Drew Brees will be sidelined for New Orleans’ game at Carolina on Sunday, when the Saints will try to avoid falling to 0-3.
Brees, who is recovering from a bruised rotator cuff in his right (throwing) shoulder, will be replaced in the lineup by 12-year veteran Luke McCown, Saints coach Sean Payton said Friday.
Payton said resting Brees this weekend was not a difficult decision. Payton also declined to forecast whether Brees would return the following week against Dallas.
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"Just where he’s at in the rehab and his strength, I think he felt — I think we all felt — like it would be too early, him playing this weekend," Payton said. "He felt like he made progress throughout the week and yet it’s still not where it needs to be, or where we would feel comfortable with the strength that he needs.
"This morning, as he was throwing, he just felt like the velocity still wasn’t there," Payton added.
Sunday’s game will mark the first start Brees has missed because of an injury since joining New Orleans in 2006. Brees briefly was in the locker room while it was open to media, but politely chose not to talk about the decision, allowing McCown to absorb the spotlight.
McCown has been with the Saints since 2013 but has yet to complete a regular-season pass with the club. His only attempt was an incompletion on a fake field goal. McCown has not thrown a touchdown pass in a game since he threw five in five games with Tampa Bay in 2007.
But the Saints expect his familiarity with the offense after more than two seasons on the club, combined with his decade-plus of NFL experience, will serve him well when he takes over the offense in a divisional road game.
"We’re running the same plays," right tackle and offensive captain Zach Strief said when describing how the offense looks with McCown at quarterback. "You don’t last in this league as long as he does at that position without being a guy who knows how to work and how to prepare himself. He’s prepared every week and this is no different. I would say he’s probably got a little bit stronger of an arm than Drew, just pure arm strength … but it’s the same offense. It doesn’t feel all that different."
Coincidentally, McCown has starred in a national advertising campaign early this season in which he touts the backup systems of a mobile phone company, which he predicts they would "really shine" if they had a chance. Now he’ll get his chance — and it comes in the same week his brother, Josh, was announced as the starter for Cleveland over Johnny Manziel in the Browns’ home game against Oakland.
Brees was hurt on a hit in the second quarter of last Sunday’s 26-19 loss at home to Tampa Bay. He never left the game, finishing 24 of 38 for 255 yards and one touchdown. While he won’t be in uniform, Brees will travel to Carolina for input to teammates on the sideline. He participated in practice all week on a limited basis.
McCown, who calls Brees one of his "absolute best friends," said the Saints’ all-time passer has been working hard to come back and was evidently disappointed by Friday’s realization he would not go on Sunday.
"He doesn’t give up (practice snaps), much less games," McCown said. "At the same time, he’s been tremendously supportive. … The same way I try to mentally support him he’s offered to me, and we’ll approach this thing and go win a ball game."
McCown said he expects to have the same liberty Brees does to adjust play calls at the line of scrimmage, and to have the same number of plays at his disposal. He is eager to play.
"I never got into football hoping to be a backup," said McCown, a former Louisiana Tech standout. "I started and played 45 straight games in college. I never missed a game there. So you don’t ever approach something and say, `I hope I don’t play today.’
"I’m excited because it’s a chance to help our team win. It’s not been about me. It’s not about Drew. It’s about the Saints, and we’ve got to do whatever we can do to put a win up on the board."
Notes: Cornerback Keenan Lewis, who returned to practice this week from a preseason hip injury, expects his playing status at Carolina to be decided shortly before kickoff. … Safety Jairus Byrd (knee) and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (toe) participated in portions of practice open to reports. However, practice is closed during 11-on-11 drills.