The Brees Standard

How good a year has it been for quarterbacks? In a year in which Drew Brees breaks Dan Marino’s mark for yards passing in a season, a record that stood for nearly three decades, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is considered a lock for MVP.

And Brees set the new record in one less game than Marino!

The New Orleans quarterback passed for 307 yards and four touchdowns last night as the Saints trounced the Falcons, 45-16, to wrap up the NFC South title. He’s at 5,087 yards and counting.

Also not to be overlooked: New England’s Tom Brady has hardly ever been better than he’s performed this season. He could pass Marino’s old mark, himself, next week. And then there’s Carolina’s Cam Newton, whose numbers have surpassed even Peyton Manning’s as a rookie.

Brees spread the wealth last night, hitting Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham and Robert Meachem with touchdown passes before firing a nine-yard scoring strike to Darren Sproles that broke the record with 2:51 remaining.

The Saints (12-3) made it a romp when they stripped Julio Jones of the ball and Malcolm Jenkins returned the fumble 30 yards for a score that made it 38-16 in the fourth quarter.

New Orleans would need a victory over Carolina and a San Francisco loss to St. Louis next week in order to receive a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. Atlanta (9-6), NFC South champions a year ago, heads into this postseason as a wild card.

***

Independence Bowl

James Franklin ran for two touchdowns and passed for another as Missouri cruised past North Carolina, 41-24, in the cold and rain of Shreveport, La.

It was Missouri’s last game as a member of the Big 12. The Tigers (7-5) head to the Southeastern Conference next season.

Franklin, a sophomore, led the way as Missouri jumped out to a 31-10 halftime lead. He ended his day with 142 rushing yards and 132 yards passing.

North Carolina (7-5) lost five of its last seven games under interim coach Everett Withers, who will become Urban Meyer’s defensive coordinator at Ohio State next year. Southern Mississippi’s Larry Fedora, who was hired last week, is the Tar Heels’ next coach.

The Tar Heels’ Bryn Renner passed for 317 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, but Missouri held North Carolina to 36 yards on the ground.

***

There are a few players with NFL potential to keep an eye on tonight as Purdue meets Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Bowl and North Carolina State takes on Louisville in the Belk Bowl. Tony Pauline of SI.com sees it this way:

Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short (No. 93) is rated as a top-45 choice but could slip into the first round as a defensive tackle who can get to the quarterback. Tackle Dennis Kelly (No. 68) has great size and good footwork, setting himself up as sixth-round selection.

For Western Michigan, Jordan White (No. 83) has the makings of a third or fourth receiver at the next level and is projected as a middle of the draft pick. Defensive end Freddie Bishop (No. 97) will likely be moved to outside linebacker in the NFL. Look for him to go in the sixth round.

***

North Carolina State outside linebacker Terrell Manning (No. 35) is undersized but outstanding in pursuit. He may find a home in the third round. Linebacker Audie Cole (No. 42) lacks speed but he’s an instinctive defender who could go late in the draft.

Louisville center Mario Benavides (No. 55) has been compared to the Jets’ Nick Mangold. Look for him to go by the third round. Linebacker Dexter Heyman (No. 46) will get late-round consideration after a terrific senior year in which he led his team in tackles.

***

Moving on: The No. 1 pick in the NBA draft had a debut he would rather forget.

The Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving was 2 of 12 from the field with a meaningless 3-pointer in the final minute of last night’s season-opening 104-96 loss to Toronto. The rookie finished with six points, seven assists and one turnover in 26 minutes.

“It’s on to the next one,” Irving said. “To survive in this game you have to have that attitude.”

Irving played in just 11 games during an injury-plagued freshman season for Duke before declaring himself eligible for the NBA draft.

Cavs coach Byron Scott wasn’t disappointed in his point guard.

“He looked okay,” Scott said. “For playing in what was probably his fifth game in a year, he looked all right. He had seven assists and one turnover. The only thing he didn’t do was shoot the ball well. Other than that, I thought he did a pretty good job.”

 

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