NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Saints coach Sean Payton was on vacation this summer when he found out Teddy Bridgewater's agent was spending time on the same Bahamian island.
So Payton arranged a meeting and Bridgewater wound up signing a $7.2 million contract to return to the club that traded for him in 2018, and be record-setting quarterback Drew Brees backup for at least one more season.
Soon, it'll become apparent whether the effort made and money spent to keep the former Louisville star was worth it.
While the Saints have yet to announce Brees' playing status this week, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press, on condition of anonymity, that Brees has a torn ligament in his throwing thumb, has decided to have surgery, and is expected to be out at least six weeks.
Brees was hurt in the first quarter of Sunday's 27-9 loss to the Rams in Los Angeles, and Bridgewater struggled in relief, albeit against one of the top pass-rushing teams in the NFL. Payton was quick to deflect blame from Bridgewater, who went 17 for 30 for 165 yards during the last three-plus quarters of the game.
"The penalties were significant and I thought we didn't block particularly well up front," Payton said Monday after studying video of the game. "We didn't run the ball; we averaged 2 ½ yards a carry. There was pressure on the quarterback pretty consistently and it's going to be hard to win if you play that way in the front."
If Bridgewater starts this week in Seattle, as expected, he'll have the benefit of practicing with the first team all week. And Bridgewater's chances of success could rise further if Seattle's pass rush is not as formidable as the Rams' unit.
Payton has repeatedly expressed confidence in Bridgewater's ability and did so again on Monday.
"We see it on a daily basis. We see his arm strength, his confidence, we see the leadership," Payton said. "We see all those things."
Bridgewater went 17-11 as a starter with his first NFL team, Minnesota, before a career-threatening knee injury in 2015 sidelined him for nearly the next two full seasons. His lone start for New Orleans was a loss, albeit a game at the end of the 2018 regular season in which a number of prominent players were being rested for the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Payton has stated often he believes game plans should take into account the strengths of available players rather than asking players to take on roles that have not demonstrably suited them in the past. So one could reasonably expect Payton to tailor his offense this week to suit those in uniform, rather than trying to attack exactly how he otherwise would have with Brees.
"You're focused on the things you can control," Payton said in regards to guiding his team through the adversity of the past weekend. "This is where you lean on leadership and you get ready to have a good week of practice. It's kind of the nature of our league sometimes. You come in on a Monday, you have a handful of things you're having to address, and that's part of the deal."
The defensive front. Along with having defensive tackle David Onyemata back from a one-game suspension, the Saints' defense simply played better up front against the Rams than in Week 1 against Houston. New Orleans sacked Jared Goff three times and also made four tackles for loss. That went with end Trey Hendrickson's forced fumble that fellow end Cam Jordan recovered and appeared to return for a touchdown — only to have his return negated because of a premature whistle blown by an official who mistakenly thought the loose ball was an incomplete pass.
"We played real well defensively, particularly in the first half," Payton said.
The game was tied at six in the third quarter and the Saints did not fall behind for good until the latter part of that quarter, when their defense was bound to wear down because of the offense's inability to sustain drives.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The offensive line needs to bounce back after a rough showing. Bridgewater was sacked twice and constantly under duress. Several of his better completions were negated by holding penalties. The unit also was thinned by injury as starter Andrus Pete went down with an apparent ankle injury, replaced at left guard by Will Clapp.
Punter Thomas Morstead produced on a busy day, placing three punts inside the Rams 20 and netting an average 40.8 yards on five total punts.
While Marshon Lattimore is unquestionably New Orleans' top defensive back, he has yet to look like a shutdown cornerback. He gave up some big catches to DeAndre Hopkins in Week, 1 and was burned by former Saints receiver Brandin Cooks in Los Angeles for a 57-yard catch and a short TD.
In addition to Brees' thumb and Peat's ankle, receiver Tre'Quan Smith also appeared to have a leg injury in the second half. Linebacker A.J. Klein went to the locker room in the second half. Backup receiver Keith Kirkwood was ruled out with a hamstring injury in pregame warmups. Payton declined to provide any injury updates, as he often does on Mondays.
11 — The number of times the Saints were penalized in Los Angeles, adding up to 87 penalty yards.
The Saints will try to win in Seattle for the first time since 2007 — and will have to do so without the best quarterback in franchise history, and one of the best in the history of the NFL.
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Payton, Fangio get their digs in on officials
By ARNIE STAPLETON AP Pro Football Writer
DENVER (AP) — Sean Payton found a way to get his dig in on the officials, and so did Vic Fangio .
Walt Anderson's crew denied New Orleans an 87-yard fumble return for a touchdown early in the Saints' 27-9 loss to the Rams on Sunday.
Defensive end Trey Hendrickson knocked the ball from Jared Goff's hand and Cameron Jordan scooped it up and headed for the opposite end zone, only to hear the officials mistakenly rule it an incompletion and inexplicably blowing the play dead.
Because of the whistle, when the review showed it was a fumble, the Saints only got the ball at their 13.
"When we get poor officiating or we get an awful call like that, we can't control that," said Payton, whose team also was victimized by a bad call against the Rams in the NFC championship game that many believe denied them a trip to the Super Bowl.
In Denver, the Broncos lost to Chicago 16-14 on a field goal as time expired after Bradley Chubb was whistled for roughing the passer on what appeared to be a clean hit on Mitchell Trubisky with 24 seconds left.
The call prompted Fox analyst Mark Schlereth to declare on the broadcast, "OK, I guess we're going to legislate contact in a contact sport. That's ridiculous."
Asked for his thoughts on the penalty Monday, Fangio said, "In regard to officiating, I'm just going to quote Sean Payton, who is a much more senior head coach than I am, 'We can't control poor officiating or awful calls.'"
Fangio still thought he'd won his first NFL game as a head coach when the clock ran out following Trubisky's 20-yard pass over the middle to Allen Robinson on fourth-and-15 from his 40. Robinson went to the ground at the Denver 35-yard line just as the clock hit 1 second.
When that last second ticked off, the Broncos began celebrating only to see rookie referee Adrian Hill huddle with his crew and then put 1 second back on the clock, saying Chicago had called its final timeout in the nick of time.
"No, I don't think there was," a second left, Fangio insisted. "He went down at 0:01 and nothing in life, in the world, happens simultaneously. There is lag time there, and they didn't deem there was lag time there."
Eddy Pineiro's 53-yard field goal sent the Broncos to 0-2 for the first time since 1999, when John Elway retired, Steve Atwater bolted and Shannon Sharpe and Terrell Davis suffered season-ending injuries following back-to-back Super Bowl triumphs.
"I thought we won," Derek Wolfe said. "And then I was like, 'Wait, how are they kicking a field goal? The time is out.' And then before that, I thought, 'How do they call a roughing the passer on Chubb?"
The call on Chubb was eerily similar to a flag Bears nose tackle Eddie Goldman drew for what looked like a clean hit on Joe Flacco earlier in the fourth quarter.
In Los Angeles, NFL officiating chief Al Riveron said the whistle never should have been blown on Jordan's return.
"We tell our referees when in doubt to let it play out," Riveron said in the pool report. "If it is an incomplete pass, we can always come back and make it an incomplete pass. In this situation, as it occurs here, the most we can do is give the ball to the defense. But we cannot, by rule, give them the advance. All we can do is give them the ball at the spot of the clear recovery."
It looked as if the officials also missed a roughing penalty on that play when defensive tackle David Onyemata hit Goff in the helmet, appearing to yank his facemask.
Gene Steratore , ex-NFL official and current rules analyst for CBS Sports, tweeted, "you have to be 100% sure the QB's arm is moving forward with control of the ball. The ball was clearly out of Goff's control and should've been ruled a fumble. However, the contact to Goff was roughing the passer and if called, LA would've kept the ball."
The game was a rematch of the Rams' 26-23 overtime win in New Orleans in the NFC championship game, a game that turned on an uncalled pass interference by Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman.
In Denver, Fangio disputed two decisions on the final drive but didn't argue with the four holding calls called on his left tackle Garett Bolles , giving him 34 infractions in 34 NFL starts.
Only one of the flags came while Bolles was blocking Khalil Mack.
"The unusual part of those is when you hear one guy got called for four holdings, you're immediate thought is passing. Three of the four were on running plays," Fangio said.
Actually, it's not that unusual.
Lost in the hoopla surrounding the new pass interference rule that allows coaches to challenge calls and non-calls — a direct result of what happened in the NFC championship game — is another point of emphasis this season: backside offensive holding.
It's been flagged more than 90 times so far, double the number through two weeks last season.
"Those are drive stoppers," Fangio said. "So, we've got to be able to block our guy without holding."
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