METAIRIE, La. — Drew Brees’ left ankle isn’t hurting as much as his pride is right now.
Brees, who limped away from a hit last Sunday in Carolina and was listed on this week’s first injury report, nonetheless took every snap in practice on Wednesday.
Then he addressed his role in New Orleans’ 0-2 start, and his desire to live up to the expectation that he, more than anyone, would give the Saints a chance to win despite the bounty scandal and resulting upheaval that plagued their offseason.
“I take great responsibility in the fact that people feel that way,” Brees said. “I know the things I need to work on. I know the things I need to improve on. Certainly, my productivity at the quarterback position, but also as a leader and someone guys look to for guidance and leadership, respect — and I certainly embrace that role.”
When Brees ended his offseason holdout a few weeks before training camp and signed the NFL’s richest contract — $100 million over five years — Saints fans were relieved. The talk around town was that Brees’ leadership, skill and command of the offense designed by suspended head coach Sean Payton made New Orleans a contender to return to the playoffs for a fourth straight season.
Instead, Brees has thrown a pair of interceptions in each game. One was returned for a touchdown last Sunday at Carolina. Another in Week 1 cut short a potential game-tying drive that began with more than three minutes remaining.
In some ways, those plays have overshadowed the fact that New Orleans still ranks third in the league in total net yards (422 per game), tied for third in yards passing (324.5) and sixth in the league in scoring (29.5 points per game).
Brees derives some consolation from those numbers because he sees it as a sign that the Saints are within striking distance of their usual production. He only regrets that each game was marred by a few crucial mistakes.
“I’m always going to look at the thing with a very critical eye,” Brees said. “I’m not going to change my mentality, my aggressiveness, my approach, my preparation, but I do understand how important it is to take care of the football.”
There are other areas where Brees’ play appears to be off his usual pace, although the sample size is still relatively small after two only two games.
Brees’ completion rate is 54.5, well below his NFL record 71.2 percent last season. His quarterback rating is 71.6. Last season, he finished at 110.6
Brees teammates say they have not seen much of a change in the quarterback’s approach and do not sense that he is pressing.
Right guard Jahri Evans said that while the offensive line has played well overall, the blocking has been riddled with untimely breakdowns that have led to sacks or hurried throws.
“A lot of teams are giving us different looks and kind of bringing us some pressure right now and we have to pick those things up,” Evans said. “With protection, it’s normally five, six, sometimes seven guys (blocking), so just a leak here or a leak there can throw off a little bit of timing.”
Interim head coach Aaron Kromer said not all of Brees interceptions resulted exclusively from poor quarterback play.
“A couple of them were pressure on the quarterback,” said Kromer, who also coaches the offensive line.
As for the interception returned for a touchdown, a pass Brees threw on the run while in the shadow of his own end zone, “You’d say it was a choice that he probably wouldn’t make again,” Kromer said.
Added Brees, “I understand that my mistake with that interception return for a touchdown, even though it was in the first quarter last week, is a critical mistake and I can’t do that.”
The fact that Brees has not quite performed up to his usual lofty standards is of little comfort to Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel, whose 0-2 Chiefs meet the Saints in a matchup of desperate teams in New Orleans on Sunday.
“Drew is a professional. He is a legitimate quarterback,” Crennel said. “He knows how to play the game. He knows what needs to be done. He can operate with whoever is calling the plays.”
Injuries to New Orleans’ receivers also could have been a factor in Brees’ recent performance.
Marques Colston has been hobbled by a left foot injury in the first two games and was limited in Wednesday’s practice.
“You could say that hindered us a little bit; he didn’t run as fast as he normally does,” Kromer said. “He is resting it a little bit this week.”
Devery Henderson, New Orleans’ top deep threat, also has not played since the third quarter of Week 1. However, he is expected to return this week.
“That’s big because Devery plays all the receiver positions,” Brees said. “He can do everything. He can do the downfield stuff, the intermediate stuff, the short stuff. He’s’ a great blocker in the run game. He can stretch the field. He’s obviously involved in a lot of our game plan, so it’s great to have him back.”
Notes: Saints CB Johnny Patrick returned to practice after missing all of Week 2 with a right thigh injury from the season opener. … LB Jonathan Casillas (left knee) and DE Turk McBride (left ankle) did not practice. … New Orleans waived CB Jerome Murphy and brought back CB Elbert Mack, who had been cut in Week 1. … The Saints also reached an injury settlement with WR Adrian Arring ton, making him a free agent.