INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Drew Brees still attracts a crowd in Indiana.
He played college football here, became a Heisman Trophy finalist here and attended his first NFL game here. Some of his most loyal fans remain here, too. So it's no wonder the longtime Saints quarterback is ready to take center stage in his adopted home state Sunday for what is likely to be the final time in his brilliant career.
"I guess it would be similar to going back to Texas to play a game," Brees said this week, referring to his home state. "There is just something about going to a place that feels like home that you spent so many of your formative years there."
But Brees and the Saints (2-4) aren't coming to Indianapolis to reminisce.
They're trying to get back in the playoff chase — against an opponent that looks like it's finally starting to get in sync.
Andrew Luck, one of Brees' new friends, has returned from a right shoulder injury. The Colts (3-3) have found an emerging ground game, developed a solid run defense and believe they've finally turned the page on last weekend's ignominious loss to the Patriots.
What Indy must do now is find a way to slow down the former Purdue star, who has won two of the last three since returning from a bruised right rotator cuff.
"They do a great job of being efficient as far as huddle procedure, getting to the line of scrimmage, getting them in the right play and getting the ball snapped," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "So we've got to do a great job on the defensive side of matching those things."
The fans in Indiana know just how challenging it can be to match wits with Brees.
After he signed with Purdue in 1997, as part of the worst-ranked recruiting class in the Big Ten, they watched Brees take the Boilermakers to the Rose Bowl, lead the Saints past Indy in the Super Bowl, win a Super Bowl MVP, become the face of a franchise and get dubbed the top graduate from the Cradle of Quarterbacks. They've tracked the big numbers he piled up on the field and the substantial contributions he's made off of it.
Along the way, it seemed everyone in Indiana became a fan.
"A great guy, a great quarterback who's done it well for a long time," Luck said. "He's one of those guys that's a role model in the quarterback role."
And now, as his career winds down and the Saints trying to salvage their season, the guy everyone once wrote off as being too short still has something to prove — beating the Colts on their home turf.
"I want to focus and play this game, that is my job," said Brees, who has been rounding up tickets for family, friends and former college teammates. "(It's) getting myself ready to play and eliminating distractions. I am going to get ready to play this game and go play at my best. I'll see all of those folks after (the game) and hopefully we're celebrating a little bit."
Here are some other things to watch Sunday:
SPORADIC SUCCESS: The Saints have gone almost a year without stringing together back-to-back wins. The last time it happened was late October 2015, when they beat Green Bay and Carolina in a five-day span. Not enough? New Orleans has lost all three road games this season after winning their last four on the road in 2014.
BALANCING ACT: The Colts have made it clear they want a balanced offense. Finding it has been a little trickier. Last weekend, the Colts threw passes on 26 consecutive plays after falling into a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit and even though running back Frank Gore averaged 6 yards per carry. Look for Indy to stick with the ground game a little longer against the NFL's third-worst run defense.
PASSING FANCY: New Orleans has thrown for more yards per game than any team in football since 2006 and that might not change this weekend. Indy's injury-plagued secondary is ranked No. 28 against the pass. Brees, meanwhile, has topped the 300-yard mark in three straight games with the league's No. 3 passing offense.
TOUGH TASK: Indy is in the midst of a five-game stretch that might be one of the toughest in football. After facing Tom Brady and the Patriots last weekend, and Brees and the Saints on Sunday, they get Cam Newton and the Panthers, Peyton Manning and the Broncos and Matt Ryan and the Falcons.
PRESSURE PACKED: Throughout the preseason and the first five weeks of the regular season, the Saints struggled to put consistent pressure on quarterbacks. But in last week's victory against Atlanta, New Orleans recorded five sacks — nearly half of its total for the entire season. This week, they could do it again against an offensive line that has struggled to protect Luck.
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Posted on Sun, October 25, 2015
by MICHAEL MAROT, AP Sports Writer