The New Orleans Saints are without Drew Brees again but the supporting cast behind him has changed.
The Saints went 5-0 with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback in 2019 while Brees recovered from thumb surgery.
Now they face the visiting Atlanta Falcons on Sunday as Brees begins an indefinite absence due to rib and lung injuries. Former Tampa Bay starter Jameis Winston is expected to replace Brees, though Taysom Hill could also take some snaps from center in addition to his usual reps at a variety of skill positions.
"They are different type players," Saints coach Sean Payton said of Winston and Hill. "We want efficient play from that position."
That's what they got from Bridgewater last season in victories against Seattle, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Chicago, earning Bridgewater a starting position in Carolina via free agency.
Winston has a similar opportunity to show that he, too, is ready to handle a starting position again, though Hill is considered a potential successor to the 41-year-old Brees.
Whoever plays quarterback Sunday will try to get the football regularly to Alvin Kamara, who is second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage. Kamara leads the Saints in both rushing and receiving yards, is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and has scored 11 total touchdowns.
The Saints (7-2) have won six straight games, including a 27-13 home victory against San Francisco last Sunday. Winston and Hill shared snaps in the second half after Brees was injured in the second quarter.
Winston completed 6 of 10 passes for 63 yards and Hill rushed eight times for 45 yards and lost a fumble.
New Orleans had its most significant injury report of the season Wednesday. In addition to Brees, defensive end Cameron Jordan (back), wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith (concussion) and tight end Josh Hill (concussion) missed practice.
Atlanta (3-6) is coming off its bye and is 3-1 under interim head coach Raheem Morris since he replaced the fired Dan Quinn. The Falcons won their last two games before the bye, including a 34-27 victory against Denver on Nov. 8.
"We're stressing finishing games," Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell said. "We've been playing well, especially the last couple of games. We have to finish and put games away. If we do that, we'll finish the season strong."
The Saints didn't play the Falcons during Brees' absence last season. The NFC South rivals split their meetings as visiting Atlanta prevailed 26-9 in Brees' second game back and New Orleans prevailed 26-18 on Thanksgiving night to clinch its third consecutive NFC South title.
"We know they are going to come ready to play," Morris said. "Everybody probably felt the same way when they went 5-0 with Teddy. They are not going to sneak up on anybody. We'll be ready."
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, like Brees until recently, has stayed healthy for virtually his entire 13-year career.
"You have to be lucky," Ryan said. "I'm very proud of the fact that in the better part of 13 years I've only missed three games.
"It's been a lot of fun to play in this matchup for a long time. I think (New Orleans) has been a team that we've gone against that's been good for the better part of the last decade."
Atlanta, which hosts New Orleans in two weeks, likely will be without defensive end Dante Fowler, who was placed on the reserve/COVID list last Saturday. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley was limited in practice Wednesday because of a foot injury.
--Field Level Media