Saints could face Panthers without QB Drew Brees

This was supposed to be the week the Carolina Panthers finally faced an elite quarterback.

Maybe not.

The New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees has a shoulder injury that could sideline him for multiple games, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, citing sources.

ESPN reported an MRI exam showed Brees did not sustain a serious shoulder injury, and his status would depend on his response to treatment. The Saints (0-2) travel to Carolina (2-0) this weekend.

Brees took a big hit during the second quarter of a 26-19 loss to Tampa Bay and said after the game he was hindered on several throws as a result.

The Saints signed veteran quarterback Luke McCown during the offseason and drafted former Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson in the third round this year.

McCown, 34, is 2-7 in nine starts over his 12-year career. He hasn't started a game since 2011, when he was with Jacksonville.

Grayson broke all of Colorado State's major passing records and was the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year in 2014. Grayson, 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, completed 8 of 15 passes for 118 yards in the Senior Bowl.

In their first two games, the Panthers played against Jaguars second-year quarterback Blake Bortles and Houston's Ryan Mallett, who made his third career start Sunday in the Panthers' 24-17 victory.

After beating the Texans, a couple of Panthers defensive players took exception to the notion that they hadn't yet faced a quality passer.

"This is the NFL," defensive lineman Kawann Short said. "Every quarterback that has the chance to be in there, they're something special."

Brees, 36, hasn't missed a play because of injury in his nine-plus seasons in New Orleans.

The Panthers have their own injury concerns.

A day after a marathon victory against Houston, Panthers coach Ron Rivera gave his players Monday off to recover from a game that took three hours, 39 minutes to finish.

But middle linebacker Luke Kuechly was at the stadium Monday. By Wednesday, Kuechly could be back on the practice field.

Rivera hopes Kuechly can participate in non-contact drills at Wednesday's practice, but said the two-time Pro Bowler still needs to be cleared by an independent neurologist.

Kuechly missed his first NFL game Sunday with a concussion he sustained during a Week 1 win at Jacksonville. He has yet to visit the independent doctor, which is the final step in the league's concussion protocol before a player can return to practice or a game.

"I'm hoping if he does see the independent that he does pass and we get to see him in non-contact (drills) on Wednesday," Rivera said at his weekly news conference.

While Kuechly is potentially returning to the lineup, the Panthers' already thin receiving corps could be missing another member.

Veteran wideout Jerricho Cotchery's status for this week's game against New Orleans is in question after he injured his right ankle in the first half of the 24-17 win against the Texans.

Rivera said Cotchery has a high ankle sprain, an injury that often requires a four- to six-week recovery period.

But Rivera hopes that Cotchery was able to return to the game he later left for good after a total of 11 snaps is a sign he could play against the Saints.

"The high ankle sprain does tend to linger," Rivera said. "Just the fact that he was able to come back and play on it like he did before it got stiff, the doctors feel that hopefully he'll be ready to go this week."

Rivera's timeline with Cotchery might be overly optimistic. Panthers second-year Bene' Benwikere missed six games last season with a high ankle sprain.

Losing Cotchery for multiple games would further test the depth of a receiving group that saw No. 1 wideout Kelvin Benjamin go down with a season-ending ACL tear during training camp.

"He's got an important role for us," Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula said of Cotchery. "So we're going to have to figure out if he can't go or whenever he comes back how we're going to fill it. It'll probably be by committee, would be my gut feeling."

Second-year wideout Brenton Bersin, who's on the Panthers' practice squad, could be an option if Cotchery is sidelined. Bersin, who caught 13 passes for 151 yards last season, knows the slot position that Cotchery plays.

Rivera said the Saints are still finding their footing after turning over a lot of their roster during the offseason, an overhaul that started with the trade of Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham to Seattle.

"New Orleans is a good football team that's struggling right now. They're 0-2," Rivera said. "They're a divisional foe. They know us. We know them. They're going to come in here fired up ready to play."

As for the Panthers, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said players were pumped Sunday when they came into the locker room at the half and found Kuechly waiting for them. Kuechly watched the game on a TV in the training room, but spoke to his teammates at halftime.

"He wants to be out there and he can't. But yet we come in at halftime and he's right there with the guys," McDermott said. "What a great picture that was. Getting the guys fired up again and they're responding. It's peer-driven leadership."

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