Teddy Bridgewater throws first TD pass in over 3 years

NEW ORLEANS -- Teddy Bridgewater threw his first touchdown pass in more than three years on Sunday, the latest milestone in his comeback from a devastating 2016 knee injury.

Bridgewater, 26, started for the New Orleans Saints in place of Drew Brees since New Orleans already had clinched the NFC's No. 1 seed. He completed the 9-yard TD pass to rookie receiver Tre'Quan Smith early in the fourth quarter in a 33-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

Bridgewater said the touchdown was "very satisfying."

"Honestly, I just wanted to get back into the rhythm of playing football. That was my biggest goal today," Bridgewater said. "Having good energy, good tempo, in and out of the huddle. And I think we did a good job of that today. That was my biggest goal coming into today -- just getting back into the rhythm, calling plays, looking those guys in the eyes and instilling confidence into those guys. And it was a fun feeling."

Bridgewater's last NFL start came with the Minnesota Vikings during a playoff loss to Seattle after the 2016 regular season. He said earlier this week that he had "the chills" just thinking about starting again.

"I said this a year ago, that usually when you have a dream, you go to sleep and you wake up and you forget where that dream ended. It's not often you get to wake up and remember and live that dream twice," Bridgewater said. "And I'm blessed to be in this position that I'm in to continue my dream and pick it up right where I left off."

Bridgewater, who could be in high demand as an unrestricted free agent after this season now that he has proved he is healthy, also threw an interception later in the fourth quarter and finished 14-of-22 for 118 yards with a touchdown and interception.

"I thought he did a good job," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "I thought the one interception was a play he'd like to have back. But he did a good job. He had a great week of practice."

Bridgewater's return wasn't the only remarkable injury comeback in Sunday's game for the Saints. Veteran offensive lineman Derek Newton entered the game early in the first quarter to replace starter Andrus Peat at left tackle -- Newton's first game action since he tore both of his patellar tendons at the same time with the Houston Texans in 2016.

Newton, 31, said he believes that no other player has ever returned to play in a NFL game after tearing both patellar tendons at the same time. He said he spent nearly two months in a hospital bed after surgery.

By sitting on Sunday, Brees officially set the NFL's record for completion percentage in a season for the fourth time in his career at 74.4 percent -- shattering the mark of 72.0 percent he set last year.

Also, Saints receiver Michael Thomas broke Joe Horn's franchise record with 1,405 receiving yards in a season after catching a 6-yard pass from Bridgewater on the touchdown drive. Horn was in the building wearing a Thomas jersey.