Drew Brees may have been kept off the field by a bruised rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder on Sunday.
But Brees was far from out of action entirely.
Brees wore a headset on the sideline, gave backup Luke McCown as much help as he could, and lived and died with each twist and turn in the Saints’ 27-22 loss, an active presence on the sideline for the Saints.
“I told him a little while ago, it was literally like I could feel you in the huddle beside me,” McCown said in the post-game press conference. “Believe it or not, it’s not the easiest thing to drop back and be able to see each position and where they’re dropping and how this safety’s playing, and it’s nice to go to the sidelines and have his pair of eyes, to just kind of confirm what you’d seen the play before.”
Deciding that he’d have to miss the first start of his Saints career wasn’t easy for Brees, a fact he admitted to Fox reporters in preparation for the broadcast. Brees, who continues to rehab the injury, also told reporters he’s optimistic he can return from the injury next week against the Cowboys, provided the strength returns in his throwing shoulder.
Brees treated Sunday’s game as if he was starting. Brees did an extensive stretching and workout routine in the pregame and led the Saints’ team chant before warmups, the same way he always does.
“He was real positive,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “You know, they look at the pictures and just communicated some things he was seeing. ... I think overall, he was just real supportive and into the game.”
McCown wasn’t the only Saint thrown into the fire by injury.
Backup offensive lineman Senio Kelemete made the first start of his NFL career, thrown into action by a right knee injury to six-time Pro BowlerJahri Evans. Evans did not practice all week, and Kelemete didn’t know he’d be stepping in for Evans until Friday.
The versatile third-year interior lineman stepped up to the challenge against a well-respected Carolina front.
“Senio Kelemete, coming in from Jahri and playing a great game,” McCown said. “I was really proud of our preparation and the way we played this game.”
Kelemete, a fifth-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2012, played in 10 games last season, almost all of it on special teams. But his versatility has made him a valuable backup on the offensive line. Kelemete spent training camp learning to play center, and if anything happened to Max Unger, he’d be next up at that position, too.
“Overall, I thought he played pretty well,” Payton said. “It’s hard to tell specifically with some of the individual technique, but we’ll see that on film.”
Unable to go
Two key pieces of the Saints’ starting defense hoped to return to the field Sunday.
Veteran cornerback Keenan Lewis (hip) and weak-side linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (toe) had both been listed as questionable, and both had harbored high hopes that they’d be able to return against Carolina. Ellerbe has participated in individual drills in practice for two weeks, and Lewis returned to the practice field this week, making an early return from a surgery that initially was supposed to keep him out four to six weeks.
Both Ellerbe and Lewis did a little work on the field in the pregame, stretching and lunging, but the Saints ultimately decided to hold out both players, delaying their returns another week. New Orleans now could bring back Lewis, Ellerbe and safety Jairus Byrd, who did some work in individual drills on the practice field this week before being declared out on Friday, against the Dallas Cowboys next week.
In addition to the injured starters, rookie defensive tackle Kaleb Eulls, who missed the trip because of illness, and rookie defensive end Obum Gwacham, who had played eight snaps against the Buccaneers, rounded out the inactive list for the Saints.