Opinion: Saints’ Drew Brees shows his age while Bucs’ Tom Brady marches on

NEW ORLEANS — That’s not how Drew Brees was supposed to go out. 

Not with more interceptions than touchdown passes in what could’ve been one last legendary shootout with his fellow future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. Not in yet another premature playoff exit after falling 30-20 to Tampa Bay Sunday night.

Not in front of a paltry crowd of 3,750 in the 73,000-seat Superdome after 15 seasons of serving as the heart and soul of the New Orleans Saints and their adoring fans.

But the 42-year-old was reminded that Father Time is undefeated, and that all good things eventually must come to an end, and many times, they do so in undesirable fashion. And so, after sweeping the Buccaneers in the regular season, Brees, who is headed for retirement after 20 NFL seasons, and the Saints had the tables turned in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Drew Brees huddled with his teammates before the game. (Photo: Derick E. Hingle, USA TODAY Sports)

Brees threw for just 134 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions while sporting a 38.1 passer rating, and what was potentially New Orleans' final shot at a Super Bowl for some time ended in double-digit loss fashion. 

Meanwhile, the 43-year-old Brady did it again. Fending off the effects of age yet again, he helped carry the Buccaneers deeper into unfamiliar territory. "Helped" is the key word, because Tampa’s defense gave Brady’s unit a short field three different times with takeaways.

Next week they’ll travel to Green Bay, where they’ll play in the NFC Championship for the first time since the 2002 season, and there, Brady will find himself one game away from delivering on the promise he offered when he signed with Tampa last spring. There, Brady will find himself one game away from advancing to his 10th Super Bowl.

“We’re not done yet,” he always loves to say.

Brees can’t say the same.

On paper, Sunday’s meeting certainly seemed like a showdown for the ages literally and figuratively. It marked the first postseason game in NFL history that featured two opposing starting quarterbacks age 40 or older, and the Brady-Brees face-off represented a meeting between the NFL's top two all-time leaders in both passing yards (Brady first with 90,973, Brees second with 85,590) and touchdown passes (Brady first with 656, Brees second with 607).

It was the eighth meeting between the two. Brees entered with five wins over Brady, and Brady had two victories over Brees. But it was their first playoff meeting.

Things started slowly. 

Brady’s Bucs went three-and-out on their first two possessions and didn’t find a rhythm until the second quarter. Brees, meanwhile, had to settle for field goals early. Then he threw the first of three interceptions. The Saints’ first touchdown pass didn’t even come from Brees, but Jameis Winston, who entered the game lining up at wide receiver before taking a lateral, drifting to his left and hitting TreQuan Smith in stride for a 56-yard score.

Tom Brady celebrated after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter. (Photo: Derick E. Hingle, USA TODAY Sports)

Brees certainly had some of his signature moments — displays of pinpoint accuracy and touch. But at times, his arm looked every bit of 42, lacking the zip or consistency of years past. And he forced throws late, which is how the last two picks happened. He also missed injured running back Latavius Murray, and backup/utility player Taysom Hill, whose plays spark the Saints' offense.

Brady wasn’t immune to age. He certainly had his share of underthrows, and he had three near-picks. But he had a stronger running game and a full cast of weapons. And the ultimate difference was Brady benefited from the backing of a defense. 

It’s expected that Brees will transition to the TV booth. But he wasn’t ready to begin thinking of the next chapter just yet.

The Saints and their fans hoped he could provide one last stab at glory, but they’ll still view him with fondness. He’ll still go down as one of the greats after a storied career that saw him give the Saints their first ever Super Bowl, make 13 Pro Bowls and lead the NFL in passing yards seven times (a record) and touchdowns four times.

Sunday marked the unceremonious end for one legend. Meanwhile, his rival’s march rolls on. 

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