The New Orleans Saints and the Jacksonville Jaguars have both had to turn to backup quarterbacks because of an injury. And each No. 2 has taken advantage of the opportunity presented to them as the Saints visit the Jaguars on Sunday afternoon.
The Saints are 3-0 since Teddy Bridgewater became the starter when Drew Brees was sidelined by thumb surgery that could keep him out another month. The Jaguars are 2-2 since rookie Gardner Minshew II became the starter. Jacksonville had to call on the late-round pick when Nick Foles was sidelined by a broken collarbone in the season opener that will keep him out until at least Week 11.
"I think it was understood that we still had goals that we had to achieve in this locker room and that we would still set out to accomplish those goals and that we still needed to do what we can to pick up the pieces in an absence of Drew and make sure that we came out there and played each and every game hard," said tight end Jared Cook, who had his biggest game of the season last week against Tampa Bay. "I think that's the most important thing that we have been doing is racking up wins and continuing the momentum that we left off with Drew." As well as Bridgewater has played - 75 percent completion rate, 849 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions - he has shared the spotlight with a New Orleans defense that has contributed significantly to a road win against Seattle and home wins against Dallas and Tampa Bay.
The Saints (4-1), who allowed just 94 rushing yards to the Buccaneers, sacked Jameis Winston six times last week and all six sacks were made by defensive linemen. "I think all of us in that room take pride in stopping the run and rushing the passer, playing on both sides," defensive tackle David Onyemata said.
Jacksonville (2-3) has been less consistent than New Orleans, but the two losses with Minshew at quarterback have been by narrow margins (13-12 at Houston and 34-27 at Carolina last week.) "Consistency is the name of the game and we haven't played very consistent," Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell said. "We really put ourselves in bad positions and it's cost us multiple times this season."
Minshew, a sixth-round draft choice from Washington State, has a higher passer rating than quarterbacks such as Brees, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan. He has been helped the last two weeks by Leonard Fournette, who has had consecutive 100-yard games, which included a career-high 225 yards in a win at Denver two weeks ago. Fournette has 333 rushing yards and a touchdown the past two weeks.
"It's exciting to know points are being put up," Campbell said. "The confidence that they're going to score points has never been higher since I've been here. It should motivate us on defense." Last week the Panthers rushed for 285 of their 445 yards. Christian McCaffery rushed for 176 yards and two touchdowns and had 61 receiving yards and another touchdown.
The Saints have a similar dual-threat running back in Alvin Kamara. "If I'm Kamara and I see the (Jaguars-Panthers) tape, I'm licking my chops," Campbell said. "He's elusive, hard-running, tough, strong, fast ... he's getting excited. We made a lot of mistakes (against Carolina) but mistakes that can be cleaned up. If we play with good technique and leverage, we can make it hard on him."
It's possibly Campbell and Company could get All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey back on the field after he missed two games with a back injury. The hurt became a headline only after Ramsey requested a trade, but he returned to practice for the first time in 21 days on Wednesday, albeit in a limited capacity. Ramsey could be a big boost for the Jaguars if he can play, checking Saints standout Michael Thomas.
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