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Saints taking it one day at a time

Building superintendent Schneider from the old sitcom "One drying his hammer in the show's introductory theme song.

That's the type of dedication it takes to be the best at one's position, even if it seems over the top. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been the custodian of sorts for his high-maintenance team, which has been gaining momentum in a clean and orderly fashion.

Brees may not blow-dry his right arm, but his golden limb is airing out passes at a record rate and the Saints are happily tagging along for the ride. He continued to make his case for the league's MVP award by shredding the Detroit Lions for 342 yards and three touchdown passes and posting his fourth straight rating of 100 or better in Sunday's 31-17 win. He has New Orleans in the driver's seat for its second NFC South title in three seasons, and his numbers have climbed since a loss at St. Louis in late October.

New Orleans' setback to the Rams on Oct. 30 had put both Tampa Bay and Atlanta right on the Saints' heels in the division race, with Brees' team having to face both the both the Buccaneers and Falcons in consecutive weeks following their third loss of the season. Those games kicked off the month of November, a time in which Brees feels teams should play at their best.

"November [is] where really I feel like teams begin to separate themselves, or at least the good ones do from the rest of the pack. And we wanted to be that team," said Brees after Sunday's victory, the fourth in the row for New Orleans. "We felt like this is the time where you want to be playing your best football and you want to continue to kind of stack the wins on top of each other one at a time."

New Orleans would most likely be near the bottom of both the NFC South -- and perhaps the entire conference -- had it not been for Brees, who erases any doubt that a quarterback standing at just six feet can not get the job done behind an NFL offensive line. Poise, passion and pride have kept Brees above the rest for several seasons, and it's time for the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers to step aside. The NFL's leader with 4,031 passing yards, Brees is the type of player who doesn't worry about personal accolades and is more concerned with how the team performs. That's easy to decipher when you're the one everybody looks up to and admires.

Tight end and leading receiver Jimmy Graham was especially impressed with his quarterback on the Saints' final scoring drive versus the Lions, one that led to a six-yard touchdown catch by the multi-talented Darren Sproles that extended the lead to 14 points.

"Drew said one drive, one play at a time," said Graham. "We just focused on making third downs and marching down the field. Great job by Drew. He's a surgeon out there."

Brees' arm has been much like a scalpel against nearly every team this season, as he and the Saints have sliced their way to a 9-3 mark and a two-game lead over Atlanta in the division standings. He was playing in the Pop Warner leagues when the Saints last recorded three straight winning seasons, a stretch that occurred from 1987-89.

While the San Diego Chargers may be kicking themselves for letting Brees slip through the cracks a few years back, the "Who Dat" nation couldn't be happier.

Here are a few reasons why the Saints' faithful have enjoyed their cool Brees at quarterback:

He has passed for 4,000 or more yards in all six seasons with New Orleans.

He is on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season passing mark of 5,084 yards.

He owns nine 300-yard passing games and eight games with a passer rating of 100 or better this season.

He has thrown a touchdown pass in 39 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in NFL history behind Johnny Unitas' 47.

He is the second quarterback in NFL history to have four consecutive seasons of 30 or more touchdown passes.

He extended his NFL-record streak of games with 20 or more completions to 32 in the victory over the Lions.

He has helped the Saints to a 6-0 home record in 2011, and the team is averaging 40 points per game at the Superdome this season.

New Orleans head coach Sean Payton knows his team hasn't won anything yet at Week 13, despite all the hype and attention it has achieved.

"We've got a lot of work to do still," Payton said after Sunday's win. "Our players know that, our coaches know that, and that will start with me and our staff. I like the fact that we are playing with confidence. We'll be back at it this week and trying to make the improvements we feel are necessary."

Payton won't have to tinker much with the offense, since it's in the hands of one of the top quarterbacks in the league. The Saints still must keep their foot on the accelerator with a pair of road matchups in Tennessee and Minnesota on the upcoming schedule, however, followed by a pair of division battles at home versus the Falcons and Carolina to close out the regular season.

NFC EAST STILL UP FOR GRABS

Let's face it, the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins are toast right now in the race for an NFC East title. Both Dallas and the New York Giants seem to be passing the buck on division supremacy, too.

The Cowboys have been one of the league's hottest teams since November and were in line for a fifth straight win until losing in overtime by a 19-13 count at Arizona on Sunday. Point the (index) finger at head coach Jason Garrett, whose timeout just before kicker Dan Bailey nailed a 49-yard field goal at the end of regulation ruined any chances of his team grabbing a two-game lead in the division.

Garrett unintentionally iced his own kicker, as Bailey's second try fell short and to the left. That's sort of where Garrett's explanation headed post-game.

"The play clock was running down. We just wanted to make sure that [Bailey] had a real clean opportunity at it," Garrett said. "It was at about six [seconds] and we were still getting settled in, so we banged a time out to give him the opportunity to get the snap, hold and kick as clean as possible."

Garrett's blown call came minutes before the Dallas defense forgot how to tackle, as Cardinals running back LaRod Stephens-Howling bounced his way through the unit en route to a game-ending 52-yard touchdown catch in overtime. A lack of execution in several other areas also gave the Cardinals life, as the Cowboys' offensive line gave up a season-worst five sacks of Tony Romo and had trouble opening holes for rookie running back DeMarco Murray.

Dallas can ill-afford to play lackadaisical one again this Sunday, with a home matchup versus the Giants next on the docket.

The Cowboys have often struggled against teams they should have blown out, having had close games against Washington, Seattle, Miami and now Arizona. Granted, they won three of those matchups, but playing down to the level of your opponent is not apropos in the NFL.

New York comes into this week's matchup with sort of a chip on its shoulder after taking the unbeaten and defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers to the wire in a 38-35 loss at the Met Life Stadium over the weekend. That could be labeled as a moral victory, having not been blown out and still remaining one game behind the Cowboys in the NFC East.

If the Giants put forth that type of effort as they displayed against the Packers every week, they could be the ones donning an unblemished mark. The look in Aaron Rodgers' eyes at the time of his interception that led to a touchdown by New York's Brandon Jacobs was telling. The Green Bay quarterback may not have appeared that confused since coming in during mop-up duty for Brett Favre a few years ago. Rodgers has since etched his name as one of the top quarterbacks, but New York made him look human at times in a narrow loss.

The Giants suffered their fourth straight loss and could be headed for a second-half collapse like the ones in years past. Head coach Tom Coughlin was asked if the latest defeat shed any positive light on the situation afterward.

"It can have a positive if you play the way that we played and if you give the effort that we gave and if you play with the intensity that we played with," Coughlin said. "We fully, I think every guy that took the field, believed that we could win. Those are the kind of emotional things that bind you together."

By taking care of their own business and receiving some help on the side, the Giants could even lock up the NFC East by the final week of the season. The defense hasn't played so well lately, however, and will need to improve quickly with Dallas on the horizon twice in the remaining four games.

Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell did his best to light a fire under his players before hosting Green Bay and it worked, sort of. Tackling was better and the team made Rodgers' day difficult at times, but the end result was still not corralled after the Packers rallied on their late game-winning drive.