Mike Zimmer spent the past two weeks preparing his defense to face a pair of rookie quarterbacks with a combined 11 NFL starts between them. This week, his attention shifts to an 18-year veteran and first-ballot Hall of Famer who has started 254 regular-season games.
“It’s different than it has been the last two weeks,” Zimmer admitted Monday. “This guy is amazing.”
Drew Brees appears ageless, too. Actually, he turns 40 in January but looks and plays like a guy stuck in his late 20s.
“I was watching tape, and I’m like, how old is this guy?” Zimmer said.
The Minneapolis Miracle will be replayed on a loop this week in anticipation of Sunday’s rematch between the Vikings and New Orleans Saints after their epic playoff game last January.
Overshadowed by the historic finish that day was the fact that Brees orchestrated a comeback for the ages that ultimately became a footnote when Stefon Diggs caught, turned and sprinted to delirium.
Had the miracle not materialized, Brees’ second-half brilliance would have been the focus. He completed 17 of 22 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns in wiping out a 17-point halftime deficit.
He picked up this season where he left off, offering no signs of deterioration or acceptance of the NFL truism that aging remains undefeated.
Brees leads the NFL in passer rating at 121.6 (which would be a career-best) and completion percentage at 77.3 percent (which also would be a career-high). He has thrown 13 touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
Again, he’s nearly 40.
“He should retire,” Zimmer noted, perhaps only half joking.
Want to make yourself feel old? Flash back 20 years ago this month. That’s when Brees torched the Gophers defense for 522 yards passing and six touchdowns in only three quarters of action as Purdue’s sophomore quarterback.
It was nine years ago that Brees and the Saints ended the Vikings’ Super Bowl hopes in the 2009 NFC title game.
“That was a long time ago, huh?” joked former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, who retired in 2012.
Leber was Brees’ teammate in San Diego for three seasons and trained with him for five years in the offseason. He credits Brees’ longevity to his work ethic in preparing for each season.
“Until you see him work, you don’t realize truly how much he cares and puts into the game,” Leber said.
Their workout group trained in San Diego and included players of different positions, offense and defense. Brees set the pace in every drill, whether it was distance running or lifting weights. He concluded every session by throwing passes to receivers for 90 minutes.
“He was relentless,” Leber said. “It was constant, every day. That’s why you see a guy who isn’t breaking down.”
His accuracy and quick release remain razor sharp. Brees’ touch is such that he probably could throw a football through a car tire from 40 yards away with no warmup. NFL rule changes certainly have benefited quarterbacks, but completing nearly 80 percent of his passes is absurd considering the complexity of defensive blitzes and schemes.
Leber offered insight into the challenge of facing Brees from a defender’s perspective the moment he breaks the huddle:
“He’s one of the most brilliant football minds, so he understands what the defense is trying to do just from alignment.
“He gets the snap, and his mechanics are awesome. He’s like a walking teaching paper. His body is always in a trigger position to throw the ball.
“Then you talk about the accuracy, there might not be a more accurate quarterback that’s played the game.”
Leber said he never felt intimidated to play Brees. He just knew he would be exhausted by the end of it because of the volume of personnel groupings, formations and shifts that the Saints employ.
“You were so mentally tired because you were tired of thinking about what are they going to do next,” he said.
Brees became the NFL’s all-time leading passer earlier this month when he broke Peyton Manning’s record. He is currently at 72,315 yards, and who knows how high that number could reach before he decides to retire.
Brees’ age makes him old in football terms. His prime looks like it’s never ending.