This comeback player probably won't be coming back. This one-time San Diego quarterback of the future is likely to become part of the Chargers' past.
"I'd love to be the mainstay of an organization where, 'Hey, that's the backbone right there,' and they're looking at me," said Drew Brees, who will become a free agent after the season and almost certainly will be too expensive to keep, considering the Chargers have signed No. 4 pick Philip Rivers to a deal worth about $40 million. "I'd love for that to happen here. But if it doesn't, hey, life goes on."
Six months after the Chargers bailed out on him by identifying Rivers as their latest quarterback of the future, things could hardly be going better for Brees, especially when playing at home. He's 3-0 at Qualcomm Stadium this season with 10 touchdowns, no interceptions and a stratospheric passer rating of 147.2. He was chosen AFC offensive player of the week after throwing five touchdowns in a 22-for-25 performance against Oakland last Sunday, leading the Chargers to a 42-14 rout.
"That's about as good as it can get, isn't it?" said former Charger tight end Stephen Alexander, who now plays for Detroit. "I've been playing phone tag with Drew all week. I couldn't be happier for the guy."
The Brees saga is just another twist in the Chargers' quest to find a long-term solution at quarterback. They keep making missteps in that department. They poured millions into signing Ryan Leaf, passed on a chance to draft Michael Vick -- granted, LaDainian Tomlinson was quite a consolation prize -- then gave up on Brees too soon.
"They've done that to guys before," Miami tackle Damion McIntosh said of the Chargers, his team from 2000 through last season.
"I was there for four years. I saw a lot of things. That's their way of doing business, I guess."
Brees made his share of mistakes last season. Eleven of his 15 interceptions came in the first seven games. Late in the third quarter of the eighth game, at Chicago, he was benched in favor of Doug Flutie, then 41.
It was at that point, Brees said, that his heart sank the lowest.
"I came to the sideline and [Coach Marty Schottenheimer] started walking toward me, and I knew what he was going to say before he even said it. He said, 'You're out. We're going with Doug.' "
In another situation, Brees might have argued his case. Not this time.
"You never want to be pulled away from your teammates, especially when you know that you can help them win," he said. "But at that time I knew he was coming over to tell me that, and I had nothing to back it up with. I just kind of looked him in the eyes and had that feeling of, 'I understand.' "
But Brees was far from the only problem on the Chargers, who would lose that game at Chicago on their way to a 4-12 season. They had a revolving door of offensive linemen, a lackluster collection of receivers and a bad defense that left the team often playing from behind.
San Diego lost its first five games and tension in the locker room began to build. Before the Chicago game, defensive end Marcellus Wiley told reporters he thought the team would be better off with Flutie starting. A bad situation was getting worse.
"After about the second loss, you could tell that something wasn't quite right," Brees said. "As much as a lot of guys were trying to turn things around, I think finger-pointing started to happen. It just continued throughout."
Hard as the criticism was on Brees, it was even harder on his wife, Brittany, and their families.
"She takes it harder than I do," he said. "I'm here all the time. I'm focused, I'm working. She's at home and she'll be checking her e-mail and then something pops up on the Internet. Or people who don't know any better call and say, 'Did you hear what they said on the news? Did you hear what they said in the newspaper? On the radio?' And it's just like she can't escape it."
After the season, the Chargers made no secret of their plans to make a change at quarterback.
"We think he's a fine young quarterback, but we're always looking to upgrade," General Manager A.J. Smith said in February at the NFL combine. "We're not flying under the radar with this. We've stated we're looking for a quarterback. [Brees is] a big boy. He can handle all these things."
When asked this week whether the franchise gave up on Brees after last season, Schottenheimer said "upgrading" didn't necessarily mean changing quarterbacks.
"What we said is we needed better play at the quarterback position, among some other things," he said.
"And one of those avenues is the acquisition of Philip Rivers. One of the other avenues is the development of the player who's currently here. And I have said steadfastly that I feel like he could become a very fine, winning quarterback."
All in the Family
For Chad Johnson, football is a family affair. For the second consecutive week, the Cincinnati receiver will be playing a team that has one of his cousins on the roster. Last week, it was Tennessee cornerback Samari Rolle. This week, it's Dallas receiver Keyshawn Johnson. . . .
It isn't often that the Arizona Cardinals are in position to make history, but they can do so by beating Miami on Sunday. The Arizona/St. Louis franchise has never beaten the Dolphins, going 0-8 against them since 1972.