Yes, he's 2-0, but the Saints will need more from Teddy Bridgewater

METAIRIE, La. -- Is it possible for Teddy Bridgewater's 2-0 start as Drew Brees' replacement to be considered both remarkable and lackluster?

Well, yes, it has been remarkable when you consider the opponents he faced at Seattle and vs. Dallas.

And definitely when you factor in the uncharacteristic struggles of the New Orleans Saints' offensive line, which has helped the team lead the NFL with 20 offensive penalties the past three weeks.

So even though Bridgewater threw in a playful “sorry to fantasy teams and things like that” after the Saints’ 12-10 slugfest win over the Cowboys on Sunday, he doesn’t have to apologize for his lack of style points so far.

But he isn’t getting a free pass, either.

Bridgewater knows that at some point the Saints (3-1) will need more from him -- and perhaps he can start providing it this week at home against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that ranks 30th in the NFL in points allowed and 31st in passing yards allowed.

"He can play better -- and I think he would tell you the same thing," Saints coach Sean Payton said Sunday after his first victory in a game in which his team didn’t score a touchdown. “But he’s won two games in a row with understanding what we’re doing.

“He made some big plays for us [Sunday], and we’re gonna need him to. And I think he can improve. I think all of us can improve with the tempo.”

The Saints’ game plans have been fairly conservative the past two weeks to combat the crowd noise and rainy weather at Seattle and a difficult defense against Dallas. It helped that Bridgewater never trailed by more than three points in either start, thanks to the defense and special teams.

But chances are we won’t see another 12-10 game against a Tampa team that just beat the Los Angeles Rams 55-40 in L.A. on Sunday. When the Buccaneers (2-2) came into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Week 1 last season, they beat the Saints 48-40.

It’s possible that we could see the training wheels come off Bridgewater if this game plays out anything like those did.

"Each week as I’m playing and getting that experience and getting more confident, of course we all have to get on the same page and stop shooting ourselves in the foot ... and it starts with me. I’m gonna challenge these guys as the weeks go on -- and challenge myself to play with more sense of an urgency and more tempo," said Bridgewater, who took his share of the blame for Sunday's inconsistent performance, which included seven flags for offensive penalties, five sacks, an 0-for-4 in the red zone and game-management issues at the end of each half.

Bridgewater has completed one of seven pass attempts that traveled more than 15 yards in the air the past three weeks since he replaced Brees in the first quarter of New Orleans’ Week 2 loss at the Rams. His 185 passing yards per game are the lowest in the NFL among QBs who have played two full games the past two weeks. His 5.26 air yards per attempt are also the lowest in the league in that span.

All of which led ESPN analyst Bill Barnwell to suggest that Bridgewater has been a “passenger” in the Saints’ past two victories while labeling him as the team’s biggest concern until Brees returns from thumb surgery in a month or so.

Still, Bridgewater has turned the ball over once in his three games. And that turnover wasn’t really his fault, given that he scrambled on third-and-long Sunday and threw a catchable pass downfield that bounced off the hands of receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and was intercepted.

Bridgewater completed an efficient 23 of 30 passes for 193 yards in Sunday's victory while directing a game-defining field goal drive in the third and fourth quarters that lasted 9:06. It was the second-longest drive by any team in the NFL this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“I base everything around my past couple years,” said Bridgewater, who missed almost two full seasons after a devastating knee injury with the Minnesota Vikings in the summer of 2016. “The past couple years I had zero stats. The stat box said zero in every column. But the one stat that did add up for me the past couple years were the Ws. I was winning in life. So I approach the game with that mindset.

“Like, man, I’m not playing this game for numbers. I don’t care to impress anyone. Sorry to fantasy teams and things like that. But I play this game for those guys in that locker room, and we all come in here with one thing on our mind … winning games.

“I could care less about the numbers. I’ll leave the numbers to Mike Thomas, Alvin Kamara and those guys."

The Saints don’t need Bridgewater to do it all. They do have one of the NFL’s most talented and balanced rosters starting with Thomas and Kamara.

This approach is nothing new for the 26-year-old Bridgewater. The former first-round draft pick won a lot of games with this same style in Minnesota, leading the Vikings to an 11-5 record and the playoffs in his second NFL season in 2015. He ranked 32nd in the NFL that year with 6.62 air yards per attempt.

In both places, however, he earned the respect of his teammates for his ability to win and lead.

“Teddy did a great job [Sunday], just controlling the huddle. And it’s just awesome to see him continue to do what he was doing with Minnesota when I was with him, and he was just a leader,” said Saints fullback Zach Line, who also began his career with the Vikings.

“I was literally 5 feet from him when that [knee injury] happened,” Line said. “And to see the change in him as a person really from that happening is … you know, you’re never promised a next snap. You can say that, preach that, but until you go through that, it doesn’t really mean anything. So when he preaches that in the huddle, you just don’t take it for granted.

“I've seen where he came from. It was a bad, bad injury. For him to be back where he is, I’m super proud of him. It’s just special for me to see him back there doing what he does and doing it really well.”