In this Aug. 22, 2015, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, left, greets New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) after an NFL preseason football game in New Orleans. The Patriots and the Saints meet Sunday, Sept. 17, in New Orleans.
NEW ORLEANS — Brady, Brees and Bono. How’s that for a middle-aged power trio?
When New England quarterback Tom Brady and his prolific New Orleans counterpart, Drew Brees, take the Superdome field on Sunday, it’ll be just days after U2’s concert. Seems fitting, given the association the Irish rockers had with key moments for both franchises in that stadium.
U2 played when the renovated Superdome reopened a year after Hurricane Katrina for the Saints’ triumphant 2006 home opener. They also played halftime of Brady and the Patriots’ maiden Super Bowl victory in the Big Easy in 2002.
For many football fans in New Orleans, U2’s latest Superdome show Thursday night served as an apt prelude to a game featuring two quarterbacks who are not only among the most accomplished in NFL history, but who can actually remember when “The Joshua Tree” album came out in 1987.
The Saints presented the band with a football signed by Brees and coach Sean Payton. U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr. wore a T-shirt with “Saints” printed on the back, and the crowd roared when it was shown on the big screen. U2 also played riffs of “The Saints Are Coming” — which they’d also performed with Green Day at the dome’s ’06 reopening — as Saints-style fleur-de-lis symbols scrolled up the expansive screen behind the stage.
Now 40, Brady and Brees, 38, come in highly motivated to help their clubs recover from Week 1 losses.
“It is very important. It is our home opener and we want to get everybody back on track,” Brees said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of things to correct.”
Similarly, Brady noted that the Patriots “played very poorly in the fourth quarter” of a season-opening loss to Kansas City.
This week, they must “be the kind of players that our teammates can depend on and try to go get a win at a very tough place to play,” Brady said.
Here are some things to know about the Patriots-Saints matchup:
Brady and Brees have combined for staggering passing numbers: 128,251 yards and 922 TDs. Brees stands third in NFL history with 66,402 yards and 466 TDs, and Brady fourth with 61,849 yards and 456 TDs. Brady’s 208 career wins as a starter, including playoffs, rank first in NFL history.
They also hope their careers are nowhere near over, particularly after last season, when Brees led the NFL in yards passing. Brady led the Patriots to a fifth Super Bowl title.
“I’d say we probably both have the mindset that we want to change the norm of what is possible in regards to how long a guy can play and the level that they can play at,” Brees said.
Brees said he’s admired Brady since he first played against him in college before the turn of the century — a 1999 victory for Brady’s Michigan over Brees’ Purdue.
Brees recalled how Brady, then a senior, had to share snaps with Drew Henson in the midseason game.
“Standing on the sideline across from him, to me, it was obviously Brady’s team and he had to share time with this freshman,” Brees recalled. “Yet, his approach and his discipline during that time — he played at such a high level, but he just worried about what he controlled. … By the end of the season, they just flat out gave the starting spot to Brady and they played lights out.
“That probably shaped and molded a lot about him — a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, which has obviously served him well, a mental discipline and a mental toughness that’s unmatched.”
Brady said it was “pretty cool,” some 18 years after that college meeting, to play the latest of several games against Brees.
“I have so much respect for Drew and what he’s accomplished,” Brady said. “Playing against him for a long time; I know the challenges a Drew Brees-led team presents. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Both teams were disappointed by their running games last week, particularly in light of key free-agent signings: Adrian Peterson with the Saints and Mike Gillislee with New England. Gillislee had three touchdowns in his debut, but it was largely a footnote as New England’s ground game was ineffective in the second half against the Chiefs. Still, that compared favorably to Peterson, who played just nine offensive snaps, gaining only 18 yards on six carries — and giving Payton a glare on the sideline. “I didn’t sign up for nine snaps,” Peterson said. “Unfortunately, that’s the way the game played out.”
The game brings Brandin Cooks back to New Orleans, where he was a 2014 first-round pick and played his first three seasons. Brady said he’s glad Cooks is on his side now. “He’s pretty unique,” Brady said. “His maturity is probably what surprised me the most. … He wants to do extra. He wants to know what I’m thinking. He just wants to do the right thing all of the time.”
ROOM FOR ERROR
While one team will drop to 0-2, recent NFL history suggests neither team should be in panic mode. Since realignment in 2002, 108 of the 180 playoff teams (60 percent) opened 1-1 or 0-2.