Brian Allee-Walsh

Saints coach Sean Payton has a plan at QB. Here is what it might look like.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees may be down with a bum thumb, but doctors will straighten that out and fix him up as good as new.

That bodes well for the Saints, who now must try and stay relevant in the NFC with reserve quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill sharing the workload in Brees’ absence, beginning Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks and their uproarious “12th Man’‘ at CenturyLink Field (3:25 p.m., CBS).

Saints coach Sean Payton provided a glimpse into his thought process going forward, declining to name a starter at midweek and saying both quarterbacks would play against the Seahawks.

I suspect Payton will keep opponents guessing on a weekly basis until Brees’ projected return in November, a clever strategy perhaps but also suggesting that the coach who recently signed a new five-year contract worth in excess of $50 million doesn’t have a clear No. 2.

That decision might be based partly on Bridgewater’s inability to move the offense during the final 3 1/2 quarters with Brees on the sideline in last Sunday’s 27-9 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at Memorial Coliseum. It also might reflect Payton’s appreciation for Hill’s Swiss army knife-like qualities and the problems he poses for a defense.

By Payton’s own admission, the Saints got “whooped up front’‘ by a vastly improved Rams defense which seemed hell bent on stopping the run en route to reaching Bridgewater.

In other words, the Rams made the Saints one dimensional and seemed content to make Bridgewater beat them.

Which he didn’t. Or couldn’t, not by himself anyway.

Look for a similar defensive approach from Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll when either Bridgewater or Hill is in the game. They will attempt to neutralize game-breaker Alvin Kamara and backup Latavius Murray in the running game and force Bridgewater and Hill check down and dink and dunk his way down the field.

Look for Payton to script a game plan that will play to the strengths of both quarterbacks while still maintaining offensive integrity. Payton won’t ask either quarterback to be like Brees and win the game, just don’t lose it. Manage the moment. Protect the ball. Extend plays, and keep mistakes to a minimum.

But the Saints’ success against the Seahawks and beyond won’t hinge on the play of the quarterback alone.

It will take an entire Black and Gold village to offset the sudden loss of No. 9, complementary football for 60 minutes from all three phases. That includes No. 1 cornerback Marshon Lattimore and a pass defense that have yielded multiple touchdowns and explosive plays in the first two games.

The Saints’ offensive line must step up collectively and do its job. Establish the run with Kamara and Murray and provide the quarterback with time in the pocket. The receiving corps must make plays and move the chains, most notably wide receiver Mike Thomas and tight end Jared Cook.

Neither has found the end zone in the first two games. Thomas, who signed a five-year, $96.25 million contract July 31, has a league-best 20 catches (on 26 targets) for 212 yards and Cook has four catches (on 10 targets) for 62 yards.

The bottom line is Brees’ injury is not the end of the world. Fourteen games remain in the regular season. That’s an eternity; 56 quarters of football by my count. Too, Brees should be as good as new sometime in November sporting a rebuilt ulna collateral ligament in his right thumb.

Truth be told, the Saints have been playing with house money since Brees arrived in New Orleans in 2006 with a gimpy passing arm. Lest we forget he was coming off major shoulder surgery after suffering what many considered to have been a career-ending injury with the San Diego Chargers at the end of 2005.

He has been indestructible, missing just one game due to injury since ‘06. Now north of 40 and still playing at an elite level in his 19th NFL season, a freak injury puts him down for six to eight weeks.

It could have been a lot worse.

Yes, the combination of Payton and Brees has won a Super Bowl and compiled a stellar 119-72 record since joining forces after Hurricane Katrina, the second most wins of any QB-coach combo in NFL history. And, well, Payton and Bridgewater are 0-1 and Taysom Hill has yet to make an NFL start.

Still, Who Dat Nation shouldn’t panic. Feel debilitating stress and overwhelming angst maybe. But we’re only talking about six games, maybe eight at the outside before Brees rides to the rescue.

It’ll be over before you know it.

One way or the other.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.
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