Before a raucous crowd of 73,038 at the Superdome that included another distinguished passer, Brett Favre, Brees helped the Saints rack up 626 total yards — an all-time postseason record — and pull away for a 45-28 victory in a first-round playoff matchup.
Brees, who set an NFL record for passing yards this season, completed 33 of 43 passes for 466 yards. He had touchdown passes of 41, 3 and 56 yards.
“At times it may look easy out there,” Brees said. “But it’s not. We take great pride in going out and playing the way we did, with the exception of the turnovers. We are trying to make our mark.”
The Saints’ offense has been particularly explosive at home, where they averaged 41 points per game during the regular season. But the Saints, who are the third seed in the NFC, will now have to go on the road next weekend and play outdoors against the second-seeded San Francisco 49ers.
The Saints trailed 14-10 at halftime Saturday because of two costly fumbles in Lions’ territory. But Brees and the Saints quickly found a groove early in the third quarter. Two minutes into the quarter, Brees hooked up with wide receiver Devery Henderson for a 41-yard touchdown pass, a big-play strike that set the tenor for a second-half offensive clinic.
Saints Coach Sean Payton showed so much confidence in his offense that he went for it on fourth and one from their 38-yard line midway through the third quarter. A successful lunge by Brees kept alive a drive that culminated with tight end Jimmy Graham’s three-yard touchdown reception. Brees completed 7 of 8 passes for 94 yards during the drive that gave the Saints a 10-point lead.
“Obviously that’s a gutsy call,” Brees said of the fourth-down call with his team leading by three points. “But we have been known to make those types of calls. Maybe we didn’t even want to think about not getting it.”
The game breaker came midway through the fourth quarter, when Brees found a wide-open Robert Meachem on a deep pass for a 56-yard touchdown strike.
Some players said the Saints played the first half as if they were carrying some of the weight from last season’s disappointing first-round playoff loss at Seattle.
Saints cornerback Jabari Greer, who intercepted two passes Saturday, said: “We understood that feeling we felt on the bus, when we lost to Seattle, and then to wake up and see Matt Hasselbeck on ESPN. We can’t feel that way again. We have to focus. And guys did that. We had fun out there today.”
An overlooked facet of the Saints’ high-powered offense has been their running game, which ranked sixth in the NFL in yards per game (132.9) during the regular season. And the Saints found success on the ground throughout the game Saturday, collecting 167 rushing yards in the victory.