(AP) If Drew Brees maintains his recent form through the bulk of this season, the record-setting Saints quarterback could wind up having one of his best years yet at the age of 39.
Brees' completion rate is 80.6 percent through the first three games - high even by his standard.
But is it sustainable?
''I don't see why not,'' Brees said. ''I mean, listen, it's not easy.''
No, he's just made it look that way.
Brees began the season 78 completions behind Brett Favre's record of 6,300 and needed barely more than two games to set a new mark - now 6,326 and counting. Brees has completed 104 of 129 passes for 1,078 yards and eight TDs with no interceptions.
This after he set the NFL record last season for completion rate at 72 percent.
And he'll likely break Peyton Manning's record of 71,940 yards passing within two more games. He's 417 yards away from that mark.
While Brees is pleased by his statistical production, he said he measures his performance more by the quality of his decisions.
''I've always had a goal that I want to continue to get better each and every year. Sometimes you can't always measure that,'' Brees said, offering the example of how throwing the ball away shows up as an incompletion, but is markedly preferable to taking a sack or committing a turnover.
''There's certain things stats don't always show as to your true production,'' Brees said. ''I want to build confidence with my offense. I want to be in control of the huddle. I want to lead the huddle. I want to make those guys believe and get the best out of them.
''And I want to make great decisions when I have to opportunity - and then produce. So as long as I'm able to do those things, that's what drives me.''
The bulk of Brees' passes have gone to receiver Michael Thomas and to running back Alvin Kamara. It's hard to argue with that decision-making. Both have made a number of clutch plays in New Orleans' two victories, and even in their 48-40 loss to Tampa Bay - blame for which could hardly be pinned on New Orleans' offense.
Thomas has 38 catches - the most by an NFL player through the first three games of a season. He also has 398 yards and three TDs receiving.
In discussing his high completion rate, Brees said Thomas has been a ''huge'' factor.
''He's a great target. He's a great matchup,'' Brees said. ''It's good to have the weapons that we have on offense. More so than that, it's good that everybody has the mindset that they have, and that is that at any time, their number could be called.''
Kamara has caught 30 passes for 298 yards and one TD receiving. He often catches the ball out of the backfield.
While such throws tend to yield modest gains and are often considered ''check-down'' throws - safer, easier alternatives to throwing downfield - Brees is unapologetic.
''It's about identifying matchups. It's making sure that you get positive plays,'' Brees said. ''In just about every case, a completion is a positive play, right? So maybe that's the difference between you being third-and-7 and third-and-4. And when you look at the percentages of conversion (on third-and-short vs. third-and-long), then that's a big deal.''
Saints players have long raved about Brees' work ethic, adherence to routine, command of the game plan, knack for reading defenses and ability to make wise decisions.
But his aging body still has to be able to make throws under pressure and even scramble once in a while, as he did for a 7-yard touchdown in a victory at Atlanta last Sunday.
Saints receiver Austin Carr, who worked out with Brees last summer, said the quarterback's routine ''is serious.''
''He knows what he needs - what kind of workouts, what kind of training he needs that gives him that durability, gives him the physical edge,'' Carr said. ''He's a guy who's always looking for the edge.''
Brees used a spin move to avoid a potentially heavy hit by two converging Falcons defensive backs before taking two quick steps and diving into the end zone for a tying score late in the fourth quarter.
It was not a third-down play; Brees could have thrown the ball away or slid to protect himself after crossing the line of scrimmage. In this case, he decided it was time to do more.
For teammates such as tight end Josh Hill, the TD scramble was a reminder of how many ways Brees still can win a game.
''Probably the most competitive person I've ever been around and that's a prime example of it,'' Hill said. ''A lot of guys would just slide in that situation and protect themselves, but the game's on the line and he knew what he had to do.''
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