Teddy Bridgewater ties career-high 4 TDs in Saints win

NEW ORLEANS -- Teddy Bridgewater matched his career high with four touchdown passes on Sunday while throwing for 314 yards in the New Orleans Saints' 31-24 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The 26-year-old reached both of those milestones for the first time since recovering from a major 2016 knee injury suffered while with the Minnesota Vikings -- improving his future free-agency prospects as well as the Saints' Super Bowl hopes in the process.

The Saints (4-1) are now remarkably 3-0 with Bridgewater as their starter following Drew Brees' thumb surgery. And the home crowd responded with chants of "Ted-dy! Ted-dy!" throughout the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after each one of his TD passes.

Bridgewater said the crowd response was "cool." But he continued to insist that his individual statistics "mean nothing to me."

"It's a team sport," Bridgewater said. "The best feeling about today was running off the field, running in the tunnel, seeing the smiles on the fans' faces, and walking in this locker room and seeing the smiles on everyone's faces. That's the No. 1 thing on my mind when I wake up on game day. 'What can I do to help this team win a football game?' And it was a team effort today."

Brees, who posted videos of himself throwing a football on social media Saturday, could be back by the end of the month. But Bridgewater is ensuring that he doesn't have to rush.

Bridgewater completed 26-of-34 passes with one interception Sunday while relying heavily on wide receiver Michael Thomas.

Thomas caught 11 passes for 182 yards and two TDs. Tight end Jared Cook and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. caught the other two scores.

"It should've been five touchdowns," said Bridgewater, who said he feels like he has "the easy job" getting the ball in the hands of his playmakers.

Bridgewater completed his three longest passes of the season on Sunday -- a 42-yarder to Thomas, a 34-yarder to Thomas and the 33-yard TD to Ginn.

"He got into a rhythm," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "And I felt like we did a good job protecting for him, we got the ball down the field more, and a bunch of different guys made some plays. I was happy to see some of the longer throws and the way he played, definitely."

The Saints' game plans were much more conservative in Bridgewater's first two starts at Seattle (because of crowd noise and weather) and vs. Dallas (because of the Cowboys' defense). So Bridgewater faced some criticism over his lackluster statistics after he failed to reach 200 passing yards in either game.

But Bridgewater joked with a reporter on the subject earlier this week when asked about the deep ball, saying, "You sound like social media," and admitting he had to tell his mom to get off social media.

Bridgewater is getting the job done, though, after the Saints made him the highest-paid backup in the NFL on a one-year deal worth $7.25 million plus incentives this past offseason. So as the wins pile up, so do his chances of either becoming Brees' long-term successor in New Orleans or earning some lucrative offers elsewhere around the league in March.