A few weeks ago, when rumors began circulating that cornerback Keenan Lewis was going to miss some time after sports hernia surgery, it was in many corners of the Internet called the injury the New Orleans Saints could least endure.
That proclamation, of course, omitted Drew Brees. Perhaps his name was left out of the equation because it didn’t need to be said that the season would be lost to the shadows if he suffered an injury. Or perhaps his name was left out because no one wanted to consider how a theoretical injury to Brees would crack the foundation of the franchise.
There’s no longer a need to consider the psychology behind the omission.
The day could be here.
Or maybe it’s not.
Various reports emerged Monday with different takes on the severity of Brees’ shoulder injury. The optimistic ones made it sound like Brees could rub some dirt on it and play this Sunday at Carolina. The others made it sound like the hopes for this season will soon be covered in dirt.
It doesn’t really matter whether you choose to side with ESPN’s more optimistic report, that Brees avoided major injury and his ability to play will be determined by how he responds to treatment, or with the NFL Network, which reported Brees could “potentially miss several games.”
For what it’s worth, coach Sean Payton said during a radio interview that the NFL Network report is inaccurate and the team will know more about Brees’ status after Wednesday’s practice.
Wherever the truth lies, Brees still has a shoulder injury. If he doesn’t play, the Saints’ hopes of making the playoffs likely are shot. Having Brees on the field will give the Saints better hopes, but this will still be a team trying to ride the injured shoulder of its quarterback out of despair after starting 0-2. Neither reality looks particularly bright. One is just less dark than the other.
It’s difficult to know how overcast things are without knowing how damaged Brees is and if he will be available to play. New Orleans’ season has felt snake-bitten for several weeks. Safety Jairus Byrd hasn’t practiced since organized team activities, Lewis is out of action, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe hasn’t played due to a toe injury and running back C.J. Spiller is still working his way back from knee surgery.
All those hits have added up to a less-than-stellar start. It’s not impossible for this team to get healthy, turn things around and become part of the 12 percent of teams that make the playoffs following consecutive losses to start the season. But it’s hard to imagine that scenario playing out if Brees’ shoulder is well less than 100 percent or his playing time is 0 percent in any games.
For that to happen, the pieces would have to be there on offense to help carry Brees while he lacks the strength to carry himself. Maybe the weapons from previous seasons could help him do that. This group, though, does not appear ready to carry the burden. And if Luke McCown has to start, the chances of turning things around shrink even more.
The offense would have to change tremendously to disguise Brees’ injured shoulder until he gets healthy. He was unable to drive the ball down the field against the Buccaneers. According to Pro Football Focus, Brees only completed five of the 16 passes he threw 10 or more yards through the air. One of those was a badly underthrown ball to Brandin Cooks that was intercepted. At least two were passes that were delivered behind the receiver on crossing routes.
New Orleans would have to look to move the ball down the field on shorter passes. Big plays likely would become rarities while he’s on the mend. Instead of attacking the perimeters, more passes would have to come over the middle of the field. The problem is that defenses likely would try to squeeze the Saints on the inside and force Brees to test his shoulder. The running game would also have to be much better than it’s been the last two weeks.
If Brees tries to play through it, the only good news is that he will be further removed from the injury and should have a better idea of what his physical limitations are entering action and New Orleans would have time to adjust the playbook. He had to figure that on the fly Sunday.
That’s not the position you want to be in if you’re the Saints. Not after starting the season 0-2. Not when you’re heading to Carolina in desperate need of a win. Not when your offense is trying to figure things out, develop some tempo and learn how to move the ball with consistency.
If you choose to look at the pessimistic side of things, then McCown will be in there leading the huddle. He hasn’t started a game since 2011. He completed 6-of-19 passes in that game and threw four interceptions.
Perhaps he’d fare better here. Maybe he’s ready for this opportunity and has been waiting to show how well he can execute the offense. But until he shows there’s reason for optimism, it’s hard to see how the Saints stay afloat while waiting for Brees to return if he misses time.
There will be a lot of theoretical situations to discuss and monitor in the days and weeks to come. What we do know is that there is a problem. We just have to wait and see how bad the damage is.