http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20051018/news_1s18canepa.html Drew Brees is managing very nicely, thank you. So, because he is, he's a better quarterback than he was a year ago. And Brees wasn't half-bad in 2004, unless you consider a playoff reach and Pro Bowl ticket cocktail weenies. Game managing, incredibly important, is what it is. And it's the most overlooked and perhaps unappreciated skill in football, because it deals with minutiae and the unspectacular. It also involves the most complicated and important position in all of sports, so during an era when we are statistic-struck, few deem it sexy enough to look into. Even fewer probably know what it is, although there is an expert under every e-mail. This guy threw for 350 yards. But he lost, because he made too many mistakes – maybe gambles – along the way. This guy threw for 190. But he won, because he did everything he could not to lose. He didn't screw it up. In Oakland, Brees was happy allowing tailback LaDainian Tomlinson to win the game for him. He went to the locker room in front – the football hero, usually – but everyone went to LT. Rightly so. LT was brilliant. It was fine with Brees, who may be the most confident team athlete I've come across. He did not screw it up, and there were opportunities to do so, because the Chargers were sleepwalking after a big lead Brees helped devise. He has a real will about him. Competition, for some, is hard to understand, simple for others. Brees is not the leading passer in the NFL. He ranks sixth, not bad, with a 95.0 rating. Among QBs, he sits second among third-down passing leaders, with a 105.1 ranking, 3.5 points behind the Cowboys' Drew Bledsoe. This is when it matters. Not first-and-10. Get it done when the screws are tightened. Ego? Checked at the door. "When all is said and done," Brees says, "a quarterback is measured in wins and losses and nothing else. I don't care if LT scores every touchdown for us, if I hand it off to him or if I've thrown a 60-yard pass down to the one and he scores from there. It's great to come out of a game throwing four touchdowns, but what if you don't win? "You start to understand situations, when to take a chance, when not to, when to bleed the clock, when to take a timeout. It's being smart. There is an ego-check, yeah. But I get graded after every game. Typically, a spot in the game sheet will say the best play I made all day was not a touchdown pass, but when I threw the ball away. I made the best of a bad situation. A lot of times you walk away from a game and the best decision you made no one outside the organization will ever know. I could play my best game of the season and the stats won't show it." Game managing. That's what it is. Last Wednesday, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron came up to Schottenheimer after he gave the quarterbacks the game plan for Oakland. Said the head coach: "Cam told me Drew is totally prepared already. He knows exactly what they're going to do. Perfect." The end result: 27-14, Chargers. Game management. Do not dismiss it. But it separates winners and losers. And winning is what matters. Grantland Rice ("It's not whether you win or lose but how you play the game") became a very famous wrong man. Say what you want about Drew Brees – and some of you have a lot to say, some of you without a clue, some of you with one – but the Chargers' fifth-year quarterback has developed into an excellent game manager. Brees has become even better at it than he was a year ago, when he was coming along in a rush. He has convinced me, and he has had no bigger critic. "Absolutely," San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer says. "Drew knows what everybody knows. He knows what has to be done and when to do it. He knows where people are. To be able to manage a game at our level, you have to have instinct. Sunday (in Oakland), he played so well. The entire game he made one bad decision, and it didn't cost us." Game managing isn't a stat. But great quarterbacks are good at it, some better than others (Troy Aikman, for example, while not a statistical marvel, was a brilliant game manager, one of the best ever). Some QBs with brilliant skills have failed, because this involves the mind. It involves knowing the game, preparing for it and the speed of what's in front of you. It involves presence. It involves leadership. It involves commitment and study. In short, it involves what Ryan Leaf lacked. The day has past when a Johnny Unitas is left to his own devices, although the Colts' Peyton Manning comes close. But that doesn't make a QB robotic. There's down and distance. There's the clock. There's ruling the huddle. There's ego – one must have ego to be good at anything – but being smart enough to know the end result is what matters, not the number of touchdown passes notched on your football bedpost. There's a recipe of being fearless but intelligent and cautious, a tricky combination of not only knowing your limitations but those of your teammates. Quarterbacking is a hard job, man, which is why good QBs are not like nitrogen.