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Bad news for Brees in New Orleans could open a door in Tampa Bay

The Saints quarterback could miss six games with a thumb injury, which means the NFC South may be up for grabs after all.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees leaves the field after their loss against the Los Angeles Rams during an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Los Angeles. Brees left the game after being hurt in the first half. [MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ  |  AP]
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees leaves the field after their loss against the Los Angeles Rams during an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Los Angeles. Brees left the game after being hurt in the first half. [MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ | AP]
Published Sep. 16, 2019

TAMPA — Your initial thought should be a somber one.

Drew Brees will apparently need surgery on his thumb, and will likely miss at least six games. This is awful. Awful for Brees, awful for the Saints, awful for fans who appreciate a well-played NFL game.

Brees is artistry in a helmet. He has thrown more completions for more yards than anyone who has played the game. He has also beaten the Buccaneers more times than any quarterback in history.

And that’s where this gets tricky.

If you are outwardly saddened by a competitor’s misfortune, are you allowed to have some selfish thoughts to yourself?

Because, parochial as it sounds, this could be a game-changer.

The balance of power has not completely shifted in the NFC South, but it is less defined than it was 48 hours ago. The Saints were thought by many to be a Super Bowl contender, and were certainly a chic pick to win a third consecutive division title.

Bucs fans understand the magic of Drew Brees better than most. The Saints quarterback, shown greeting Jameis Winston after a game in 2016, has gone 17-10 in his career against Tampa Bay, throwing for more than 7,600 yards. Times file photo. [Times files]

The Brees injury does not mean that’s no longer possible, but it’s definitely less likely. If the initial reports coming out of New Orleans of a torn ligament in his thumb are accurate, the Saints will be without their unquestioned ringleader until the second half of the season.

That’s nearly an inconceivable thought in New Orleans. The last time a starting quarterback other than Brees won a game in a Saints uniform was nearly 14 years ago.

The offense may be drawn up by coach Sean Payton, but it’s owned by Brees. He controls it, he directs it, he makes it work more smoothly than any quarterback could.

In that sense, he may be the most valuable player in the league. Tom Brady has obviously had more success, but the Patriots have managed to go 13-6 during his rare absences in the last 15 years.

The good new for the Saints:

They planned for this eventuality by making Teddy Bridgewater the NFL’s highest-paid backup with a one-year, $7.25 million contract this season.

The bad news for the Saints:

Bridgewater lost his only start in New Orleans when the Saints played a meaningless game in the 2018 season finale. He also failed to lead the Saints to a touchdown against the Rams on Sunday, only the third time in Payton’s 12-plus seasons they’ve been kept out of the end zone.

None of which means the Bucs are in the driver’s seat today. Heck, they’re not even riding shotgun at this point. The favorite in the NFC South may still be New Orleans. If not, then Atlanta.

So Tampa Bay’s unlikely path to the playoffs still looks like a reach, but at least now there is a new formula to consider. Between Brees’ injury and Cam Newton’s pitiful performance against the Bucs on Thursday night in Carolina, Tampa Bay’s early-season schedule doesn’t look as daunting as it once did.

During the next four weeks, the Bucs face a pair of 0-2 teams (the Giants and Panthers) and one team missing its franchise quarterback (the Saints). Suddenly, it’s not inconceivable for the Bucs to reach the bye week after the London trip at 3-3 or even 4-2.

There are still plenty of unknowns to consider. It’s possible Bridgewater will look a whole lot better in the coming weeks as he gets more practice with the first team, although he’s going to be tested quickly with a game at Seattle on Sunday and the following week at home against Dallas.

Brees has also left open the possibility that he might return sooner. After seeing a leading hand specialist in Los Angeles on Monday, he is now seeking a second opinion.

In the meantime, Bucs fans have reason for renewed optimism. It might be fleeting. It might be selfish in the face of Brees’ woes. It might even be misplaced if Bridgewater exceeds expectations.

But, for now, it is plausible. Even if you keep it to yourself.

John Romano can be reached at Follow @romano_tbtimes.


  1. Ohio State defensive lineman Chase Young listens during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. [AJ MAST  |  AP]
  2. Former Oklahoma and Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts could be someone the Bucs consider if they select a quarterback on day 2 of the NFL draft April 24 in Las Vegas. [ROD AYDELOTTE  |  AP]
  3. Tom Brady and the Patriots have appeared in eight straight AFC championship games and have won three of the past five Super Bowls. [JEFF ROBERSON  |  Associated Press]
  4. Bruce Arians said the Bucs' new uniforms will look more like this. The hope is they will play more like this. [DAMASKE, JIM  |  St. Petersburg Times]
  5. It sounds like Bucs coaches and the front office have had a change of heart on tight end O.J. Howard. [CHRIS URSO  |  Times]
  6. Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. [MICHAEL CONROY  |  AP]
  7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett in action during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019, in Detroit. [PAUL SANCYA  |  AP]
  8. In this file photo, Bucs coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Jameis Winston walk off the field after a season-opening home loss to San Francisco. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
  9. Florida State running back Cam Akers (3) runs for a touchdown during the first quarter of last season's home opener against Boise State. [MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times]
  10. He may look happy here, but Bradley Pinion seems pretty overjoyed (at least on social media) at the prospect of the team dumping this uni design. [Times]
  11. Kacey Reynolds announces that LSU linebacker Devin White has been selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round at the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 25, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. The Bucs announced Sunday that Reynolds had died at age 20 after a three-year battle with Hodgkin lymphoma. [MARK HUMPHREY  |  AP]
  12. Linebacker Shaquil Barrett's bet on himself is about to pay off, in Tampa Bay or elsewhere. [PAUL SANCYA  |  AP]