NEW ORLEANS – Drew Brees periodically discusses his long NFL journey in terms of fate and destiny.
The Saints quarterback says, for example, that his career-threatening throwing shoulder injury at the end of the 2005 season was meant to be. It precipitated his departure from the Chargers and move to New Orleans, where he shattered passing records and won a Super Bowl – all while helping rebuild a beloved American city that was reeling from Hurricane Katrina's devastation.
So when six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady decided to leave New England and begin a new chapter with Tampa Bay, in the NFC South, Brees couldn't escape the sense that he'd see Brady in a high-stakes game in January.
This rare postseason matchup of record-setting quarterbacks older than 41 is set for tonight, when the Saints (13-4) host the Buccaneers (12-5) in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
“Listen, when Tom Brady signed with the Bucs and I knew that he was coming to our division, I envisioned this game,” Brees said this week. “I envisioned this game happening because I knew our aspirations as a team, to be in the playoffs and beyond. And I certainly knew what he was bringing to the Bucs and that talented roster.”
Similarly, Brady figured that success in Tampa Bay would hinge on how he and Buccaneers handled their encounters with the Saints.
“They've been one of the top teams in the league for a long time, and they've had some tough playoff losses (on) some really fluke plays,” Brady said, referring to a last-second loss to Minnesota on a long passing play three seasons ago, and an admitted officiating blunder that helped the Rams beat the Saints in the NFC title game two seasons ago.
“Other than that, there's not a lot of bad about” the Saints, Brady said. “They're pretty spectacular.”
Brees and Brady have been doing spectacular for two decades now.
“We were texting back and forth on Monday just kind of chuckling at this whole scenario,” Brees, who turned 42 on Friday, said of an exchange he had with the 43-year-old Brady. “That's 85 years and a lot of football experience that's going to be on the field on Sunday.”
Three of a kind
The Saints won both regular-season meetings by double digits en route to their franchise-record fourth straight division title. This week, there has been a lot of talk about how hard it can be to beat a team three times.
But the Saints have done it before, defeating Carolina twice in the 2017 regular season and again in the playoffs.
NFL history also favors the Saints. There have been 22 previous playoff games featuring a team that had been swept by its opponent during the regular season. In 14 of those games, the team that had won the first two games won the third as well.
Although the Saints have owned the Buccaneers in recent years, Brady and his cast of playmakers have been one of the hottest offenses in the league during what is now a five-game winning streak.
Brady has completed 116 of 176 passes for 1,714 yards, 14 touchdowns and one interception during the surge.
Still, no defense has had more success against Brady this season than the Saints.