Entering season 19, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees lasers in on the small steps  

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) looks to pass during the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the New York Jets Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) looks to pass during the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the New York Jets Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

The football odometer keeps rolling over, hours stacking upon hours, days upon days, months upon months and years upon years.

The big numbers for Drew Brees now are 19 and 18, as in, 19 NFL seasons and 18 in which he has entered as the starting quarterback. But as his New Orleans Saints prepare to play Houston in the regular-season opener Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the odometer is stuck.

Or, at least, it feels like it’s in a familiar place for Brees. A good place.

“It’s always fun to take what you’ve been working on from the offseason and the preseason, and then apply it,” he said. “Every year is truly a new year, because even if you have the same guys they’re at different stages.

“We’ve got all these young receivers now that are a year older and it’s like, ‘Man, the light bulb is starting to come on,’ they’re able to do more things, their confidence level is even higher. You kind of ask yourself, ‘How good can we be?’ And that’s the exciting part when you come to work every day, is, ‘How good can we be?’

“But it’s still about the process, still about one day at a time. I’ll bore you guys to death every week with that, but it truly is. It’s like each day has a purpose and a focus. You’ve got to get your work done each and every day before you move on to the next one and then by the time gameday comes around, ‘Man, I hope I’ve done everything I possibly could to put myself in the best position to succeed.’ And you want that answer to be yes.”

There’ve been more “yes” answers than “no” for Brees, and his 154-109 regular-season record isn’t indicative of several carry-the-offense seasons like 2012, when the numbers (5,177 passing yards, 43 touchdowns, 19 interceptions) didn’t add up to wins (7-9 record, with three losses by six points or less and five by eight points or less, despite averaging 29 points per game).

Any possible winning numbers for the Saints on Monday night will be, at least in part, reflective of how the offense deals with Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.

Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is an obvious attention-getter. He had 16 sacks and forced seven fumbles last season.

“They’re a phenomenal pass-rush group, and really across the board,” Brees said. “It’s not like it’s just one or two guys. They’ve got a litany of guys. Obviously, there’s a huge focus on J.J. Watt, who’s one of the elite players in this league, elite pass rushers, has been for a long time.

“That’s what this defense thrives on, that’s where, when you turn on the tape from last year, it’s just, they’re getting after the quarterback, getting after the quarterback, creating opportunities.”

Usually, that begins with Watt.

“Size, strength, explosiveness, awareness,” Brees said. “He’s got such a great feel for the game. In any one-on-one situation, he’s going to feel like – there’s a few guys in the league that you sit there and say, ‘All right, that’s a tough matchup one-on-one for anybody, I don’t care who you are.’

“He’s just an extremely talented player because of his size, his speed, his strength, his explosiveness, his awareness, his smarts, his energy, his motor. He’s really like a one-of-a-kind player. There’s not many like him.”

One of the few will be staring at him from the other side of the ball, odometer stuck in the same position it always seems to be in at this time of the year.

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