Consistent as Brees was, sometimes that focus blinded him from change swirling around him. Long a vocal supporter of the military, he equated kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality with denigrating the flag.
As civil unrest roiled the country last summer, and as the league and its players grew more proactive about addressing systemic racism and social injustice, Brees reiterated that he considered it disrespectful to kneel. His comments angered teammates past and present, many of whom were mystified that someone generally so aware could be so insensitive. Brees later apologized, saying his comments “missed the mark.”
“It hurt — like, dang, Drew, really? No way,” Moore said. “But sometimes it takes a situation like that for somebody to grow. I’m not going to allow something like that to erase the history we had together. I had to help teach him a lesson, and I think it was a moment of reflection for him.”
Brees had ample time to ponder his future after the last three seasons, which all ended with a playoff defeat at the Superdome. Eliminated by the Rams in the playoffs after the 2018 season after officials missed a pass-interference call against Los Angeles, and by Minnesota in overtime after the 2019 season, when he missed five games with a thumb injury, the Saints lost to Tampa Bay at home in the divisional round in January in part because the Buccaneers converted two of Brees’s three interceptions into touchdowns.
That day Brees, already managing the aftermath of the 11 fractured ribs and punctured lung he sustained in Week 10, was also playing with — as revealed in an Instagram post Brittany Brees would make two days later — a torn fascia in his foot and a torn rotator cuff. Struggling to move the offense downfield against Tampa Bay, Brees passed for 134 yards, his fewest in 18 postseason games by far, and if it all seemed like a discordant conclusion to a career steeped in splendor, that’s because it was — but yet it still sort of misses the point.
So much of the Brees mythology focuses on what he lacks, things out of his control — the prototypical height of a quarterback, an Elway-esque arm, a second championship to enhance his legacy — instead of what he is, what he has, what he could do. And over the last two decades, as the N.F.L. transitioned into a passing league, no one summoned his superpower better to fulfill the position’s elemental responsibility — throwing a football accurately and consistently — finer than he did.