on the season this week ahead of the game, but you could definitely sense frustration for hard work and zero wins to show for it. The Saints can now head into the bye feeling like they passed a test, one test out of the first four - bringing their season grade to a D, perhaps?

Suddenly the Saints are in their bye week, with some time to get players like Dannell Ellerbe, Terron Armstead, and Josh Hill back from injury. Also, the Saints next opponent doesn't look as daunting as it did a month ago. The Carolina Panthers are 1-3 and haven't looked to good following their Super Bowl appearance a year ago. I'm not ready to say the Saints are reborn and this is the beginning of a turnaround. There are still plenty of warts with this team, but you have to admire their resolve after starting 0-3 and gutting out a win in San Diego on the road. ​
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Brees: Saints win over Chargers is a game I will remember forever

In his weekly "Monday Morning Quarterback" interview with WWL Radio, Saints QB Drew Brees was candid about how much it meant for him not just to help his team get their first win of the season, but also how much it meant to him personally to return to the place where his life took a dramatic turn 11 years ago.

Brees might be the master at compartmentalizing emotion and feelings in a ball game. After he throws an interception, he rarely blinks, he's just ready to go out there and throw it some more. However when the Saints went to San Diego for their week 4 match up against the Chargers, Brees returned to where it all started, where his would-be Hall of Fame career got off the ground. In 2005, the final regular season game for the Chargers, Brees dove to recover a fumble and tore his shoulder up. The result ended up landing him in New Orleans and the rest is history, as they say.

Brees returned to Qualcomm Stadium Sunday for the first time in his career. In fact during Saturday's walk through at the stadium, Brees walked to the spot where his horrific shoulder injury occurred, and thought about the journey that ultimately landed him in New Orleans with the Saints.

He downplayed the emotion of the return to the roots, but after the Saints worked out a 35-34 win over his former team, Brees said "the last thing I wanted to do was to make it about me, it was so critical to get our first win. When I walked off the field 11 years ago here, there was a lot emotion then... I didn't know if I'd play football again, and that took me to New Orleans. To finally come back here and get a win the way we did, this is one I will remember forever."

"We felt like without a doubt we were going to win this game," he continued. "I know as it got down to the wire our odds were slim but as a team we found a way."

The Saints found a way, and the Chargers found a way to help them as well. The Chargers wrote a book on how to squander a late fourth quarter lead with two turnovers in back to back possessions. The Saints and Brees cashed in on the second turnover on a two yard TD run from FB John Kuhn to take the lead 35-34. Unlike similar situations in the past, the defense did their part to close out the victory."When I came to the sideline after we took the lead I saw the look in our defense's eyes, and it was a look of four plays and out and were going to win this game." The defense came up with a stop, and perhaps saved the Saints season, or at least sent them into the bye week with a better feeling about themselves.

To hear Brees' full interview, click the link below.

FULL AUDIO: Drew Brees on "Monday Morning Quarterback"
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