Earlier this season, the Bucs managed a victory over Minnesota's 177-year-old quarterback, Donovan McNabb. The joy was widespread. • On the other hand, Drew Brees is better. • The following week, the Bucs finally found a way to beat Atlanta's Matt Ryan. Glee was everywhere. • Nevertheless, Drew Brees is better. • The week after that, the Bucs beat the Colts and Curtis Painter, who might soon be a painter. Confetti might have gotten in your eyes. • That said, Drew Brees is better. • He is better than Detroit's Matt Stafford and San Francisco's Alex Smith, the quarterbacks who have beaten the Bucs. He is better than Carolina's Cam Newton and Dallas' Tony Romo, who will come up later this season. With the possible exception of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, Brees is better than any quarterback who will take aim at the Bucs secondary this season. • And here he comes again, just as Breesy as ever.
Drew Brees hits town as the Bucs try to rebound from last week's rout.
As the Bucs attempt to dig their way out of the rubble, Brees' face is the last they wish to see. He is the monster in their closet. Over the past half-dozen seasons, there is no opponent who has caused more misery to the Bucs than Brees. He is sharp. He is accurate, and evidently, he seems intent on establishing citizenry in the Raymond James end zone.
"He's like a big video game," said Bucs coach Raheem Morris. "He can light up any time."
"He's the closest thing to a surgeon that I've played against," said cornerback Ronde Barber. "He's very precise. He's never confused."
"He's the best quarterback in the NFL," said cornerback Aqib Talib.
Such is the challenge the Bucs defense faces today. They have to protect the bull's-eye from one of the league's finest dart throwers. A week after being shredded in a 48-3 loss by an ordinary quarterback such as Smith, the Bucs have to respond against Brees. Two games later, they have to do it again in New Orleans.
Just a thought here, but maybe the safeties should back up a step. Maybe two.
Across the league, there are other quarterbacks who get more attention than Brees. Tom Brady, for one. Peyton Manning, when he's healthy. But the Bucs rarely play those two. Brees? He's a twice-a-year headache for the Bucs.
"Arguably, he's No. 1 (in the NFL)," said Morris. "You have the same three names on the top. Tom Brady. Peyton Manning. Brees. You can rank them 1-2-3 or 3-2-1. To me, Brees is on top because we play him this week.
"It's Drew. He's unbelievable. He's smart. He's dynamic. He knows how to get his team in the right plays. He knows how to prevent disasters from happening. He's a great football player, no doubt about it."
And now for the disturbing part: Brees has had such a good time in Tampa Bay that the Chamber of Commerce should get him to endorse its tourism ads.
In his past two games in Tampa Bay, for instance, Brees has thrown for 450 yards and six touchdowns and the Saints have outscored Tampa Bay 69-13. Even in the games the Bucs have won against Brees, including the past two seasons in New Orleans, it has felt more like survival than success. In 11 career games against the Bucs, Brees has thrown for 22 touchdowns with nine interceptions, a lifetime rating of 97.7.
Last year, for instance, Brees threw for 263 yards in Tampa to lead the Saints to a 31-6 victory. Tampa Bay won in New Orleans. The year before, in its Super Bowl season, New Orleans won 38-7 in Tampa. And the Bucs won in New Orleans.
"He has a lot of weapons, good weapons," Barber said. "He's not afraid to make any one of them his favorite guy. He's like an assassin. He doesn't care who he's throwing to."
Or, it appears, over.
For the Bucs, this matchup against the 32-year-old Brees comes just as the team is trying to stand again. That isn't as unusual as you might think. Good teams, even Super Bowl teams, get walloped from time to time. For the Bucs, the amnesia part will be easy. Overcoming injuries are tough, and overcoming bad habits are harder, and overcoming Brees is a tap dance across broken glass.
Today, the Bucs have a chance to do all of that. They have a chance to reclaim their season, a chance to take a lead in the NFC South, a chance to play well against a familiar nemesis.
"We have to win the matchups," Talib said. "This isn't rocket science. We just have to stop their routes."
First, though, they have to withstand Brees, which has always been a chore and a half. That's the thing about a surgeon. He can carve deeply, and he can leave blood.
If a team is not careful, he can cut out its heart.