Digging through the dip in offense the New Orleans Saints have experienced in their four road losses isn't as elementary as to look at Drew Brees' statistics and proclaim that the Saints' offense solely will rise and fall on his effectiveness. But New Orleans' chances greatly have been enhanced when its quarterback has been efficient.
The Saints (10-4) have lost their last two road games, to slip to 3-4 this season away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Despite that, a win on Sunday against Carolina (10-4) at Bank of America Stadium would even their road record and, more important, would give them the NFC South Division title and the No. 2 playoff seed, guaranteeing at least one home playoff game.
"Our expectation level is to go out this week and to play great football, sound football, to get a big win on the road and continue to build from there," Brees said.
Not all of that will be connected to how well Brees plays, but a significant part of it will.
Brees' overall road numbers are solid by any measure – he has completed 187 of 295 pass attempts (63.4 percent) for 2,046 yards and 11 touchdowns, with seven interceptions. In victories over Tampa Bay, Chicago and Atlanta, he was pinpoint – 78 for 114 (68 percent) for 888 yards and five touchdowns, with two interceptions.
He averaged 38 attempts per game in the road wins, with the Saints mostly playing with a lead.
When the Saints have lost on the road (New England, New York Jets, Seattle and St. Louis), Brees and the offense have spent a lot time playing catchup, and the numbers reflect it – 109 of 181 (60 percent) for 1,158 yards and six touchdowns, with five interceptions.
He has averaged 45 pass attempts in the losses, including games with 56 and 51 attempts.
"If you know you've prepared yourself as well as you can prepare yourself, then you go out and good things happen," said Brees, whose overall numbers (392 of 575 for 4,500 yards and 34 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions) likely will lead to another Pro Bowl invitation.
"At times, are you going to maybe have a tough stretch? Yeah. I think every team does in some regard throughout the course of their season. Ours just happens to be the way that we've played on the road the last couple of weeks. Certainly, it's motivation to go out and play extremely well."
Likely, that's what it's going to take to beat the Panthers, who've won nine of their last 10 games. The only loss during that stretch was a 31-13 blowout at the Superdome on Dec. 8.
The Panthers immediately circled the rematch.
"We played a great team today, a playoff-caliber team, and it's a great measuring stick for who we are and where we have to go," Carolina quarterback Cam Newton said after the loss. "The best thing about this is we have an opportunity to face this same team in two weeks."
This time, a major difference will be the venue. And the Saints, after winning their first two games on the road, are hoping to bookend their road season with a victory after losing four of their last five road games.
"Obviously, we're not very satisfied or happy with our performance on the road as of late," Brees said. "I thought we played well on the road early in the season, we just haven't been able to put it together the last few times.
"The only way I know to fix it is the process throughout the week, your preparation in regards to knowing the gameplan cold and then going out there and executing it in practice, and then visualizing success, visualizing yourself in the moment, wherever you're going, whatever the conditions are going to be. I find that when you do that, in many cases, you go out and you play well and what you visualize is what happens."
And what the Saints are visualizing is an end to their recent road struggles.
"All that matters, despite what has happened over the last few weeks, and all that stuff – the fact of the matter is that we go on the road this week, we get a win, we win the division and we secure the 2 seed," Brees said. "That's all that matters."