Jan 1, 2012 11:58 PM by Brees and Saints Set Slew of Records
NEW ORLEANS - Drew Brees set a merciless tone with relentless, aggressive, pinpoint passing and the New Orleans Saints shrugged off injury risks, barreling into the postseason with an all-out effort.
"Every facet of our offense is clicking right now, but yet you're constantly finding ways to advance it," Brees said. "We've raised the bar for ourselves. We have a high level of expectations, and we're just trying to meet that level."
Brees passed for 389 yards and five touchdowns, and the Saints set a slew of NFL and club records in a 45-17 blowout of the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
The NFL single-season records set by the Saints (13-3), who head into the playoffs on an eight-game winning streak, included offensive yards with 7,474, team yards passing with 5,347 and first downs with 416.
Brees, who was 28 of 35, finished with a record 468 completions this season, breaking Peyton Manning's 2010 mark of 450. He finished the season completing 71.6 percent of his passes, breaking his own 2009 NFL record 70.6 completion percentage.
In terms of playoff seeding, New Orleans gained nothing with the victory, finishing with the third seed because San Francisco (13-3), which had a better conference record, held onto the second seed by winning at St. Louis. That result locked the Saints into a first-round matchup at home next weekend against Detroit (10-6).
Yet New Orleans hadn't forgotten the bitterness of limping into the playoffs with a loss in their last regular-season game a year ago before being bounced by underdog Seattle in the first round.
"You obviously saw the result last year, and we didn't feel like we came out and played well or carried momentum into the playoffs," Brees said. "I feel like we're playing our best football right now. This is where we wanted to be."
Jimmy Graham had 97 yards receiving to finish with 1,310, exceeding Kellen Winslow's 1980 record of 1,290 for a tight end. But New England's Rob Gronkowski finished with 1,327 yards, establishing a new mark.
Darren Sproles had 40 yards rushing, 29 yards receiving and 99 yards on kickoff and punt returns to finish with season with an NFL record 2,969 combined yards, easily breaking the previous mark of 2,690, set by Derrick Mason with Tennessee in 2000.
Carolina (6-10), which had won four of five, kept up for much of the first half but wilted over the final two quarters while the Saints set a franchise single-game record with 617 yards of total offense.
"We caught a football team that is on a roll right now," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "That's a playoff-caliber football team that did that to us."
Marques Colston caught Brees' first two scoring passes, making a spectacular, spinning catch with arms outstretched on the first one from 15 yards out.
Colston's second touchdown went for 42 yards, and he finished with seven catches for 145 yards.
Afterward, Colston, who studied psychology at Hofstra, declared: "Mentally and emotionally, we're as prepared as a team can be."
Brees also connected with Graham on a 19-yard scoring strike, and added TD passes of 9 yards to Sproles and 1 yard to fullback Jed Collins.