OWINGS MILLS — Drew Brees is regarded as an ambassador of good deeds in New Orleans, a renaissance man heavily involved in revitalizing the city since Hurricane Katrina with his philanthropy boosting a ravaged community.
He even headlines the National League of Junior Cotillions’ list of the Ten Best-Mannered People, beating out pop stars Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift, actress Sandra Bullock, the late Elizabeth Edwards, the Chilean miners and billionaire Bill Gates.
The New Orleans Saints’ star quarterback is just as respected in the NFL for his work as the Most Valuable Player of the Super Bowl for the reigning league champions.
“He’s definitely in the elite class of those types of quarterbacks,” Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis said Thursday. “He’s proven himself, even in San Diego before he even got to New Orleans. Just watching him play the game, you can tell that he understands the game inside and out.”
Since arriving in New Orleans four years ago, Brees has thrown for 4,000 or more yards every season, ranking at the top of nearly every passing category and breaking nearly every record for a franchise once quarterbacked by Archie Manning.
This season, the four-time Pro Bowl selection has completed 69 percent of his throws for 3,855 yards and 28 touchdown passes. He has thrown a career-high 18 interceptions, taking more chances while shouldering a bigger load with the backfield dealing with multiple injuries to running backs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas.
“I try not to look at it like that,” Brees said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. “Obviously having both those guys hurt early on. We had to make some adjustments. I just think we kind of hit our stride, hit our rhythm about six weeks ago.”
Over the past six games, the Saints are undefeated. They’ve beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals and the St. Louis Rams, averaging 30.5 points per contest.
Brees was named the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.
“Drew is like a lot of these guys, the great players in this league,” Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “Don’t ever underestimate Drew in any sort of circumstances.”
In a decade in the NFL, Brees has completed 65.2 percent of his throws for 34,501 yards, 230 touchdowns.
“He’s got a very high bar, and he’s probably as hard on himself as anyone,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “He’s very competitive.”
Brees is the third-most accurate passer in league history, owns the ninth-best passer rating and is ranked 19th in passing yardage and tied for 21st in touchdown passes. As far as Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is concerned, Brees is superior to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
“Well, in my eyes, he’s better,” Suggs said. “Maybe it could be my personal vendetta against the other guys, but he’s definitely one of the premier quarterbacks in this league, and he’s got the numbers to prove it. And not only that, he’s got the hardware to prove it.”
Brees hasn’t excelled against the Ravens in the past, though.
He was intercepted three times during a 24-10 win over the Chargers in 2003. And during a 2006 game against Baltimore in his first year in New Orleans, Brees passed for 383 yards and three touchdowns. However, Dawan Landry and Ronnie Prude returned interceptions for touchdowns in the Ravens’ 35-22 win.
Brees needs 145 more passing yards for his fifth consecutive 4,000-yard season — only Brees and Manning have hit that milestone for four years in a row.
It’s Brees’ lightning release, accuracy and intelligence that are special attributes.
“The thing that sets Brees apart is his ability to get the ball out really, really quick,” defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “He really sees his receivers, sees who he’s going to go to, and the ball comes out really quick.”
The Saints are ranked sixth in scoring this season, averaging 25.4 points per game with Brees under center. He’s a mobile, athletic presence in the pocket capable of eluding pass rushers and has only been sacked 18 times.
“He’s been around a long time,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s a really gifted athlete, has got a nice touch. He’s very accurate, moves around there and can kind of escape a rush and find a guy.
“He just can make some uncanny plays. I think he’s got a great understanding of defenses, one of the premier guys.”