FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — So long, Brady and Brees. Hello Mac and Jameis.
In three games between the Saints and Patriots from 2009 to 2017, Drew Brees and Tom Brady were the focal points whenever the teams shared the field.
Including Brees’ time with the Chargers, the matchup between the future Hall of Fame quarterbacks had eight chapters. Brees won five, Brady three. It ended last season when a 43-year-old Brady sent his 42-year-old counterpart into retirement after Brady’s Buccaneers eliminated the Saints from the playoffs.
When New Orleans and New England face off Sunday, it will mark the first time the teams have met since 2005 that Brees and Brady won’t be the opposing quarterbacks.
It hasn’t tamped down the intrigue, with Patriots rookie Mac Jones drawing all kinds of Brady comparisons and the Saints’ Jameis Winston on a mission to prove he can still be a dependable starter after some rocky years in Tampa Bay.
This week is also big for other reasons. Coming off their first win last week against the Jets, the Patriots want to keep that momentum going ahead of the highly anticipated return of Brady in Week 4. The Saints are hoping to bounce back after an ugly 26-7 loss at Carolina.
“The biggest thing, is building on the positives and avoiding the same mistakes, not having the same mistake show up, not having that same action show up,” Winston said.
So far, Winston has looked a bit like the mercurial quarterback he was for much of his first five NFL seasons with Tampa Bay. In Week 1, he passed for five TDs without an interception. In Week 2, he threw two interceptions without a TD pass.
Jones, who followed up his 281-yard, one touchdown passing performance in Week 1 against the Dolphins with a 186-yard effort in last week’s win over the Jets, said he’s learned a lot in his short time as an NFL starter.
“I think we’ve definitely improved, and we just have to continue to do that, so we will,” he said. “It just goes back to practice and fixing what we can fix, and then keeping everything that we know and that we’re good at in our back pocket, and when it comes up, we know how to do it.”
One thing that is helping ease Jones’ transition into his first NFL season is the strong play of New England’s defense.
Led by cornerback J.C. Jackson’s two interceptions, the Patriots had four picks in their win over the Jets and have a plus-3 turnover differential — tied for second in the league. Veteran safety Devin McCourty points to the comfort level Jackson has found in his fourth season.
“He’s starting to understand more football,” McCourty said. “To understand what more offenses are doing. … Last year into this year he’s really been a full-time starter out there playing more plays and I think that’s when you have to start to grow.”
The Saints have been contrite this week about their blocking failures at Carolina in Week 2. They had just six first downs and 128 net yards while Winston had a career-low passer rating of 26.9 after completing 11 of 22 passes for 111 yards and no TDs against two interceptions. Winston was often trying to throw under duress and was sacked three times.
This week, the Saints have been focused on better pre-snap communication at the line of scrimmage.
“I’m confident in me being able to handle that (communication) process with those guys effectively so we can get the protections where they need to be,” Winston said.
After being deactivated in Week 1, Saints first-round draft choice Payton Turner finally made his NFL debut in Week 2. The 6-foot-6, 269-pound defensive end out of Houston was one of the few bright spots in a lopsided loss to the Panthers. He had his first sack and made five tackles, including three for losses.
Saints coach Sean Payton was confident that many of the eight assistant coaches — six on offensive and two on the defensive side — who could not attend the club’s Week 2 loss at Carolina would be available to travel to New England. They all had been vaccinated and needed just two negative tests 24 hours apart to be cleared to return.
“There’s a point where you are just out of it because of time; you’re no longer contagious,” Payton said. “That’s going to involve a handful of them by the end of the week. There’s no way with the current setup that these guys are going to miss New England because we’ll be at the 10-day mark where there’s no longer any risk of giving it to anyone.”
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this report.
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