NEW ORLEANS — Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense are delivering a bold message to the rest of the NFL: New Orleans may be the best team this side of the Rockies.
Hitting on all cylinders, Brees threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns passes, two to tight end Jimmy Graham, in a 38-17 rout of the Miami Dolphins on Monday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The lopsided victory gave the Saints (4-0) a 2 1/2-game lead in the NFC South.
“We still haven’t played our best football,” Brees said after completing 30 of 39 passes while targeting nine receivers, including scat back Darren Sproles, who caught seven passes for 114 yards. “It’s a good thing to be 4-0 and say we still haven’t played our best. We scored 38, and it should’ve been more. We’re going to need those plays as we progress through the season.”
Brees was his typically patient self early in the game. He didn’t throw a pass in Graham’s direction in the first 22 minutes because the Dolphins decided to double-cover Graham whenever he split out like a wide receiver.
However, Graham scored on catches of 27 and 43 yards — giving him six TD catches in four games — and the rout was on.
Brees threw his first pass in Graham’s direction midway through the second quarter. The tight end was double-covered by Jamar Taylor and Brent Grimes, but Brees simply lofted the ball into the left side of the end zone and had the 6-foot-6 Graham go up and grab it.
“Drew is one of the most accurate quarterbacks of all time,” said Graham, who finished with four catches for 100 yards. “I told him after the play, ‘Thanks for believing in me. I’ll go up and get it for you.’ It was probably a better throw than a catch.”
Taylor said of Graham, “He made a great play. Both Brent and I were right there on the coverage, and we reacted when the ball was in the air. But it was angled such that he went up and made a great play.”
Sproles carved up the Miami secondary with quick releases and had Miami’s linebackers running in his shadow all night. Sproles was open because the Dolphins (3-1) concentrated their coverage on Graham, and Brees took full advantage.
“We move him around so much and can do so many things with him,” Brees said. “It’s hard for a defense to get a key on exactly where he’s going to be. The tempo at which we play forces defense to be, at times, a little on their heels while they are trying to check into a certain defense.”
Miami coach Joe Philbin said Ryan Tannehill’s two second-quarter turnovers — a fumble forced by linebacker Curtis Lofton and an interception by cornerback Jabari Greer that set up the Saints at the Miami 23 — were critical mistakes. Both turnovers led to touchdowns, turning a four-point game into a 21-10 halftime deficit.
“They were huge,” Philbin said. “While we hadn’t played great up to that point, we were right in the ballgame and hanging around with an opportunity. That is not a good formula.”
In the third quarter, Brees added a 4-yard scoring pass to tight end Ben Watson and a 43-yarder to Graham, who beat safety Chris Clemons in single coverage to extend the lead to 35-10.
Tannehill completed 22 of 35 passes for 249 yards and one touchdown, but he was picked off three times and lost a fumble.
After the first Tannehill interception, Brees saw Sproles out of the corner of his eye on the left side, and he threw a 13-yard touchdown strike that was nearly intercepted by Nolan Carroll. The Miami cornerback tried to undercut the route but could not get his hands on the ball, and Sproles easily galloped into the end zone.
NOTES: Brees moved into sixth place in NFL history for career passing yards. On the Saints’ first drive, an 18-yard toss to Kenny Stills gave Brees 47,010 passing yards, pushing him past Fran Tarkenton. Brees ended the night with 47,353 passing yards. Next on the list: Warren Moon with 49,325. … Brees threw for more than 300 yards for the ninth consecutive game. … The touchdown pass with 8:01 left in the second quarter was the first time Brees targeted Graham. … Miami entered the game having scored touchdowns on seven of eight trips in the red zone, the best rate in the NFL. However, the Dolphins failed to convert on third-and-an-inch on their first drive, and they settled for a short field goal.