TAMPA — Less than six weeks shy of his 40th birthday, Saints quarterback Drew Brees could be having one the best seasons of his 18-year pro career.
It's certainly on pace to be his most efficient.
Brees will enter Sunday's game against the Bucs with a 75.5-percent completion percentage, which would be an NFL record if he keeps it up. His 123.3 quarterback rating also leads the league, and he has thrown just three interceptions compared to 30 touchdown passes.
"It's very impressive what he's doing," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. "The quarterback play in our division has always been good and you have two recent MVPs in Matt Ryan in Atlanta and Cam (Newton), but it's hard to imagine Brees not being in the mix."
Brees is on pace for a 4,350-yard season, which doesn't compare to the gaudy 5,000-yard seasons he's posted in the past. But his current 8.5 yards-per-attempt average would tie his career best.
What might be most interesting about that number is that Brees is doing it by making shorter passes as a whole. Brees averages just 7.2 air yards per attempt, according to NFL New Gen stats, which ranks in the bottom seven of NFL starting quarterbacks.
By comparison, Tampa Bay quarterbacks Jameis Winston (10.5 air yards per attempt) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (10.2) rank second and third in the NFL.
Considering the seasons Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas — who is fourth in the league with 1,120 receiving yards on 91 receptions — and running back Alvin Kamara (65 catches, 555 yards) are having as pass receivers, it's an indication that an older Brees is becoming more efficient with shorter passes.
It's also a signal that Brees possesses some great receiving weapons around him that can pile up yards after the catch.
"When you watch the tape, that's not something that you're watching the tape going, 'Oh my God, Drew Brees can't throw it down the field,'" Koetter said. "Not at all. They're running their regular offense.
"Conceptually, we do a lot of the same things. I think they set the passing game tempo for a lot of teams in this league. You can't really notice it on tape, but I think the stats are there to say that."
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at [email protected] Follow @EddieInTheYard