Four games into this season, Drew Brees was the leading contender for Comedown Player of the Year.

The New Orleans quarterback, who came within one game of guiding the Saints into the Super Bowl last season, had one touchdown pass and nine interceptions, and a string of passer ratings that barely registered.

Not coincidentally, the Saints, a preseason pick by some to win the NFC championship, were 0-4.

During a conference call yesterday, Brees, 28, characterized the first month as "terrible." After some thought, he downgraded it to "god-awful."

"That's certainly not me," Brees said.

And that's certainly not the Drew Brees the Eagles must deal with Sunday when they play the Saints at the Superdome. Instead, the Birds, who must play for pride and because the schedule dictates they must, will face the hottest quarterback in the NFC.

"Hey, it's not how you start," Brees said. "It's how you finish. We started 0-4, and we still have a shot at making the playoffs."

Since the grim start, the Saints and Brees have played with a sense of desperation. They have won seven of their last 10 games and three of their last four, and are still in the chase for the second wild-card playoff spot in the NFC.

Brees has had 24 touchdown passes and suffered only six interceptions in the 10 games. In seven of them, his passer rating was higher than 100. His passes have been picked off only once in the last four games.

In the NFL, Brees ranks first in completions with 378 and attempts with 550, and second with a completion percentage of 68.7, a fraction behind Tom Brady's 69.2. He is fourth in passing yards with 3,819 and eighth with a passer rating of 92.1.

In last week's 31-24 win over Arizona, Brees completed 26 of 30 throws, a remarkable 86.7 percent. He has also had games in which he has completed 79.5 percent and 73.9 percent.

"He's playing as well as any quarterback right now in the league," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "He's playing at a very, very high level."

Brees also has a decent chance to break the league record for completions in a season, held by Rich Gannon, who had 418 with Oakland in 2002. Brees needs 41 in the final two games to surpass Gannon.

Physically, Brees is far from imposing. He's listed as 6 feet tall, but that had to be recorded with a wink and a nod. He's not known for having a strong arm, and he's not going to beat anyone with his legs.

But Brees is accurate, and he's a quick thinker, as evidenced by his play when the Saints are in the red zone. New Orleans is the best in the NFL at punching it in. The Saints have come away with 32 touchdowns in 44 trips to the red zone, a conversion rate of 72.7 percent

Saints coach Sean Payton said keys to an efficient red-zone offense - something the Eagles have failed to develop all season - are the quarterback's decision-making and accuracy.

"I think he's done a good job of getting us in and out of the right plays, depending on what we're seeing defensively," Payton said. "The challenge down there is just the obvious. The field shrinks, and it's that much harder to throw the football. So we take our opportunities at running it, and if we get the right looks, then we'll throw it.

"He's someone who handles that well. He's an extremely hard worker. He is a quick decision-maker, and he locates the ball well."

Payton said Brees' bad start occurred mostly because the quarterback was forced to throw too many high-risk passes to overcome large deficits.

"We fell behind by 21 to Indianapolis and fell behind by 28 to Tampa, and when you become one-dimensional and when you're in a hurry-up offense in the second half, your ability to throw the football on a consistent basis really drops off," Payton said.

"You're going to have forced throws," he added. "It's harder to protect the passer, so early on we fell behind, and now you're asking him, in order to get back into a game, to get away from what you normally do in a game plan."

Asked if his confidence wavered during his horrible start, Brees seemed amused.

"Obviously not," he said. Obviously.

Bush may play. Sean Payton said the status of running back Reggie Bush likely would not be determined until game day.

Bush, who has missed the last two games with a torn knee ligament, returned to practice this week.

"He was limited [yesterday]," Payton said. "He moved around some and participated in some of our work. He's still not 100 percent, but I am encouraged by what I saw. He's moving around a lot better.

"There's still a little swelling, but he looked a lot better. It will be a day-by-day thing."