NEW ORLEANS (AP) — If playing on an injured right foot wasn't challenging enough, Drew Brees also took the field with a Saints offense missing several starters, including franchise all-time receiving yards leader Marques Colston, running back Mark Ingram and right tackle Zach Strief.
Coach Sean Payton had also decided that C.J. Spiller had yet to regain the form he possesses before preseason knee surgery, so he was held out, replaced by newly re-acquired running back Travaris Cadet, who'd been claimed off of waivers this past week.
There were plenty of pitfalls and excuses to fail, but Brees hardly appeared fazed. Instead, he put together the 13th 400-yard passing game of his career, throwing for three touchdowns in a 38-27 triumph over Jacksonville on Sunday.
"People might say we have nothing to play for as far as playoffs and such, but we have a lot to play for," said Brees, who passed for 412 yards. "We're continuing to build what is going to be a great team for years to come."
Tim Hightower added 122 yards and two touchdowns rushing for New Orleans (6-9), which needs to win its season finale in Atlanta next Sunday to avoid what would be its first 10-loss season since Payton became coach in 2006.
The Jaguars (5-10) were eliminated from playoff contention when Houston beat Tennessee as the Jacksonville-New Orleans matchup was just kicking off. Yet the Jags also have several young players whose performances have created optimism about the franchise's future. Coach Gus Bradley wanted to see the development of those players remain on track in New Orleans. In the case of second-year quarterback Blake Bortles, as well as top receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, the day didn't go so poorly.
Jacksonville was doomed by a slow start on a day when Brees seemed locked in, much like he had been against Detroit six days earlier, when he tore his plantar fascia in the second quarter and passed for 341 yards and three scores.
"We expected him to play. All we could go off of was the little bit we saw of Detroit," Bradley said. "It didn't seem to hamper him at all."
Some things to know about Jaguars-Saints:
BREES' NUMBERS: Brees was 25 of 36 without a turnover while tying Dan Marino for second all-time in the number of 400-yard passing games, one behind Peyton Manning's 14. His touchdowns went for 17 yards to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, 71 yards to Brandin Cooks and 44 yards to Cadet.
Brees mobility was restricted, he said, but that only seemed to sharpen his focus in the pocket and make him more decisive. He completed 25 of 36 passes without a turnover.
"Maybe the only thing you could draw a parallel to, or compare it to, is when you have one of your senses taken away, your other senses are heightened," Brees said.
BORDLES' ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Bortles passed for 368 yards and four touchdowns, giving him his sixth 300-yard passing game this season, tying the franchise single-season mark set by Mark Brunell.
REACHING 1,000: One receiver from each team crossed the 1,000-yard plateau for a single season. Hurns caught eight passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns to give Jacksonville its second 1,000-yard receiver, joining Robinson, who'd reached 1,000 earlier this season and who had 151 yards receiving, including a 90-yards TD.
For the Saints, second-year receiver Cooks had 123 yards, giving him 1,116 yards to go with nine TDs in his second pro season.
DUBIOUS DISTINCTION: Bortles' four TDs meant the Saints have allowed 43 scoring passes this season, eclipsing the old NFL record of 40 in one season by the 1963 Denver Broncos, who went 2-11-1 in a 14-game season. It took the Saints 15 games to give up their 40th TD passing.
HIGH ON HIGHTOWER: Hightower had not played in the three previous seasons because of a knee injury and subsequent complications but is looking increasingly rejuvenated. He showed burst on a 26-yard run and finished with 169 yards from scrimmage.
Hightower said the opportunity the Saints gave him to come back is "not something that I take lightly or for granted."
Brees said the Saints have been lifted by Hightower's performances in their past two victories.
"Obviously the road that he's traveled, trying to get back to where he's playing, playing at a high level, certainly says a lot about him," Brees said. "We all feed off of him and I'm inspired watching that guy run."