Saints' Drew Brees says he will 'give myself the opportunity to process the season' before talking retirement

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NEW ORLEANS -- In a nearly empty, ghostly quiet Superdome Sunday night, Saints quarterback Drew Brees likely played his last NFL game after driving uproarious crowds in this arena over the previous 14 years.

The dome was not itself with just 3,700 allowed because of COVID-19 protocols, and Brees, 42, was not himself either. He threw three interceptions and threw for just 134 yards on 19-of-34 passing in a 30-20 NFC divisional playoff loss to Tampa Bay and quarterback Tom Brady, 43. Brady finished 18-of-33 passing for 199 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Brees appeared to be waving goodbye to the crowd as he exited the field.

“I’ll answer this question one time,” Brees said. “I’m going to give myself the opportunity to process the season just like I did last year.”

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And it looks as if it's time for Brees to end it, just as it did for former Saints quarterback Archie Manning, who retired in August of 1985 as a Minnesota Viking.

"I had a bad arm and a groin injury," Manning said Saturday. "It was time."

Brees battled a thumb injury last season and a collapsed lung and multiple fractured ribs this season. His retirement has been expected by those in the organization. Brees also agreed last spring to be an NFL commentator for NBC when he does retire.

Asked what will go into his final decision to stay or go, Brees said, “I’ll keep that to myself.”

Saints coach Sean Payton hinted at Brees' retirement.

"Oh, listen, I think that's probably for another press conference," he said after the game. "I can't speak for Drew. Obviously, he's been tremendous for this team and the city. I could go on and on. Let's wait for another press conference."

Early on, it looked as if Brees and the Saints would reach their fourth NFC Championship Game next week in Green Bay as they took a 6-0 lead in the first quarter and a 20-13 advantage to open the third quarter.

But critical turnovers shut out the lights on Brees, who also could not find his best receiver open. Michael Thomas, one of the NFL's elite receivers since his rookie year in 2016, did not catch a pass for the first time in his career in a game.

While leading 6-3 early in the second quarter on 23- and 42-yard field goals by Wil Lutz, Brees threw an interception to cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, who was covering Thomas very well as usual. He returned it 36 yards to the Saints' 3-yard line to set up a 3-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Mike Evans that put the Bucs up 10-6.

Payton erased that miscue with a vengeance as he devilishly called something right out of his Taysom Hill action figure playbook. Only, Hill was inactive for the game with a knee injury suffered last week. Instead of Brees lining up wide with Hill taking the snap, Brees left the field. Backup quarterback Jameis Winston entered the game and lined up wide, and Kamara took the snap.

Kamara flipped it to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who flipped it to Winston, who unleashed one more than 40 yards in the air to a wide open Tre'Quan Smith, a wide receiver just activated from injured reserve on Saturday. It was a 56-yard touchdown that put the Saints up 13-10.

And the place would have been rocking.

The Saints took a 20-13 lead with the first possession of the second half on their most impressive drive of the game as Brees found Smith for a 16-yard touchdown. And the Saints were on their way to adding to that as Brees found tight end Jared Cook for 8 yards to the Bucs' 47-yard line, but Cook fumbled.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees leaves the field after what might be his final NFL game.

Former LSU linebacker Devin White picked it up and rambled 18 yards to the Saints' 40. Four plays later, Brady found former LSU tailback Leonard Fournette for a 6-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-5 for a 20-20 tie late in the third quarter.

Tampa Bay took a 23-20 lead with 9:52 to play in the game on a 36-yard field goal by Ryan Succop.

Then White intercepted Brees at the Saints' 48 and returned it 28 yards to the Saints 20. That set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Brady for the 30-20 lead, and it was over.

Sad, quiet and over.

"I think people are not going to truly appreciate Drew Brees until he's not there," former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert said before the game. "And I don't know if his replacement is on the team."

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