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John DeShazier: Drew Brees a wiser, better QB since first playoff game with Saints

Brees has gained 'just a wealth of experience since then'

The evolved Drew Brees is a surer Brees, perhaps even more so than the one who showed up in New Orleans in 2006 as a free agent with a still-healing right (throwing) shoulder, who was convinced he'd be better than ever even though he barely could raise his arm during his introductory news conference.

Entering his ninth playoff game as a Saint and 10th overall, Brees, who has started at quarterback in five of the Saints' six postseason wins in franchise history, more clearly understands the postseason and the benefits of the appearances.

He's looking to guide the Saints to the first road playoff win in franchise history, when New Orleans (11-5) plays the Eagles (10-6) on Saturday in Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field. The Saints are 0-5 all time in road playoff games.

"(I've gained) just a wealth of experience since then," Brees said. "That was my sixth year in the NFL (in 2006), this is now my 13th. Played a lot of football since then, played in a lot of big games since then, a lot of playoff games.

"I think you know that you play, you do everything in the regular season, just to have an opportunity at this. So now, it's kind of like you wipe the slate clean and it's all about what you can do in the playoffs. You have this opportunity, you're in the tournament, now let's go get it."

The Saints largely have gone and gotten it since Brees arrived – a Super Bowl victory, two NFC championship game appearances, five playoff berths in eight seasons, three NFC South titles and five 10-plus win seasons, for a franchise that previously had one playoff victory and two division titles to its credit.

He has completed 231 of 349 passes for 2,661 yards and 20 touchdowns, with three interceptions, in eight playoff games as a Saint. Overall, he's at 262 of 391 for 2,980 yards and 22 touchdowns, with four interceptions.

His postseason showings in New Orleans all began with a divisional playoff win at home against the Eagles, in January 2007.

"That was the biggest game of all of our careers at the time," Brees said. "There were a lot of guys that had come here from different places. We were kind of labeled as castaways and a lot of things, guys coming from places where you were unwanted or you probably hadn't had a whole lot success. So coming here was kind of a fresh start for a lot of us."

From there, the level of accomplishment and expectation has grown, to where a non-playoff season like last year is a major letdown, despite the fact that Coach Sean Payton was suspended and unable to have any contact with the team.

"I know we fell short of that last year and that was disappointing, but we expected to be here (this season) with Sean, without Sean," Brees said. "Having him back is great. He has a way of – just little things that kind of remind you of the focus and the opportunity and why we're all here."

The "here," and now, involves going on the road and trying to beat a team that has won seven of its last eight, but that has struggled defensively at times.

"Their defense all around has been extremely solid, especially the last half of the season," Brees said. "They're great at taking the ball away, they're great at getting pressure on you, they fly around, they make all kinds of plays, they've got all kinds of play-makers. I really just kind of look at the last half of the season, and they played tremendous

"It's really about our whole offensive philosophy and scheme, and that is to be as balanced as possible, to execute very well in the run game and the short passing game as well as, opportunities to make big plays with shots."

But there might not be much of a here and now for the Saints if not for a wiser, better Brees, whose play has inclined along with that of the franchise.

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