Kyle Orton followed Drew Brees to Purdue because he wanted to be just like him.
"He made a lot of stuff happen for the program and was a big reason why I went there," Orton said. "I wanted to throw for all those yards and put up the numbers that he did. No question, he was a big influence and a reason why I went there."
Orton never put up the staggering numbers Brees did at Purdue, but not many have. Brees finished his stay in West Lafayette ranked fourth in NCAA Division I history in total offense, completions and attempts. Brees totaled 12,692 yards of total offense, while Orton finished second in Purdue history with 9,653 yards.
Comparisons to the prolific passer didn't bother Orton, even though they were a constant throughout his career as a Boilermaker, which began after Brees was drafted 32nd overall by the Chargers in 2001.
"Every quarterback that goes through that place is going to be compared to Drew," Orton said. "He was a great quarterback in college. He's certainly an outstanding quarterback in the NFL and a good person to watch and try to model yourself after."
That's still the case.
"It's not like we talk on the phone every night or something," Orton said, "but whenever we get to see each other, it's always friendly and good. He's fun to talk football with. He's an extremely smart player. I remember my freshman year. If I ever needed to find out how to run a play or [attack] a certain look, I'd just go and pop on [film of] what he did and try to do that. It seemed to work out for him."
A little less than a year ago they squared off at Soldier Field in the 2007 season finale, and Brees put it up 60 times – completing 35 for 320 yards and three touchdowns but also a pair of interceptions. Orton completed just 12 of 27 passes for 190 yards with two touchdowns and one pick, but the Bears won 33-25 – Orton's passer rating of 77.7 for the game was two points better than Brees'.
Thursday night at Soldier Field, Orton and the 7-6 Bears face Brees and the 7-6 Saints in a nationally televised game that each team needs to keep tenuous playoff hopes alive.
"I can't wait to play him," Orton said. "I've had fun playing him in the past, and I can't wait to do it this time."
Orton's teammates on the defensive side might not be so anxious to engage Brees, who leads the NFL with 4,100 passing yards, 52 completions of 20 yards or longer and 15 completions of 40 yards or longer, is tied for first with 26 TD passes and is fourth in passer rating (96.2).
QB Drew Brees
Brandon Lopez/Getty Images
"He's been playing great," Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. "One thing we've talked about this year is quarterbacks who get the ball out [quickly]. We're going to have a little bit of a problem with that. He gets the ball out really fast. They're spreading us out a little bit, so our guys on the back end have got to cover these receivers really well. [We] have to either get our hands up or get some hits on him."
Orton doesn't get to throw nearly as much as Brees does in the pass-happy Saints offense, but he's established himself as the leader of the Bears offense and has a 15-8 TD-INT and an 83.5 passer rating. He doesn't have to be as productive as Brees for the Bears to defeat the Saints. He just needs to be efficient, as he was Sunday in his best game in six weeks.
"I executed the offense, made pretty good decisions and we made some plays," Orton said. "That's been our story for success all year."
NOTES & QUOTES
Brad Maynard has a commanding lead among NFL punters with 32 kicks inside the opponents' 20-yard line, a statistic that the 12-year veteran considers of utmost importance.
The Raiders' Shane Lechler is next with 27, but Maynard wants more than to lead the league. He wants to surpass his personal best of 36 punts inside the 20, which he achieved in 2001 – his first season with the Bears. Maynard has also always wanted to hit the 40 mark, which has been done just once in NFL history – by the 49ers' Andy Lee, who had 42 last season.
Maynard placed four of his six punts last Sunday inside the 20 and allowed a total of just 2 return yards, despite nippy conditions that seemed to affect the Jaguars' Steve Weatherford as it has many other visiting punters at Soldier Field.
But Maynard played high school football in Indiana (Sheridan), then attended Ball State University in Muncie and played for four years with the Giants before joining the Bears, where he's in his eighth season.
He's probably more familiar with kicking in inclement weather than anyone, and he usually gives the Bears an edge in that phase of late-season games.
"I don't know what it is," Maynard said. "I wish I had an answer. I almost feel like everybody else falls off. I stay the same. My numbers don't exactly shoot up in that kind of weather, but it seems like the guys I go up against go down a lot of times. I can't believe I just said that before a game. I should say that at the end of the year, not now." …
Orton's performance last Sunday, his best in six weeks, would have been even better had his receivers not dropped at least four catchable passes. But that's just football according to the Bears quarterback, whose passer rating of 85.3 was his highest since Oct. 19 when he had a 114.5 rating against the Vikings.
"It's certainly part of the game, especially when you get into December – cold weather and poor field conditions," Orton said. "So that's certainly going to happen. Drops are always going to happen. The day I don't miss a throw is the day I can complain when someone drops a football." …
The Bears would like to go into Thursday night's game with the Saints knowing they only have to contain the passing of Brees to defeat the visitors, but they can't make that assumption.
"They ran for over 180 yards last week," Bears defensive coordinator Bob Babich said. "Pierre Thomas had  yards, Reggie Bush had . Recently the run-pass ratio has been closer to balanced, so I think that's the direction they're headed."
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