But, man oh man, these Saints just continue to prove each week that they’re going to be all right if he doesn’t rush back.
The Saints (6-1) are a stunning 5-0 since Brees underwent thumb surgery. On Sunday, they somehow played their best game yet in a 36-25 win over the Chicago Bears, even though they went into the game without injured running back Alvin Kamara or tight end Jared Cook against the Bears’ highly touted defense.
There weren’t enough game balls to go around after this one, which was much more lopsided than the final score indicated because of two late Bears touchdowns.
But you can start with coach Sean Payton, who put an exclamation point on his early case for NFL Coach of the Year. And you need to hand one to pretty much every member of a defense that has been absolutely dominant in Brees’ absence.
Defensive end Cameron Jordan led the way with two sacks for the second week in a row (he now has seven on the season) for a defense that held Chicago to a total of 252 yards. Safety J.T. Gray blocked a punt, and safety Vonn Bell and DE Marcus Davenport forced fumbles to dominate the turnover battle.
Pivotal play: It didn’t take long for the Saints to set the tone in a game that was expected to be defined by defense and special-teams play. Gray blocked a punt, which led to a safety and a quick 2-0 lead just four plays into the game.
Pivotal player: Veteran running back Latavius Murray did a more than admirable job in Kamara’s absence. Murray ran the ball 27 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns, and he caught five passes for 31 yards. Murray had not played a substantial role early this season (running for a total of 138 yards and one touchdown in the first six games combined). But this kind of dependability is a big reason the Saints grabbed him in free agency to replace Mark Ingram.
Saints receiver Michael Thomas also proved to be maybe the most dependable playmaker in the league, with nine more catches for 131 yards, on a day when the Bears knew he was the one player they had to stop at all costs.
QB breakdown: Go ahead and hand out two of those game balls to QBs Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill. Bridgewater got off to a somewhat slow start Sunday. But he began to heat up a bit as the Saints piled on in the second half, finishing 23-of-38 passing for 281 yards, two touchdowns, zero turnovers and at least two key third-down scrambles. Bridgewater is now a remarkable 5-0 as the Saints’ starter. He has been more solid than spectacular, but you can’t argue with his ratio of nine TD passes to two turnovers in six games played.
Meanwhile, Hill provided a spark in his swiss-army-knife role. First, he gained 23 yards on third-and-1 when Bridgewater handed the ball to fullback Zach Line, and Line pitched it to Hill. Then Hill finished the drive by catching a 4-yard TD pass.
Disturbing trend: The Saints’ win would have been much more dominant if not for several special-teams miscues. They allowed a 102-yard kickoff return to the Bears’ Cordarrelle Patterson. They had their own punt return for a TD nullified by a holding penalty against Line. They gave up an onside kick (it was almost two) late in the game.