Embattled Brooks takes his hits, then breaks Saints offense loose
Monday October 20, 2003
ATLANTA -- The fault wasn't all his.
It couldn't have been. Not in a sport where cohesion is key, where if one of 11 of a unit blows his assignment, the other 10 can appear just as incompetent.
But Aaron Brooks is a quarterback. And when an offense sputters as miserably as the Saints have this season -- when they were expecting to score quickly and often and approach new heights of productivity -- the quarterback takes the biggest hit.
His play is critiqued, his mechanics dissected, his decision-making second-guessed, his errors magnified.
On Sunday, finally, there was no need for magnification. Brooks blew up all by himself at the Georgia Dome.
He and his offense broke loose against the Falcons. Humiliated them. Read them, sliced them, played pitch-and-catch against them like the facility was a sandlot and the shirts stacked the deck against the skins with a couple of ringers.
In the Saints' 45-17 victory, Brooks was his finest -- 23-of-30 for 352 yards and three touchdowns, most of the damage done in a first half when the Saints scored 35 points and left the Falcons with little hope.
"(But) we're still 3-4," Brooks said, his even-keeled assessment surpassed in wisdom only by a few of the choices he made on the field. "I'll take the win over the stats."
The win is the Saints' second in a row. They're still nowhere near great, and beating a couple of patsies -- Chicago and Atlanta -- won't make anyone forget that improvement still can be made.
But 3-4 sounds a lot better than 1-6, which is where the Saints would be (and the Falcons are) if they hadn't taken a punch and kept standing. And Brooks standing and discussing one of the most efficient days of his NFL career is more appropriate than him standing and attempting to explain again what went wrong.
The talent is there -- we've seen it before, many times in the previous two seasons. But this year has seemed to bring more recession than progression. Brooks hasn't had consistent help from his receivers, who have dropped passes short and long, some that would've been first downs and others that might've been touchdowns.
But the quarterback takes the hit. He always stinks more individually than does the team collectively. The yards and touchdowns in losses are meaningless, and often in victory they aren't pretty enough.
Sunday, though, was fairly attractive. Eight receivers caught those 23 completions. In the first half, when Brooks completed 15 of 18 passes for 281 yards and three scores, one pass was dropped, another should have resulted in a pass interference penalty and the last was a throwaway.
"What really stood out was the players around me," Brooks said. "I can't take credit for this. Those guys deserve it. They struggled early. We all struggled.
"I can't take credit from them. I can't do it by myself. That has been proven over and over again -- not just here, but a lot of other places."
The help came from everywhere, from a line that provided outstanding protection, to 116 rushing yards and a couple of touchdowns by Deuce McAllister, to 133 receiving yards and a score by Joe Horn. The offense clicked, just as designed.
"It allows you to be very aggressive," offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy said. "When you get in a good flow of run and pass, it feels like you can't call any bad plays. We executed at a high level."
Brooks, maybe, at the highest of all. He began the day with seven touchdown passes and a rating of 80.4, numbers that will improve with three scores and a career-best single-game rating of 148.2.
"We wanted to give him a chance to get the ball to the receivers and see if they could make something happen," Coach Jim Haslett said.
Obviously, it worked. Plays were made, the kind that have been sorely missed.
Finally, the Saints' offense is in sync, led by a quarterback who distributed a few hits on par with the ones he has taken.
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