NEW ORLEANS — Approaching 33 and with two young boys at home, Drew Brees has been emphasizing his role as a father lately, appearing on Sesame Street and in commercials with his children.
Apparently, none of that is interfering with his day job as quarterback of the New Orleans Saints. If anything, Brees said this week, it's one of the reasons he's playing some of the best football of his career and on the brink of breaking some of the most prestigious records in the game.
"The more balanced you are in life outside of football, the more you have things together there, the better football player you become," Brees said. "Not only does it put life in perspective, but it also gives you even more to play for.
"When I think about what I play for, I play for my family. I play because I want my two boys to grow up and be proud of what their dad did. That's definitely something I think allows you to be a more complete person, and therefore, a more complete player."
Already the NFL's most prolific passer over his five previous seasons in New Orleans, Brees is closer to breaking Dan Marino's 1984 single-season passing record than he is to his 33rd birthday on Jan. 15.
Brees needs 305 yards to surpass Marino's mark of 5,084. At this point, that seems like a fait accompli, considering Brees has passed for 300 yards or more in a game an NFL-record 11 times this season.
The Saints have two games left, both at home in the Superdome, starting Monday night against Atlanta and closing with Carolina on Jan. 1.
"Drew's having, in my mind, an MVP season. There's no doubt about that. He's distributing the ball extremely well," said Atlanta coach Mike Smith, who has already faced the Saints once this season and has seen plenty of film on New Orleans' star QB this week.
Brees' assault on the record book is one for the ages. Not only is he on pace to break Marino's 27-year old record by hundreds of yards, he also is close to breaking his own season-long completion percentage record of 70.62 set in 2009, the season he led the Saints to their first Super Bowl title. Brees has completed 71.5 percent (417 of 583) through 14 games this season.
"He looks very comfortable back there running the offense," Smith said. "There are so many different weapons and areas he can distribute it to and he's doing a really outstanding job. The pass completion percentage ... is the highest in NFL history. So that tells you the level he's playing right now. It's just amazing to watch him."
Brees will be the first to say he has a lot of help. Coach Sean Payton has designed his offense to suit Brees' strengths. The offensive line generally protects him well and the players catching the ball often turn short- to mid-range passes into long gains.
Second-year tight end Jimmy Graham, who has 87 catches for 1,171 yards and nine TDs, has emerged as Brees' new top target because the fleet-footed, feisty, 6-foot-6 former college basketball player is a matchup nightmare.
Brees' second-favorite target has been not a receiver, but small, speedy running back Darren Sproles, who has 79 receptions for 659 yards and five TDs in his first season with the club. Then there's Brees' old standby, receiver Marques Colston, who has 917 yards receiving to put him on the brink of his fifth 1,000-yard season in six years as a pro.
Still, Brees has to find the right guy at the right time, and he's doing that better than ever, which is the main reason New Orleans' offense is easily on pace to set an NFL record for most yards from scrimmage in a season. The current record of 7,075 is held by the 2000 St. Louis Rams, known as "The Greatest Show on Turf." With 6,394 total yards so far, the Saints are on pace for about 7,307 yards.
Receiver Lance Moore, who caught two scoring passes from Brees last weekend in Minnesota, said the quarterback "is definitely getting better."
"I tell people all the time he's just Drew being Drew," Moore said. "It really doesn't surprise me that much when he's able to do what he does. ... It's easy for us other guys to just go out there and play knowing that Drew is back there."
Brees nearly broke Marino's record once before, falling 15 yards short in 2008. However, the Saints missed the playoffs that season, and Brees has said that while he would have taken pride in setting the record then, it would have felt a little hollow.
This season, the gaudy numbers are a byproduct of spectacular football being played by one of the clear Super Bowl contenders in the NFC, a fact that both amazes and delights Payton as he watches Brees close in on Marino's hallowed mark.
"It's significant in that it's something that was accomplished by a great player, a Hall of Fame player in our league," Payton said. "The other significance of it is that it's coming with success and with our offensive plan. It's not coming as a result of being in close games, maybe losing games, and having to throw at the end."
Last week in Minnesota, for example, Brees put up a borderline obnoxious stat line of 412 yards and five touchdowns, even though he played only one series of the fourth quarter before Payton told him to take the rest of the afternoon off.
That game also marked the 41st in a row that Brees passed for at least one score, the longest active streak in the NFL and second in league history behind Johnny Unitas (47). Brees also extended his own NFL record by completing at least 20 passes for a 34th straight game.
That kind of sustained performance, combined with his unprecedented production this season, has placed Brees firmly in the league MVP debate along with fellow star QBs Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay and Tom Brady of New England.
Brees said his candidacy for the award is far from his mind while he's studying opponents and trying to win games.
That doesn't mean he wouldn't love to one day have an "MVP" by his name.
"It is a tremendous honor," Brees said. "There's a lot of great athletes, great football players, great people in this league. ... Think about what that award signifies and means and the group it puts you in. It's an elite group."
When Brees made his recent cameo on Sesame Street, he spoke instructively with popular muppet Elmo about measurements and the purposes they serve in both football and life. The statistics by which quarterbacks are measured indicate that Brees is in a rather elite group already, whether he wins the MVP or not.