Brees returns, leads Saints past Colts 23-17
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Drew Brees reverted to his customary form Saturday night.
He was quick, creative and accurate. Even a couple of weeks away from practice, a pair of missed games and a seemingly stronger Colts defense couldn't derail Brees.
Six days after returning to practice, the Pro Bowl quarterback threw two touchdown passes in the first quarter and led the still unbeaten Saints to a 23-17 preseason victory at Indianapolis.
"I feel like it was a progression throughout the week, just getting the feel and the timing back," Brees said after going 9 of 15 for 127 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. "I don't think I'm 100 percent yet, but I feel like the tempo and the rhythm and those things are coming back."
He was so impressive that Saints coach Sean Payton parked Brees on the bench after three series. Brees is likely to spend Thursday night's game against Baltimore there as the Saints try to complete their first perfect preseason.
Naturally, Payton would rather make sure Brees plays this way in the Sept. 7 season opener at Atlanta.
Brees went 9 of 15 for 128 yards with two touchdown passes, no interceptions and no sacks in his first career start at Lucas Oil Stadium. His passes were crisp and on time, and on the few occasions Brees did get into trouble, he found a way out.
On the opening series, he threw an improvisational shovel pass to avoid a sack. A couple plays later, he converted third-and-8 by running for 10 yards, then slid at the Colts 3-yard line. Brees then threw a 3-yard TD pass to Austin Johnson, on the next play for a 7-0 lead.
Two series later, Brees did it again with a 13-yard pass to Marques Colston for a 14-7 lead the Saints never surrendered.
He had plenty of help, too. In the first half, New Orleans (3-0) rushed for 124 yards, piled up 288 total yards, and ran nearly twice as many plays (48) as the Colts (26). And the Saints defense allowed just 132 yards and picked off Andrew Luck once in the half, too.
Payton couldn't have scripted it much better, with the exception of eight first-half penalties.
But that was still better than what the Colts (0-3) endured.
Luck played into the third quarter and still couldn't match Brees' numbers. Indy's starting quarterback was 10 of 18 for 103 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception on a night the Colts (0-3) welcomed back Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne.
"Not a very good grade," Luck said when asked to evaluate his personal performance. "We never got in a rhythm, missing throws that I would like to make and turning the ball over."
The best news of the night was that 35-year-old Wayne played for the first time since tearing the ACL in his right knee last October. Wayne received loud ovations from the fans when he ran onto the field after being announced as a starter during pregame introductions, and after making two catches. Both were wiped out by penalties, but Wayne did get tackled twice and bounced right up both times.
"You think eight or 10 plays is right on time, but when it gets going, you want more," Wayne said. "It's good to be in the fire again. It's the way I wanted it."
The Saints made sure it was a miserable night, too.
Luck's 21-yard TD pass to Coby Fleener tied the score at 7, but Brees broke the tie with the TD pass to Colston.
Luck's interception then set up a 39-yard field goal from Shayne Graham, and Graham hit a 24-yarder late to give the Saints a 20-7 lead.
Adam Vinatieri closed the half with a 20-yard field goal, but the Colts couldn't get any closer until Chandler Harnish threw a 22-yard TD pass to Josh Lenz with 13:39 left in the game.
New Orleans sealed the win with a 45-yard field goal from Derek Dimke and a defensive stop in the final minute.
"What was really important in those drives, especially in the first one, were the third-down conversions because we had to convert them to keep the drive moving," Payton said. "That's encouraging."
Notes: The Colts had a moment of silence in honor of Maveah Alice Hughes, the 3-month-old daughter of defensive lineman Montori Hughes, who died last week as the result of a sudden illness. ... Saints receiver Kenny Stills left in the first half with a leg injury. Payton did not provide an update. ... Colts cornerback Darius Butler left with an ankle injury and will be re-evaluated overnight.