Drew Brees isn't having the statistical blockbuster of a season that he has been accustomed to, but the New Orleans Saints quarterback likes the trajectory of a young team that does not have to rely on his heroics every week to outscore an opponent.
The Saints (9-4) will host the New York Jets (5-8) on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and Brees is hoping to shake off the disappointment of throwing an end zone interception in the final two minutes of a 20-17 road loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 7.
That game ended with 10 Saints players leaving the field with injuries.
The Saints have had 10 days to rest up and prepare for the Jets, who have played opponents closely but will have to go with backup quarterback Bryce Petty, a third-year player but rare starter out of Baylor. Starting quarterback Josh McCown broke his left hand last week in a 23-0 shutout loss to the Denver Broncos and is out for the season.
Brees said the Saints, who can win the NFC South by sweeping their final three games (they close with a home game against Atlanta and a road game against Tampa Bay), simply have to take care of their own business.
"I live by the motto you can only worry about the things you can control," said Brees, who despite throwing the late interception against the Falcons is on pace for the lowest interception total of his career (seven) and the best completion percentage (71.7) in NFL history. "What we can control is right in front of us. If we keep winning, then all of our hopes and dreams are alive."
The Saints got a huge piece of good news this week. After sustaining a concussion in the first series of the loss to Atlanta, rookie running back Alvin Kamara has practiced full all week, and his presence will be a lift to the Saints' two-headed running attack and screen game, also the responsibility of Mark Ingram II.
Brees said he liked the way the Saints' younger players came back to work on Wednesday after licking their wounds for a week.
"You sit back and observe how this team is reacting to all of this, and I think we're really steady," Brees said. "(In our first practice) there was no hangover from that. We're on to our next opponent, the next opportunity, the next challenge.
"What we control is our effort, performance and execution. If you can maintain your mindset, you're focusing on how good you can be from week to week. You need to be playing your best football now. This is when we continue to stack the bricks on top of each other."
Saints coach Sean Payton said although there is not much videotape of Petty playing in live action, he does see a quarterback who can scramble to hurt a defense. Petty played five series against the Broncos last week after McCown went down and completed just 2-of-9 passes for 14 yards, and the Jets punted four times.
"He can run when the pocket breaks down," Payton said. "He can scramble and flush and make yards with his feet. He can beat you with his arm when he scrambles, but we have to study what we do have and pay attention to the situations as an offense as they handle third down, red zone and those types of things."
Jets coach Todd Bowles said he is confident Petty will react well to the starting assignment.
"It's an opportunity for him," Bowles said. "He knows he's got an opportunity to step up and make plays, and we look forward to seeing him play. He's been taking notes on the sideline from Josh. ... Mentally, I know he's come a long way. He's learned a lot from Josh standing on the sideline, but until he plays physically, we won't know that answer."
The Jets compiled only 100 yards in total offense against Denver, and Petty will be making only his fifth career start and his first since Week 16 last year.
"I think Bryce is going to come in prepared and he's going to be ready to go," said Jets receiver Jermaine Kearse. "His energy is high. His presence in the huddle is there. He has the ability to make tough throws and be able to extend the play. I think that's one thing that's going to come in handy for us."
The Jets will try to run the ball to provide some balance and relieve the pressure on Petty, but running backs Matt Forte (knee) and Elijah McGuire (ankle) did not practice on Wednesday. They will have to give Bilal Powell the lion's share of carries.
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