Saints backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had a simple messages for his teammates before Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.
"He told us it's just like having a substitute teacher," said Saints fullback Zach Line.
The regular teacher, Saints starting quarterback Drew Brees, stood on the sideline Sunday, sitting out the regular-season finale against the Carolina Panthers.
On Sunday, Bridgewater made his first start since the playoffs after the 2015 season, when he was playing with the Minnesota Vikings.
He missed all of the 2016 season and all but one game of last season after recovering from a devastating knee injury suffered in the summer of 2016. The Saints acquired Bridgewater from the New York Jets in the preseason, but he had only played briefly in mop-up duty this season before being given the keys to the offense Sunday.
Bridgewater wasn't nervous about his first start in almost two three years. He listened to the Notorious B.I.G. song "Juicy" as he walked to the stadium on Sunday. There was something about the song's opening lyrics, "It was all a dream," that got his juices flowing.
"That song took me back to the way I grew up and I was able to relive everything I've been going though," Bridgewater said. "It was all a dream. Usually when you have a dream, you go to sleep and wake up and you forget where that dream ended. It's not often you get to wake up and remember and live that dream twice. I'm blessed to be in this position to continue my dream and pick up where it left off."
Bridgewater got the loudest ovation of the day when he ran onto the field for the Saints' opening drive.
"It was a pretty cool moment just running out there," Bridgewater said. "It's been a long time. I'm grateful for that moment, grateful for that opportunity. It's something I'll remember for the rest of my career."
Bridgewater completed 14 of 22 passes for 118 yards and had one touchdown and one interception.
"I thought the one interception was a play he'd like to have back," said coach Sean Payton. "But he did a good job. He had a great week of practice."
One of Bridgewater's biggest plays came early in the second quarter when he scrambled and then broke loose for a 9-yard run to convert on third-and-5. He also threw a touchdown to Tre'Quan Smith in the fourth quarter. It was his first touchdown pass since Dec. 27 when he threw one against the New York Giants.
The substitute teacher graded his performance in what ended up being a 33-14 loss as "decent."
He said it helped having a quarterback like Brees on the sideline to give him tips throughout the game.
"Drew's a guy you can lean on when he's not out there," Bridgewater said. "That's something I learned today. He's a second pair of eyes. But it's not just any pair of second set of eyes. It's a guy who has a ton of playing experience who will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks to play this game. So when you can come off the field and listen to Drew tell you what he saw and go back out there, it serves as a bonus to you."
Teammates were pleased with Bridgewater's presence in the huddle.
"Teddy brings that juice," Line said. "He's got the play calls down now, so he's quick in the huddle and just keeps things light. If he's tight, the rest of the huddle gets tight, and that's just not how Teddy is. He's out there to have fun and play this game and obviously wants to win and he made that very clear."
For Bridgewater, Sunday had been a long time coming. Despite not getting the final results he wanted, it was good to start again.
"I just wanted to get back into the rhythm playing football," Bridgewater said. "That was my biggest goal. Having good energy, tempo in and out of the huddle. I thought we did a good job of that. It was great just calling plays, looking those guys into the eyes and instilling that confidence in the guys. It was a fun feeling."