Column: Drew Brees zaps Bolts again; NFL Week 5 updates including Rivers’ rough game


Drew Brees is a short quarterback with a long memory. When Chargers executives AJ Smith and Dean Spanos nudged him out of San Diego in favor of Philip Rivers, guess who took it personally.

“They didn’t feel like I was their guy,” Brees wrote in his book. “The feeling was worse than any hit I’d ever taken in a football game.”

Brees is still getting even.

Monday night, he improved to 4-0 against the Chargers by leading the Saints to a 30-27 overtime victory in New Orleans.

The Chargers (1-4) led by 17 points, but suffered their third loss after leading by double digits. Brees posted just his second victory in 50 career games in which his team trailed by 17 or more points.

Brees completed 33-of-47 passes for 325 yards and a touchdown.

Still mobile and springy, the 6-foot quarterback pulled off a “Brees Leap” to score a 1-yard touchdown seconds before halftime, offsetting his interception that led to seven points.

For the 41-year-old Brees, it was his 24th career rushing touchdown — 21 more than the taller, heavier but less mobile Rivers, 38.

Brees led the Saints past Rivers and the Bolts three times: as a three-point underdog in 2009 at London; for an 0-4 team in 2012, when Brees broke Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas’ half-century-old record by throwing a TD pass in his 48th straight game; and in 2016 at San Diego when he turned two turnovers into TDs in the last five minutes.

“This was a wild one,” Brees told ESPN after his biggest comeback in 11 years.

The Bolts counterpart this time, though, was rookie Justin Herbert, who played well but saw Michael Badgley miss a one-point kick and a potential winning field goal from 50 yards.

“I told him I was really impressed with him,” Brees said of Herbert, 22.

Rivers looked old

What happened Sunday when Philip Rivers lacked his top blindside protector against great pass rusher Myles Garrett?

Rivers’ physical limitations became more limiting, resulting in critical errors by the 15th-year starter, who had two interceptions and a safety in the Colts’ 32-23 loss to the Browns.

Deep into his 30s, Rivers has shown subpar arm strength to go with below-average mobility that he can offset with rare pocket awareness and efficiency. Six months shy of his 39th birthday, he does not move as well as Brady, 43; Brees, 41; Ben Roethlisberger, 39; and streaky Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’ll be 38 next month.

So the former longtime San Diegan has to play a nearly perfect mental game. Dome conditions help him, as do opponents that lack scary pass rushers.

Outdoors at Cleveland, with the Colts down a starting blocker for the first time this year and Garrett showing the explosive form that should make him a strong contender for Defensive Player of the Year, Rivers’ performance deteriorated into a spate of cringe-worthy miscues.

Left tackle Anthony Castonzo’s replacement had no chance against Garrett, when the Browns were able to isolate him. Rivers lacked the speed and agility to buy himself enough time. He was unable to wing needed fastballs while sliding or climbing in the pocket.

Besides the turnovers, Rivers threw a sideline pass that could’ve been returned for a touchdown; Ronnie Harrison, a safety who had jammed Colts tight end Jack Doyle on an out route, dropped the gift.

A few plays later Rivers floated a late throw toward the sideline 3.9 seconds after the snap — without seeing Harrison in zone coverage. Harrison took it back, expanding Cleveland’s lead to 17 points.

The Colts rallied to 27-20, behind a kick return and their ground game. But Rivers set them back with a safety and an interception.

Colts head coach Frank Reich said a clever fake blitz that took away a rookie running back’s support allowed Garrett to harry Rivers into the safety. Even so, Rivers didn’t react well to the pressure. The defeat dropped the Colts to 2-11 in games without Castonzo.

missing gates

Rivers’ falloff last year after a good 2018 season coincided with the absence of Antonio Gates, a teammate since the quarterback’s rookie year in 2004.

Even after Gates lost his very good sprint speed, he made football less difficult for Rivers. “He’s never covered, really,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said days before Gates, in what apparently was his final NFL game, had a TD catch in New England’s lopsided playoff victory on Jan. 13, 2019. “He’s quicker than what you think he is.”

Gates, who is still first in career touchdowns by a tight end, knew how to decipher and attack any type of defense, and wasted no precious time doing it. Rivers could anticipate where Gates would go without fear of a snafu. If the ball came near him, Gates caught it. He didn’t require great arm strength but still could create long gains off double moves. Even late in his career, Gates was able to defeat linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks in man coverage and find holes in zones. Disguises seldom fooled him.

During games, Gates talked football with Rivers. At times, he seemed to steady the excitable quarterback.

As good as Rivers was at quarterback, Gates was an even better tight end.

four things

  • Asked about Texas A&M’s Garrett four-plus years ago, fellow end Joey Bosa, standing on a practice field in San Diego, described Garrett as a “good guy” whose football playmaking was “freakish” and could rival his own NFL heights. Garrett went first in the 2017 draft and made the 2018 Pro Bowl but missed the final six games of last season when the NFL suspended him for pulling off the helmet of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and hitting him in the head with it during a game. This season, Garrett has mustered a dominant five-game stretch in which he has caused or contributed to eight turnovers. He has six sacks, second to Rams tackle Aaron Donald, and is tied for first with three forced fumbles. The Browns and Rams have ridden their defensive stars to a 4-1 start.
  • Roethlisberger has come back from reconstructive elbow surgery to take the Steelers to a 4-0 start, but games against the Browns, Titans and Ravens the next three weeks seem likely to provide a tougher test. Roethlisberger has 10 touchdown passes and an interception. In the Steelers’ 38-29 victory Sunday, the Eagles’ defense made numerous miscues that Roethlisberger exploited.
  • With reliable offensive tackles scarce in the NFL, it may be encouraging that longtime NFL draft analyst Dane Brugler of The Athletic placed five tackles among his top-50 prospects for the 2021 draft. Brugler listed Oregon LT Penie Sewell the No. 2 prospect overall, behind Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence. Sewell, who is 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds, will turn 20 this month.
  • Bengals rookie QB Joe Burrow won’t last the season if this continues. He has taken 16 sacks in the last three games, including seven sacks Sunday against Baltimore. The Ravens confused Burrows with their sophisticated blitz game, and Cincinnati’s line had breakdowns at a few spots.