CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Luke McCown was likely aware of the panic and mayhem that built throughout the week as it became increasingly clear throughout last week that Drew Brees wasn’t going to play against the Carolina Panthers.
If how he performed during Sunday’s 27-22 loss at Bank of America Stadium is any indication, he absorbed the information, stared it down, and calmly moved on with his daily activities.
The 34-year-old backup played better than anyone likely expected against the Panthers. He completed 31 of his 38 attempts for 310 yards. He connected on 16-of-17 passes in the first half. Considering McCown finished with a 1.8 quarterback rating in his last start in 2011, the performance was somewhat astonishing.
“I thought he showed a lot of poise and I was really proud of the way he played,” coach Sean Payton said.
McCown almost carried the Saints to victory. Despite playing opposite a defense that allowed Carolina to gain 431 yards and struggled to limit big plays, New Orleans got the ball back with 3:50 left in regulation and a chance to win.
McCown remained sharp, but the drive stalled after Marques Colston dropped a pair of passes and Willie Snead let another hit the turf. On a third-down play, McCown attempted to connect with Brandin Cooks in the right corner of the end zone. Carolina cornerback Josh Norman leaped up and pulled the ball out of the air.
“Luke took a chance with me,” Cooks said. “As a player like me, I have to go and make that play. If not make the play, make sure that it’s not intercepted and give us another chance.”
McCown actually took a chance on something he thought he could exploit.
A few plays earlier, the Saints tried to run the same play to Colston and felt they could exploit the way Norman defended the play. Colston was able to run by Norman on that play and McCown said he ran over to Payton and asked to the run the play again. He was given the green light.
It didn’t play out the same. Carolina switched up its coverage and Norman picked off the pass.
“At the momen,t you felt like we had them on their heels and we wanted to take a shot,” McCown said. “There’s a good chance at the corner of the end zone. Norman made a great play on the ball.”
It might only be a few days before McCown is back on the field. After becoming injured against Tampa Bay last week, Brees spent the week trying to get back on the field for Sunday’s game, but was ruled out after he failed to generate velocity on his passes during a rehab session Friday morning. He’ll enter the week day-to-day and it’s possible that his bruised rotator cuff isn’t healed enough to get back on the field.
If he’s not ready, McCown will be waiting to answer the bell. He was waiting for years for the opportunity he was granted Sunday.
Before taking the field, he texted with his brother, Josh McCown, a quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, who was also starting. The two talked about how they’ve spent their careers waiting for chances to play and to go out and relish the opportunity.
“He said, ‘Hey, go have fun with it. No regrets. Go play to win,” Luke McCown said. “And so I appreciated that from Josh. I don’t know how his game came out today but again, we are very blessed to be in this position, where he can lean on me. I can lean on him.”
Josh McCown’s game, ironcially, turned out similar to the Saints game. As the Browns were driving to tie the game, he threw a pick that allowed the Oakland Raiders to seal the victory.
It was a tough pill to swallow for both players. While they’ve often had to wait their turns to get on the field, neither player wants to lose. They both have the desire to play and succeed.
“I don’t like the feeling,” Luke McCown said. “Let’s just put it that way. No competitor likes that feeling. When you feel like you have a chance there at the end and come up short. You never go into the game going, ‘Ah, it’s OK to lose.”
McCown, like most others, hopes Brees is healthy next week. If not, he’ll do everything he can to make sure his next appearance is a win.