- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

METAIRIE, La. (AP) - By Drew Brees’ lofty standards, he is coming off of a bit of a down season.

The 36-year-old New Orleans Saints quarterback played only four offensive series in the preseason, so his next genuine opportunity to show how good he really still is comes Sunday in the regular-season opener at Arizona.

Cardinals defensive backs such as Louisiana native Tyrann Mathieu don’t sound as if they need to be convinced that Brees remains one of the NFL’s best.

“There’s no doubt about it. It doesn’t matter who you put around that guy. The offense runs through him. His confidence level, his understanding of the system that those guys are running over there is just unbelievable,” Mathieu said Wednesday. “It’s tough to beat guys like that - guys who are so comfortable in their system and just understand it so well.”

One could look at Brees’ 2014 season and see that his yards passing were his lowest since 2010, while his interceptions were up by five over 2013 and his team missed the playoffs with a losing (7-9) record.

On the other hand, Brees’ 4,952 yards passing last season tied for the NFL lead with Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and his completion rate of 69.2 percent was second only to Dallas’ Tony Romo (69.9).

After practice Wednesday, Brees said he had no issue with being held out of the first and last preseason games entirely, and playing only a handful of possessions during middle two exhibition contests. He noted that all four drives resulted in points: two touchdown passes and two field goals.

“I’ve got a great comfort level with all the guys that are out there with me,” Brees said. “I felt like I got the work done that I needed to get done.”

Brees added that once coach Sean Payton “saw what he needed to see, we were out and that’s that.”

Payton has worked with Brees since they joined New Orleans together in 2006. So the coach said he didn’t need to see much of Brees in exhibition games to know his quarterback was ready.

“In Year 10 of what we’re doing and based on what we saw in training camp, he has been sharp,” Payton said. “We felt like the work was in, so it is really paying attention to the experience and the timing.”

Payton also doesn’t see Brees’ age as an issue yet.

“I know his routine and I know how detailed it is. I know how he takes care of his body, both from a recovery (and from) a nutrition standpoint,” Payton said. “All those things give him a chance to really be ahead of the curve, relative to what 36 is. I think that he looks great and he looks sharp.”

Brees said he also feels much better than a year ago at this time, when he was still recovering from an oblique injury which affected his throwing mechanics.

Veteran members of the Saints offense say they see no sign of eroding skills in their quarterback, who has now passed for more than 4,000 yards in each of his nine seasons in New Orleans, including an NFL-record four 5,000-yard seasons.

“People can talk about his longevity all they want,” right tackle Zach Strief said. “I know this: He’s 36 and he still wins the (Saints’ preseason) conditioning test every year.

“People talk about diminished strength, or stamina, your body’s breaking down. It sure doesn’t look like it. It doesn’t come out on the field,” Strief added. “It’s a conversation because it’s a conversation, but when he’s in the game it sure feels like the same guy he’s always been.”

Brees is a year-and-a-half younger than Patriots QB Tom Brady, who is coming off a Super Bowl season and once played with current Saints tight end Ben Watson.

Throughout this preseason, Watson said, Brees “seemed like a Hall of Fame quarterback, which he is, like the other one that I played with.”

“He’s focused. He’s throwing the ball well. He’s physically in good shape. He’s mentally in good shape. He’s on top of things. He’s making good decisions,” Watson added. “He’s one of the best in the league, one of the best to ever play.”

Notes: Six Saints players sat out practice on Wednesday: linebackers Dannell Ellerbe (toe) and Davis Tull (shoulder); running backs C.J. Spiller (knee) and Tim Hightower (knee); safety Jairus Byrd (knee); and cornerback Keenan Lewis (hip).

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AP NFL website: https://pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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