NFL Preview - San Diego (3-1) at New Orleans (0-4)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Drew Brees is on the verge of history and Sean Payton will be there to see it.
Payton, the suspended New Orleans Saints head coach, has been given permission to attend the club's Week 5 game against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday night as Brees prepares to break one of the NFL's most enduring records.
Brees, who began his NFL career with San Diego, passed for 446 yards and three touchdowns in the Saints' 28-27 loss at Green Bay last Sunday and the Pro Bowl signal-caller has now tossed at least one TD pass in an amazing 47 consecutive games, matching Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas (1956-60) for the longest streak in NFL history.
Payton, of course, is currently serving a year-long suspension for his role in the Saints illegal bounty program from 2009-2011, which included payments to players for inflicting game-ending injuries on competitors.
Payton, as well as assistant head coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis, were to avoid any contact with the team during their ban, but Brees lobbied commissioner Roger Goodell for the three to be in attendance Sunday as he tries to break Unitas' record.
"Commissioner Goodell has granted that permission," read a statement on NFL.com. "Coaches Payton and Vitt and Mickey Loomis will be permitted to watch the game in a private area of the stadium and will have no contact with the team."
Loomis was suspended eight games while Vitt will take over as interim head coach in Week 8. The Saints have lost their first four games under offensive line coach Aaron Kromer.
Meanwhile, Unitas' mark of 47 consecutive games with a TD pass stood alone for 18,291 days and will likely fall when San Diego visits Bourbon Street. Some have called this record as the equivalent to Joe DiMaggio's brilliant 56-game hitting streak in baseball.
A week ago New Orleans nearly got its first win when Garrett Hartley drilled a 43-yard field to take the lead in Green Bay but David Thomas was called for holding, which negated the kick.
After an encroachment call on Green Bay, Hartley pulled his 48-yard attempt wide left and the Packers took over with 2:49 to go. They were able to run out the clock and secure the win courtesy of a tough catch by James Jones on 3rd- and-3.
"We need to find a way to win," said Kromer. "(The players) are going to be a little bit disheartened but we're going to fight back and we're going to climb the mountain."
With a 20-yard first-quarter scoring pass to Marques Colston, Brees, who hasn't had a game without a TD pass since Oct. 4, 2009, tied Unitas.
"Obviously I'd like to be sitting here talking about (the record) after a win, but certainly it's significant to even be in the same realm as a guy like Johnny Unitas," said Brees.
As for the Chargers, Jackie Battle had one receiving touchdown and ran for a score as San Diego thumped Kansas City, 37-20, at Arrowhead Stadium last week.
Philip Rivers was 18-of-23 passing for 209 yards with two touchdowns and Antonio Gates had three catches for 59 yards for the Chargers, who bounced back from a 27-3 home setback to Atlanta and improved to 2-0 in the AFC West.
"I thought our guys had a great week of preparation responding from the game last week. I thought we got a great performance from our defense," Chargers head coach Norv Turner said. "It was obviously critical for us to come in here and win."
The Chargers and Saints will be meeting for the first time since 2008 when the teams played in the International Series game at London's Wembley Stadium. San Diego leads the all-time series 7-3 but NOLA has taken two of the past three, including a 37-32 triumph in London when Brees passed for 339 yards and TDs.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Saints defense has been so poor this season it's almost imperative that Brees turns this into a basketball game on turf. His accuracy remains among the best in the NFL and he has plenty of weapons with Colston and Lance Moore as well as tight end Jimmy Graham and scatback Darren Sproles.
The last time the San Diego defense saw an offense that was this high-powered (Atlanta) it faltered badly. The key is the pass rush. The Chargers only have six sacks through three games and no player under than linebacker Shaun Phillips, who has 3 1/2 sacks, has more than one.
Knowing this will be high-scoring Rivers will likely try to air it out early and often. Rivers surpassed the 25,000-yard passing mark last week, reaching the milestone in 3,144 attempts, the fifth-fastest in NFL history. He doesn't have Brees' weapons but Malcom Floyd and veteran tight end Antonio Gates are both capable of doing some significant damage.
"We have to find a way to affect the quarterback more," Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said.
This almost has the feel of an Arena Football League game with two imposing offenses taking on two shaky defensive units. The Chargers defense is a little better equipped to get a stop every now and again but the Superdome is also a big time advantage and it might be enough to get New Orleans in the black for the first time in 2012
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saints 30, Chargers 24
10/04 13:33:35 ET