Drew Brees dressed as Iron Man for Halloween.
He may have to play like a superhero to save the season for New Orleans.
With the Saints (2-5) hindered by a historically poor defense and nonexistent running game, all eyes are on Brees to find some way to turn things around, beginning with Monday night's game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I have high standards and expectations for myself," Brees said. "To me, it's about what can I do to make the plays to win the game, lead my guys, (and) instill confidence in them. That's my job."
A year ago, Brees set an NFL record for yards passing (5,476) and guided the Saints to a 13-3 mark, tying the franchise record for wins. After some contentious negotiations, he agreed to a five-year, $100-million contract that provided the largest amount of guaranteed money ($60 million) in NFL history.
Brees is certainly earning his money, ranking second in yards passing (2,310) with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. But he's essentially been a one-man show, carrying a franchise rocked by a bounty scandal that led to a one-year suspension for coach Sean Payton and the banishment of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Without Williams making the calls, the New Orleans defense has become the first since at least 1950 to give up more than 400 yards in seven straight games and is on pace to surrender an NFL-record total. Without Payton guiding the offense, the running game ranks last in the league.
Last week, the Saints got a striking reminder of just how much they've come to rely on Brees.
Having bounded back from an 0-4 start with two straight wins, New Orleans traveled to Denver to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos in a prime-time showdown. Brees completed just 22 of 42 for 213 yards — his lowest total since the final game of the 2010 season — and the Saints were blown out, 34-14.
Naturally, Brees must resist the urge to do more than he can.
"I'm sure that along the way we've all done a little bit of that," he said. "It's human nature. It's natural to feel like there is a piece missing or certain pieces missing that you would need to do more or extra. That might add pressure."
But Brees' teammates insist they've noticed no change in his routine, which has provided a level of comfort during the tough times.
"His consistency is his most impressive attribute," offensive tackle Zach Strief said. "The consistency in his preparation and the way he prepares, in his schedule every week, is identical. That is the same in good times and bad times. That is very comforting to an offensive player to know a guy that is leading the group doesn't have hills and valleys. That's very important."
In fact, Strief said it's hard to tell much difference in Brees from one season to the next.
"It would been very easy for him last year," the lineman said, "to say, 'Ah, I know it now. I'm good.' He's not that guy in those times. He's not that guy in these times. He's got a schedule he believes in and a consistency about him. A lot of guys feed off that, because you know what you're going to get out of him."
Brees is a near-mythical figure in the Big Easy, where he will always be revered for signing with the Saints just a few months after Hurricane Katrina, for putting down roots in the battered city, for guiding New Orleans to its first Super Bowl championship during the 2009 season.
He's been accepted by the locals as one of their own, and Brees reciprocates through his extensive charitable work and willingness to open up about his personal life. On Halloween, he tweeted a picture wearing his Iron Man costume before he went out trick-or-treating with his young son Baylen and wife Brittany (who was dressed as a princess).
"First of all, I do not pick my Halloween costumes," Brees said with a smile. "Baylen is old enough now that he can tell me what I'm going to wear for Halloween, so he was going as little Iron Man and I was going to be daddy Iron Man."
So, why was Baylen wearing pajamas in the picture?
"Unfortunately, at the last second, he did not want to put on his Iron Man costume," Brees said. "He decided to go with pajamas instead, so he rolled in pajamas and bare feet with his Koala bear stuffed animal, trick-or-treating until he ate the first or second piece of candy, got on a quick sugar high, and then we couldn't keep up with him."
Now, Brees must pull off a pretty slick trick of his own: Save the Saints.
"It's really one of those weeks that says, 'How are you going to respond?'" he said. "Last week was extremely disappointing, the result of the game and our overall performance as a team. We just did not play up to our standard, certainly with the hype going into that game. We were all hurt by it.
"But," he added, "it also lights a fire within all of us that we don't want that to be the lasting memory that people have of our team. We're better than that and we need to show them on Monday night."
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