METAIRIE, La. — Drew Brees gives the New Orleans Saints something no other team in the NFC playoffs has — a quarterback that has led his team to a Super Bowl championship.
Brees’ performance was a key factor in the Saints’ 31-26 victory over Carolina in a wild-card Playoff game last Sunday. His ability and playoff experience are perhaps New Orleans’ biggest asset as it goes on the road to face No. 2 seed Minnesota in a divisional playoff game Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Against the Panthers, Brees completed 23-of-33 passes for 376 yards, his second-highest total of the season, and two touchdowns. Brees connected with eight different receivers.
“I was ready for that,” Brees said Wednesday. “It was just a matter of when and where the opportunities will come. We have had plenty of those games in the past.
“(The game plan) does not change the way I prepare. It does not change the way that I visualize the game as I go through the week. As we get to game day we are always ready to be in the position to make the play, to call the play.”
Brees was named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XLIV eight years ago when New Orleans defeated Indianapolis. He’s a key to whether the Saints can move one step closer to another Super Bowl by winning Sunday.
“We made it to the Elite Eight, we’re trying to get to the Final Four and we’re trying to get to a chance to win it all,” Brees said. “This is crunch time. This is where you want to be playing your best. This is what you play your regular season for.
“You get paid to play the regular season; this is for free. I’d pay it all back just to be in this position. This is where it’s fun.”
This season, Brees has thrown for the fewest yards of any of his 12 seasons in New Orleans, thanks to potent a running game and a better-than-average defense.
His second-fewest yards came during the Super Bowl season for similar reasons.
But when Carolina committed itself to stopping Mark Ingram II, Alvin Kamara and the running game, head coach Sean Payton put the game in Brees’ hands and he responded.
“I think that there’s a lot of confidence here that you can do either,” Payton said of running and passing.
The Saints like always will try to be balanced against Minnesota, which has the only defense to rank in the top three in the NFL in both rushing yards allowed and passing yards allowed.
“We’re definitely going to come out and try and run the ball,” tackle Terron Armstead said. “We’re going to try and impose our will on them and they’re going to try and do the same. We’re fortunate to have the running backs that we have and a Hall-of-Fame quarterback, so it’s kind of pick your poison.”
Several Saints players said the first meeting means very little because both teams have come a long way in figuring out their identities in the four months of practicing and playing since then.
“We didn’t know what we had in store when we came out of this deal at the beginning of the year,” wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. said. “As the season went on, we kind of found our mojo and who we are.”
SERIES HISTORY: 33rd all-time meeting, fourth playoff meeting. Vikings lead overall series, 21-11 overall and 12-3 in Minnesota, including a 29-19 victory in the season opener Sept. 11 in U.S. Bank Stadium. The Saints had won the last three meetings, including the last one in Minneapolis (42-20 in 2011). New Orleans has played 17 playoff games and this matchup will allow the Vikings to break a tie with the Eagles for most frequent opponent. Each of the previous playoff games against the Vikings was historic. The first marked New Orleans’ debut in the playoffs in the franchise’s 21st season as Minnesota prevailed, 44-10, in a wild-card game in the Superdome. The second meeting came after the 2000 season and was the Saints’ first appearance in a divisional game, a week after their first playoff victory (31-28 against the Rams) and ending with a 34-16 Vikings victory. The most recent came in the 2009 NFC Championship, when the Saints prevailed 31-28 in overtime in the Superdome to reach their only Super Bowl, which they won two weeks later.
–The Saints� biggest offensive shortcoming this season has been its lack of productivity on third-down conversions and the tone was set against the Vikings in the season opener. New Orleans converted 4-of-11 third downs (36.4 percent) in that game, converted 37.6 percent during the regular season and 25 percent against the Panthers last week. It will be extremely difficult to exceed those numbers against the Vikings, whose defense leads the NFL by limiting opponents to 25.2 percent on third-down conversions.
–The Saints’ third-down defense was also a problem in the first meeting. Minnesota, which ranks third in the NFL with a third-down conversion rate of 43.5 percent, converted 9-of-14 third downs in the first meeting and twice scored touchdowns on third-down plays. For the season, New Orleans’ defense is tied for 24th in third-down conversions (41 percent).
–The Saints placed offensive lineman Andrus Peat on injured reserve Wednesday because of a broken fibula he suffered against the Panthers. They filled Peat’s spot by re-signing tackle Bryce Harris, who has been released and re-signed several times this season while New Orleans has dealt with several injuries on the offensive line.
–The Saints placed reserve defensive tackle Tony McDaniel on injured reserve and elevated defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton from the practice roster. McDaniel played 12 defensive snaps against Carolina. Hamilton’s spot on the practice roster was taken by defensive tackle Jeremy Liggins.
NOTES: OL Senior Kelemete is expected to make his first career playoff start Sunday in place of Andrus Peat (broken fibula). The five-year veteran, made his post-season debut last week and moved into the lineup after Peat was injured in the first half. Kelemete made eight starts during the regular season because of injuries to Peat, Armstead and RG Larry Warford. … WR Brandon Coleman (neck) did not participate in practice Wednesday. DE Cam Jordan (knee), T Terron Armstead (thigh), DT Sheldon Rankins (ankle), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion), DT David Onyemata (thumb), CB P.J. Williams (ankle) and DE Trey Hendrickson (ankle) were limited in practice on Wednesday