Aaron S. Lee
Perhaps the only thing louder than the collective gasp heard from hundreds of thousands of Saints fans in horror following Drew Brees’ thumb injury against the Rams on Sunday, would be the dreaded gushing sound of a potential Super Bowl season flushing down the proverbial drain.
In the blink of an eye, New Orleans received an unexpected glimpse of what life without their all-world franchise quarterback looks like.
And with or without suffering torn ligament damage in his throwing hand that took him out of the game against last year’s NFC champion and long-time rival Los Angeles late in the first quarter, it goes without saying that at age 40, the 19-year veteran, who is in the final season of his current two-year contract, has more games behind him than what still lies ahead.
Even with the NFL’s all-time leading passer, the Saints offense looked anemic in the first half the home opener against Houston. However, it is only due to Brees that kicker Will Lutz even had the opportunity to drill his career-long 58-yard walk-off field goal to beat the Texans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome two Mondays ago.
With Brees expected to miss a minimum of six weeks following surgery Wednesday, the Saints must turn to Terry Bridgewater, who went 17 of 30 for 165 yards (56.7 percent) with a QB rating of 72.2 in the team’s 27-9 lopsided loss to L.A. The 26-year-old from Louisville is currently the NFL’s highest-paid backup QB, with a one-year deal work $7.25 million.
Bridgewater, who started the 33-14 loss to the Panther in the season finale last year, will be the first player not named Brees to start multiple games at QB for the Saints since head coach Sean Payton arrived in 2006. Brees has started all but three regular-season games (207). Only Mark Brunell and Luke McCown have made other starts than Brees and Bridgewater during that span. In total, all three non-Brees starts resulted in losses.
Since Brees arrived in New Orleans, only his replacement with the Chargers, Philip Rivers (210), and New Orleans native Eli Manning (209) have started more games at quarterback.
When asked about what life would be like sans Brees, Saints head coach Sean Payton offered up the following response:
“Well, we’re getting ready to find out,” he said. “Hopefully the news is good and the length of time, if there is any, that he’s out will be shorter than longer. But that’s part of our sport.
“Kind of the nature of our league sometimes.”
Despite being sponsored by Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans, ‘Lady Luck’ has not sided with the Saints in recent seasons. The Black and Gold has come within a game — rather a play or two — of the Super Bowl the past two years.
First, it was Minnesota’s last-minute touchdown dubbed the ‘Minneapolis Miracle’ in 2018, then the much scrutinized — and litigated — game against the very same Rams last year, which brought to the forefront the abhorrent officiating currently plaguing the Saints (er, the NFL). However, it also shines a spotlight on the Saints glaring inability to win the big game.
Between the interference no-call that cost New Orleans a ‘Super Showdown’ with Brady’s Patriots last year, a game-clock error that prevented the Saints an opportunity to score against the Texans before the half last week, and a blown call once again against the Rams — this time negating an 87-yard touchdown off a fumble recovery from defensive end Cam Jordan — a case could be made that the NFL is apparently out to get the Saints.
However, the old clichés that great teams find a way to win, and that good teams make their own breaks and get the calls are tried-and-true theories for a reason. But with a close call on Week 1, followed by a flat performance — sans Brees — in the City of Angels, New Orleans looks anything but great.
Good? Maybe. Great? Not quite!
Entering Week 2, the Saints had a 13.4 percent chance of making Super Bowl LIV in Miami. That dropped to 10.9 following their loss to L.A. and then to 7.9 upon the announcement of Brees needing surgery.
Now with the Rams favored to face what should be the inevitable winner of the AFC, New England or Kansas City, the Saints season is seemingly already in dire straits.
Not to mention, any road to Miami for the NFC may in fact run through Dallas.
But that’s a different story.
Guest columnist Aaron S. Lee is an international sports journalist for Eurosport, a correspondent for WGNO-ABC 26 in New Orleans and 1990 graduate of Minden High School