Expect prolific Brees to come up big, lead Saints past Chargers

By piling up huge passing statistics the past three seasons, Drew Brees has earned a spot among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. But what he needs to do more often is win.

The New Orleans Saints, through no fault of their offense, continue to blow games because of defensive and special-teams breakdowns.

It’s Brees’ responsibility to overcome his team’s blunders and make big plays in the fourth quarter of tight games, a position the Saints should be in Sunday against the San Diego Chargers in London.

This won’t be one of those boring, low-scoring soccer games that British fans find exciting. This will be an entertaining football game.

New Orleans ranks No. 1 in the NFL in total offense and pass offense. San Diego, missing Shawne Merriman’s intimidating presence, ranks 28th in total defense and last in pass defense.

The Saints’ defense also ranks in the league’s bottom half, a big factor in why they are 3-4. Three of the losses were by a total of 10 points.

With running back LaDainian Tomlinson slowed by a toe injury, the Chargers are leaning more on Philip Rivers, the league’s highest-rated passer.

The Brees-Rivers theme in this game is intriguing. Brees played five seasons in San Diego, but Rivers was drafted to be the team’s future, and Brees signed as a free agent with New Orleans in 2006.

Since then, Brees has passed for an NFL-high 11,065 yards. Brees leads the league this season with 2,224 yards passing, and he also topped the league in 2006 with 4,418 yards passing.

New England’s Tom Brady was the passing yardage leader in 2005 and 2007. So Brees is in impressive company. He just must win more close games.

The Chargers and Saints play poorly away from home — a combined 1-6 on the road — and both are off a road loss. These teams are evenly matched, and a lot will be up to the quarterbacks.

Even without injured running back Reggie Bush, New Orleans is a good bet as a 3-point underdog. Bet on Brees in a game he needs to win.

Four more plays for Week 8 (Home team in CAPS):

RAVENS (-7) over Raiders: Laying points with Baltimore is risky business. But the Ravens’ defense, ranked No. 2 in the league, will force Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell into costly errors. The Raiders’ last road game resulted in a 31-point loss to the Saints.

COWBOYS (-2) over Buccaneers: Dallas is in disarray, and quarterback Brad Johnson looked like a senior citizen last week. With everything going wrong, maybe this is when the Cowboys start to get it right again. They have more talent and a sense of urgency. The line has dropped so low, it’s not asking much. The key is stopping mobile Bucs playmaker Jeff Garcia.

PANTHERS (-4) over Cardinals: In past years, Carolina often stumbled at home. The Panthers are reversing the trend this season, going 4-0 at home, and the Cardinals are a bad bet when traveling to the East Coast. Carolina’s defense shut down Brees and should do the same to Kurt Warner.

Giants (+3) over STEELERS: Expect the New York defense to blitz Ben Roethlisberger, who can be an easy target sitting behind an offensive line with too many holes. The Steelers will be without wideout Santonio Holmes. The Giants are strong in the underdog role and on the road.

Last week: 1-4 against the spread

Season: 18-15-2

Review-Journal sportswriter Matt Youmans can be reached at 387-2907 or myoumans@reviewjournal.com.

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