Luke McCown staying loose if Drew Brees can’t play _lowres

Advocate file hoto by VERONICA DOMINACH -- Saints quarterback Luke McCown during a NFL preseason gamea gainst the Ravens last season.

Luke McCown delivered the line smoothly, right at the end of a long answer, his dry sense of humor slipping over the head of most of the media gaggle assembled at his locker.

Then he wondered aloud why the line didn’t get a laugh.

McCown, the veteran backup whose Verizon commercials musing on the plights of the phone company’s backup generators have been a hit with NFL fans this fall, is still loose enough late in a pressure-packed week to poke a little self-deprecating fun at his newfound celebrity.

“Be ready,” McCown said with a deadpan expression. “If Drew ever goes down, to be ready, and to shine like all the backups want a chance to shine.”

McCown’s chance to shine, his first in four years, may come this Sunday.

Drew Brees has spent the week rehabbing, trying to battle back from a bruised rotator cuff in time to make his 83rd regular season start in a row against the Carolina Panthers this Sunday. If Brees can’t go, though, McCown will make his first start since the second game of the 2011 season, when he completed just 6-of-19 throws and threw four interceptions for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

McCown, who has only started nine games in a 12-year career, feels like he’s been preparing for this for three years, ever since he first arrived in New Orleans.

“I’ve been at this a long time,” McCown said. “The thing with backups around this league is that you prepare every week to be the starter. You have to, or you don’t get the opportunity to be the backup.”

McCown’s ability to step into the lineup at a moment’s notice caught the Saints’ attention a long time ago.

Back in 2007, McCown was backing up Jeff Garcia in Tampa Bay when the veteran starter went down with a back injury, forcing McCown into the starting lineup against the Saints on the road.

McCown responded by completing his first 15 passes, throwing for 313 yards overall and two touchdowns to lead Tampa Bay over the Saints, 27-23.

Five years later, McCown got a shot in New Orleans, and he’s been Brees’ backup ever since. Forced to battle Ryan Griffin for the role this season after New Orleans drafted Garrett Grayson in the third round, the 34-year-old responded by completing 68.6 percent of his passes for 323 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions to win the job again.

“He is a very good athlete,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I think he is sharp, so he processes the information quickly.”

McCown also has a stronger arm than most backups. During the preseason, he connected with both Brandin Cooks and Brandon Coleman on beautiful deep balls, dropping the ball in over the cornerback’s head to a spot only his receiver could make the catch.

Being in New Orleans for three years means a young receiving corps is used to catching passes from him.

“I’m very comfortable playing with him,” Cooks said. “He’s accurate, he can throw the ball well, so I don’t think it’s a worry at all if that was to happen.”

That’s what McCown is looking to bring. The New Orleans offense has had enough issues through the first two games that a backup quarterback has to inspire confidence the moment he enters the huddle.

McCown, who made two starts during the preseason and spent a lot of his time playing with the starters as the Saints protected Brees, feels like he’s got enough of a rapport to build confidence.

“You want a comfort level that you’re walking into the huddle, looking in your eyes, they’re looking at you, and seeing the confidence they have, hopefully, in you to produce,” McCown said. “I’m fortunate to be here and be on this team for a while, and know these guys.”

McCown’s familiarity with the offense also means that Payton won’t have to dumb down the game plan if Brees can’t start.

In some cases, if a team has a more mobile option as either a starter or a backup, a team might have to draw up a completely different game plan for starter and backup in the situation the Saints currently find themselves facing.

McCown and Brees fit the same profile.

“Read-option waved bye-bye to me after the second ACL,” McCown joked. “This offense is what it is, and it produces. If you play within the confines of it, it produces.”

If McCown does get the start, by chance, he’ll be starting on the same day as his brother, Josh, who’s back from a week one concussion and starting for the Cleveland Browns — Luke’s first team — this week.

Despite the infrequency of Luke’s career starts, the McCowns have actually made starts on the same day seven times before.

Now, they could get a chance to do it again.

“It’s been so long that it’s been unexpected again,” McCown said. “We’ve been doing this a long time. Josh, 14, I’m 12, and the opportunities you get to share something like this as a family, it’s unique.”

And both McCowns will be hoping for a chance to shine.