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Payton will give Bridgewater the chance to succeed

by J.W. Miller on 09/16/19

Many years ago when my nephews and nieces were young enough to watch Mardi Gras parades on my shoulders, I suffered one major injury in the practice. A nephew was tired of his lofty perch and asked Uncle Jim to let him down. I proceeded to do so by reaching up and locking my four fingers under his armpits to lift him off and put him safely on the ground. But during the process, he apparently saw an attractive float coming up and decided he wanted to stay where he was. Without telling me. 

When I placed my fingers under his armpits and pushed up, he locked down and a sharp pain from the middle finger and ring finger on my right hand suddenly shot down into my wrist. It hurt like hell, and Uncle Jim was done for the evening as a convenient perch. The true fallout came the next day when I tried to play golf, but when I tried to grip the club with my right hand, the hand gave way and the club fell to the ground. I had badly strained a ligament, and I would be on the sidelines for nearly a month. 

This little episode did not affect anyone on the planet but me, but I remember it in empathy when I saw Saints QB Drew Brees ram his right thumb into Rams’ defensive lineman Aaron Donald. He went to the sideline for treatment, but when he tried to pick up a ball, he dropped it like a hornet's nest.The verdict Monday was that Brees tore a ligament that will likely keep him out of the lineup for at least six weeks. 

The Saints have not released an official statement as of this writing, but Dr. Gleb Medvedev, an orthopedic hand surgeon at Tulane, told the Advocate it was likely the ulnar collateral ligament which is located in the area where the thumb meets the hand. An unfortunate event for the Saints and bad mojo for sure, but we all knew the day was coming when Brees would prove to be mortal. That day might be here. Or, he could heal to the point where he could return to the starting lineup and lead the Saints to another Super Bowl victory. This entire situation could be merely another hurdle that champions overcome or it could be disastrous. 

What happens next will largely depend on Brees’ replacement. You will note that I did not immediately anoint backup QB Teddy Bridgewater as the place-holder for Brees. I have watched him closely, as you have, during the preseason and during most of Sunday’s 27-9 loss to the Rams. I know Bridgewater is the highest-paid backup QB in the league, which is based on his years as the starting QB in Minnesota in 2014-15. Bridgewater was selected to play in the Pro Bowl after the 2015 season in which the Vikings won their first division title since 2009. He received that honor despite ranking No. 21 among the league's quarterbacks that year, according to NFL next season a horrific knee injury kept him in the training room for nearly two seasons. 

Coaches and personnel guys will tell you there are not that many quality quarterbacks in the league. I am talking about QB’s who can get your team through a game in which the starting QB is injured or, in the Saints’ case, step in and seamlessly run one of the better offenses in the NFL for several games. I use that phrase guardedly, because our hometown heroes looked anything but a potent offensive juggernaut after Bridgewater came into the game. To my eyes, Bridgewater just has not been that impressive at running the Saints' offense. But I am not the coach.

I expect Coach Sean Payton to hand the ball to Bridgewater in Seattle on Sunday and expect him to perform at a high level. I believe Payton appreciated Bridgewater’s decision to re-sign with the Saints after his one-year contract expired last season. On Bridgewater’s part, it was a gutsy, yet rational move, to turn down a lucrative offer to become the Miami Dolphins’ starter and continue to grow under Payton and Brees. An element of his decision had to be the possibility of one day succeeding Brees as the starter. 

Bridgewater now has that opportunity, but I do not believe it will be an extended audition. I believe Payton will give Bridgewater every chance to succeed, within limits. Sean Payton wants to win, and if Teddy Bridgewater can’t do that, the coach will not hesitate to insert Taysom Hill, everybody’s favorite handyman, into the starting lineup sooner rather than later.  

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