NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints' offense appear to have recaptured their championship form.
In winning four straight and five of six games, New Orleans has gotten the prolific offensive production the team enjoyed throughout its 2009 Super Bowl season.
Some key statistical averages for the past six games, during which the Saints posted four double-digit victory margins, compare favorably to the numbers the Saints put up while leading the league in offense in 2009.
"We've just taken a very aggressive mentality," Brees said. "We're kind of getting back to our brand of football with great tempo obviously, a lot of formations, a lot of personnel groups, a lot of guys involved, taking shots" down field.
Starting with their 31-6 win at Tampa Bay on Oct. 17, the Saints (8-3) have posted six-game averages of 417.2 yards of offense, 307.5 yards passing and 29.3 points. Those figures are well above their full 11-game averages of 382.3 total offensive yards, 286.5 yards passing and 23.5 points.
During the 2009 regular season, en route to their first NFL championship, the Saints led the NFL with averages of 403.8 yards of offense and 31.9 points, while ranking fourth in yards passing with 272.2 per game.
Brees has said several times that New Orleans' 2010 offense has the potential to be as good as the Saints have ever fielded. There were times when such comments had the air of a team leader just trying to stay positive. Lately, however, there is real evidence that Brees was on to something, particularly in light of who was injured during the unit's recent outburst.
Pierre Thomas, the Saints' leading rusher from last season, has missed eight games with a sprained left ankle, including the last six games in which the Saints have hit the 30-point mark five times.
Reggie Bush, who when playing well is a dynamic threat in the running and passing games, missed five of the past six games and played poorly in his return at Dallas, dropping what looked like a sure touchdown pass and fumbling a punt return.
Tight end Jeremy Shockey has missed the past two games as well as most of New Orleans' 34-3 win at Carolina on Oct. 31 after bruising his ribs on a TD catch early in that game.
Sean Payton, whose Saints offenses have led the NFL in three of his four full seasons as a head coach, said his entire receiving corps worked admirably with Brees, waiting patiently for opportunities and understanding that he spreads passes around democratically.
"Those guys have all been real good at handling that," Payton said. "They're unselfish players. They're guys that communicate well. They understand what we're doing."
Receiver Robert Meachem has been one of those players making the best of relatively few opportunities lately. Against Seattle in Week 11, he had only three catches, but two were for scores, including one that went 32 yards. At Dallas on Thanksgiving, Brees didn't throw at Meachem once until the final minutes, when he found the speedy fourth-year pro for a 57-yard gain down the sideline to set up the winning score.
"We don't get mad about not getting the ball," Meachem said. "We know that sooner or later, with the quarterback we have, he's going to spread the ball out and we are going to get a chance. ... That's just the way our offense is."
For Payton, the big picture is that the entire team has been playing consistently well at a crucial time, winning all of their games in November. That has left them a game off the pace for the top record in the NFC with five games left, starting at Cincinnati this Sunday.
If in December and January the Saints can maintain their recent production on offense, along with the solid defense they've played all season, they could very well end up back in Cowboys Stadium for a second-straight Super Bowl.
"We don't want to be just a one-and-done team. We want to try and get back here," safety Roman Harper said moments after New Orleans 30-27 triumph at Dallas. "We just have to continue to win games, no matter how we do it. ... We know our goals. We just have to do what it takes to achieve them."