NEW ORLEANS (AP) -As the famed Bacchus parade rolled down St. Charles Avenue during Mardi Gras of 2007, the cacophony of spectators calling out for beaded necklaces suddenly evolved into rhythmic, orderly chants of M-V-P!
Drew Brees, wearing a tuxedo, beamed as he stood at the head of a float, tossing prized Carnival ``throws'' to the admiring crowd.
Brees was not the NFL's MVP of that recently concluded season (it was San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson), but in New Orleans, fans wanted their quarterback to know what they thought only weeks after he'd led the Saints to their first NFC championship game appearance in franchise history.
Two seasons later, Brees very well may be on pace to become the actual MVP of his league, with more than a little help from a charismatic running back and punt returner whose exploits routinely inspire unified chants of ``REG-GIE! REG-GIE!'' in the Louisiana Superdome.
hth pro season, and Reggie Bush, in his third year, are simultaneously playing the best football of their careers, which makes the Saints' offense extremely tough to stop.
Through six games, Brees has completed 71 percent of his passes for 1,993 yards and 12 touchdowns, putting him on pace to break Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino's 1984 record of 5,084 yards passing in a single season.
``These first six games are probably the best stretch of six games I've played,'' Brees said this week. ``I just feel like with as much work and everything that we've put into this thing, it's becoming automatic. And that's when you know you're getting somewhere and you know you're kind of getting that level is when you're not having to think about things anymore, it's just happening.''
It would be one thing if Brees had all of the receiving threats at his disposal that he expected when the season began. He hasn't, because Marques Colston, the team's best receiver the previous two seasons, tore ligaments in his thumb in Week 1 and missed the past five games. And former Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey (sports hernia) and veteran receiver David Patten (groin) each missed the past three games.
iving corps of Devery Henderson, Lance Moore and Robert Mechem. He's made connections with tight ends Mark Campbell, including a touchdown last weekend, and Billy Miller.
Brees never wavered while expressing his confidence in the younger receivers and reserve tight ends who had to step into bigger roles. He credited all of them for putting in extra time with him after practice, refining their patterns and timing until it was nearly second nature.
``We just kind of have that ... ESP going, you know?'' Brees said. ``Those receivers, we put in a lot of time together.''
Of course, it also helps to have defenses preoccupied by Bush, whose versatility and ability to turn short passes into long gains have bolstered Brees' passing numbers.
When Brees found Campbell in the back of the end zone last weekend, the play began with a fake handoff to Bush, which froze the defense long enough for Campbell to get open. Brees' other TD pass in the game was a short dump-off to Bush, who spun away from the two defenders nearest him before sprinting to the pylon for a 15-yard score.
``The things he can do is take that check-down that I throw him on the 15-yard line and turn it into a touchdown,'' Brees said. ``For most guys, that's a 5-yard gain, but he's able to get around the corner and score.
n space that not many guys can do, so I think that's what makes him so special.''
NFL punters know all about the danger of giving Bush too much space by outkicking their coverage. Bush leads the NFL with three punt returns for touchdowns of 71, 64 and 55 yards. Against Minnesota, he became only the 12th player in NFL history with two punt returns for touchdowns in the same game.
``Being that it's his third year in the system, this whole offseason, you're seeing a player that certainly has matured and gotten stronger,'' Saints coach Sean Payton said of Bush. ``I think he's healthy right now and I know the quarterback's got a lot of confidence in him.''
Bush has eight touchdowns, including three receiving scores and two on rushes.
The statistics will show that Brees had a 43-yard TD pass to Bush in Week 1. Those who saw the play will recall Bush speeding down the sideline for most of those yards before fending off tacklers and diving for the pylon.
est play. He does a great job at that and obviously I can appreciate a guy like that.''
Bush and the rest of the Saints all talk with a sense of awe when discussion turns to the time Brees spends studying opponents during the week.
``He comes to work every day, early as hell, last one to leave,'' said tight end Jeremy Shockey. ``He gets all the information like an FBI agent and he's not going to miss a beat.''
What also impressed Shockey was Brees' intensity on the field, which is saying something given the flamboyant tight end's reputation for his fiery demeanor.
Before games, Brees stands in the center of a massive huddle, leading a group cheer meant to fire up the squad. Shockey said he couldn't recall playing with another quarterback who did that.
``He's very, very competitive and that's very rare at his position,'' Shockey said. ``If you mess up, he's going to tell you, even in practice. It's something I wasn't used to until I met him in person. I never would know he was like that, but he's a very linebacker-mentality kind of a quarterback.''
Bush, who led a similar pregame cheer last season, said Brees asked him if he could take it over this season.
ent, then grinned slightly.
``He understands exactly what this team needs and he's respected by everyone on this team and everyone in the organization,'' Payton began. ``So whatever he's doing, he needs to continue it.''

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