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A Familiar Brees Blows Into PBS As Bengals And Their No. 9 Open Playoff Run

Jersey swap back in 2019.
Jersey swap back in 2019.

Bengals president Mike Brown and Joe Burrow, his record-breaking quarterback, may have 61 years between them. But they're both Ohio-bred quarterbacks who know what the position is supposed to look like.

And both of them are big fans of Saints' future Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees, NBC's analyst for Saturday's Wild Card Game (4:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) between the Bengals and Raiders at Paul Brown Stadium.

You can best believe when Burrow Zoomed with Brees for Thursday's production meeting, it probably made his week until Saturday's kickoff.

Count Brees as a fan, too. They may have more in common than the No. 9.

"Chip on his shoulder," Brees says of Burrow's intangibles. "I see it. I feel it."

It seems rather fitting Brees is calling Burrow's postseason debut.

Burrow had two jerseys when he was growing up in Athens and they were both made in the 2001 draft, where Brees and Michael Vick got the call. That's also the draft Brown held the fourth pick and if he'd been in a room by himself he probably would taken Purdue's Brees even though he was barely six feet.

It's hard to see Brown not taking Brees if he slid to the Bengals at No. 36 and the coaches were starting to get ready. But the Chargers took care of that when they took Brees No. 32. That left the Bengals to take their all-time leading receiver at No. 36 when they took Oregon State's Chad Johnson.

"That worked out," Brees said Thursday as he scanned the Bengals walk-through before practice in the building where he made his first NFL start in the 2002 opener.

Since that 2001 Draft Day, Brees always seems to be bumping into the Bengals like that.

In that '02 opener for the Marty (Schottenheimer) Ball Chargers, Brees provided some foreshadowing if anyone bothered to look when he hit 79 percent of his 19 passes on the PBS grass in a 34-6 win over the Bengals.

Brees set his career high of 510 yards in a 2006 Superdome game the Bengals somehow beat the Saints as Johnson caught 190 yards to set the NFL record for most receiving yards in back-to-back games.

Then in 2009, Brees' 70.6 completion percentage tied the NFL record Ken Anderson set for the Bengals in 1982 before he broke it in 2011 with 71.2.

"The way the rules have been geared more and more to the pass, to do that in that era, where the conditions weren't always the best, that's extremely impressive," said Brees, who knew the name with his in the record book because he had met Anderson at various golf tournaments.

Now Brees is back in the building owned by Burrow and his own 70.4 completion percentage in a sort of a reunion. Brees, the heart and soul of New Orleans, met Burrow at a walk-through in the Saints facility before Burrow led LSU into the 2019 hometown national title game in the building where Brees staged the Saints' run to a Super Bowl title a decade before.

"There were some coaches who had been with us and were at LSU and they said he was a phenomenal young man," Brees said. "We talked a little bit, but I didn't want to be a distraction. They were there to win a national championship and I just wanted to be there to support him and the team."

If that doesn't tell you something about Brees, this will. Since former Saints assistant Joe Brady was LSU's offensive coordinator, they ran mirror systems and Brees would text Brady when he saw a familiar check or wrinkle.

"Hey, that was 'Baltimore'," Brees might write, or some other code words.

Looking back on it, he said Burrow ran it to "perfection."

"It's arguably the best season a quarterback ever had in college. I don't know if the stats would say that," Brees said. "But just knowing the offense and knowing how it is supposed to be executed, it was to perfection. The thing that he didn't get enough credit for is how well he scrambled and made some plays with his legs at times. Obviously he had some great talent around him. But it wasn't like he just dropped back and threw it to his playmakers and they were making plays.

"There were plenty of times he would extend the drive by scrambling on third down, or scrambling for 10 yards. He just did all the little things to perfection that most people wouldn't notice, but a guy like me would notice."

Brees knew all that would translate to the league.

"He's got all the measurables," Brees said. "But more importantly, he has all the intangibles and that the stuff you need at this level."

Which gets you back to The Chip. Even before he wasn't a blue-chip recruit out of The Plains and sat at Ohio State, you can see why Burrow was attracted to Brees. Brees not only won, but he did it in the face of the critics that said he was too short. Plus, one of his favorite players, Reggie Bush, was playing for the Saints.

"The similar things," Brees said. "You're doubted. For whatever reason."

Brees can run you through it. He got two Division I offers. Purdue and Kentucky. He desperately wanted to stay home in Texas and would have gone anywhere. Texas Tech. Baylor. SMU. And Purdue and Kentucky got in late in December with new coaches that were going to spread it out and throw and height wasn't a deal-breaker.

"I had to leave Texas and it was the best thing that ever happened to me," Brees said.

We all know how leaving his home state worked out for Burrow. He came back with the Heisman Trophy and the national championship. Brees has kept on being impressed.

"He plays with a confidence. He's got great command of the offense and has great trust with his receivers," Brees said. "It looks like he feels he can make every throw on the field. I know sometimes that's a dangerous thing. But I think he does a good job taking care of the ball, all things considered."

Brees, one of two men to have 80,000 passing yards, has seen a lot of territory.

"When you have a quarterback that you feel like, no matter the situation, there's always a chance of winning," Brees said, "that does a lot for a team."

Mike Brown and Joe Burrow know exactly what he means.