Jacksonville Jaguars preparing for the unknown with New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees ailing

By The Sports Xchange  |  Dec. 24, 2015 at 12:24 AM
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JACKSONVILLE -- The Jaguars may not know until Sunday morning which quarterback they will be facing in New Orleans.

Drew Brees suffered a foot injury Monday night against the Detroit Lions and while he finished the game, coach Sean Payton won't rule him in or out for the Jaguars game. He also won't say whether he'll use veteran Matt Flynn or rookie Garrett Grayson if Brees can't go.

"We're just going to pay attention to, "Hey, each day, where is he at?'" Payton said of Brees. "Look if he's healthy enough to play and we feel there is no further risk, then he'll play. And if the answer is no, then we're going to be prepared for a second plan.

When he was asked who is the second plan, he said, "We'll find out Sunday."

At least the news media won't find out before Sunday.

"Before I let you guys know, it'll be Sunday morning," he said.

As far as Brees wanting to play even if he is hurt, Payton said, "Look, he's a team guy first, and earlier this year when he injured his right shoulder and there was a game against Carolina where he wasn't able to play, he went through each day mentally preparing to play and then really looking at it as the week was finishing up, and it ended up being a game where Luke McCown started. So he's going to put the team first and I think we'll all know (that)."

It was the only game Brees has missed since signing with the Saints in 2006.

McCown has since been placed on injured reserve, so the choice is between Flynn and Grayson.

The result is that Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said he will prepare for all three quarterbacks.

"Every week we look at the backup quarterback," Bradley said. "But whenever there is an injury, I think you spend a little bit more time looking at him, his strengths and weaknesses, what he does and how he operates. We're going into the game with the mindset that Drew will play."

Bradley said they're looking at both Flynn and Grayson as well.

Assuming Brees does play, the question is how effective he will be.

The Jaguars have trouble stopping veteran quarterbacks. In the past month, Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers and Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons came into EverBank Field with six-game losing streaks and both won.

Not since the 16-game schedule started in 1978 has a home team lost to two road teams in the same season with six-game losing streaks.

But with Brees ailing, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles may be able to outscore the Saints because he is facing a New Orleans team that has given up 39 touchdown passes this year.

Payton fired coordinator Rob Ryan and installed Dennis Allen, who was fired as head coach by the Oakland Raiders last year, as the defensive coordinator, but it hasn't made much difference.

Both teams have 5-9 records, but the Saints have been eliminated while the Jaguars have a longshot chance to make the playoffs if they win their last two regular-season games and Houston and Indianapolis both lose their last two.

--Running back T.J. Yeldon may miss his second game in a row with his sprained MCL. He didn't practice Wednesday and coach Gus Bradley said he will be day-to-day.

Meanwhile, Denard Robinson had a full practice session with his foot injury, so he figures to start after getting just 28 yards in 14 carries last week against Atlanta.

Robinson may do better against the New Orleans defense that is ranked 31st and is the worst in the league against the rush and 30th against the pass.

--Not surprisingly, the Jaguars didn't have any players named to the Pro Bowl, but Allen Robinson, the first alternate at wide receiver, figures to play in the game because some players usually drop out. Robinson is tied for the NFL lead among wide receivers with 13 touchdowns and seventh in yardage with 1,141, but is tied for 22nd with 69 catches.

Robinson wasn't upset about being overlooked.

"That wasn't my main focus this year," he said. "It's really an honor to be an alternate in that category. A lot of people said I should have gotten in, but this is how it played out."

Robinson said he would be "pretty cool" to play in the game if one of the other receivers drops out.

Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said, "I think it's great."

"It really shows up for the whole team," he said. "So many people are part of it, but here's a guy that's worked extremely hard. A credit to a lot of people, the scheme, the offensive line, the quarterback, but ultimately he did a good job this year so that's cool to see."

--Blake Bortles, who threw a critical interception from the Atlanta 1-yard line last week, said he tries not to beat himself up.

"You try not to be down on yourself," he said. "Somebody told me one time that if you talk to somebody else the way you talk to yourself, would they be friends with you? Try to think about your relationship with yourself.

"Everybody is a little tougher on themselves than they are other people and I think that's normal and natural. Being able to (have) short-term memory and forget it and learn from it is the biggest thing, to not be so upset and made about it that you don't take anything from it."

New Orleans coach Sean Payton said that when Bortles scrambles, he is looking to throw rather than to run and Bradley said it's a challenge to make sure that he keeps his eyes downfield.

MEDICAL WATCH: Linebacker Telvin Smith (shoulder/finger) missed a practice for the first time in his two-year career and his status will be updated later in the week. ... Wide receiver Allen Hurns didn't practice Wednesday with a thigh injury but is likely to play. ... Linebacker Paul Posluszny practiced Wednesday with his broken hand and will play. ... Wide receiver Bryan Walters, who missed last week's game with a back injury, practiced and is likely to be ready to play.

SERIES HISTORY: Sixth regular-season meeting. The Saints lead the series, 3-2, although they lost the most memorable game in 2003 when they scored a touchdown on the "River City Relay" as time expired. It started with a pass from Aaron Brooks to Donte Stallworth and was lateraled three times before Jerome Pathon scored to cap a 75-yard play and cut the Jaguars' deficit to 20-19. All they needed was the extra point to send the game into overtime, but John Carney, who had to wait while the officials reviewed it, missed. In the last meeting in 2011 at EverBank Field, the Saints won, 23-10. Drew Brees passed for 351 yards and a touchdown and had two picks. Blaine Gabbert was the Jaguars' quarterback and passed for 196 and a touchdown with one pick.

GAME PLAN: The Jaguars will be trying for balance running and passing after Denard Robinson got only 14 carries last week and Blake Bortles threw 38 times. The Jaguars figure to be able to move the ball against a Saints defense that is one of the worst in the league. The Saints are 31st in yardage allowed, 32nd against the run and 30th against the pass. The Jaguars figure to be able to gain yardage with both the run and the pass so they don't want to become too one-dimensional.

Defensively, they are preparing for Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who may not be able to play due to a foot injury. In that case, Matt Flynn or Garrett Grayson will start, ratcheting up the importance of the ground game for New Orleans.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Jaguars WRs Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns vs. Saints CBs Brandon Browner and Delvin Breaux: Both Robinson, who 69 catches, and Hurns, who has 53 catches, are having impressive second seasons and figure to exploit the Saints' struggling corners.

--Jaguars CBs Davon House and Aaron Colvin and nickel back Nick Marshall vs. Saints WRs Brandin Cooks, who has 74 catches, Willie Snead, who has 62 catches, and Marques Colston, who has 45: This would be a particularly tough matchup for the Jaguars corners if Brees were healthy but since he will play hurt if he plays at all, the Jaguars may have an edge.

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