Drew Brees expresses support for Armstead and says his ‘heart hurts’ over for Hartley’s departure

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton talks with quarterback Drew Brees (9) on the sidelines in the first half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Scott Eklund) ORG XMIT: OTK

Saints quarterback Drew Brees on Wednesday expressed his confidence in newly-minted starting left tackle Terron Armstead and admitted his “heart hurts” for kicker Garrett Hartley, who helped New Orleans win Super Bowl XLIV but had missed eight field-goal tries this season and was waived Tuesday.

Asked what he might tell rookie Armstead as he prepares for his first career start at Carolina on Sunday, Brees said, “‘Here we go, big fella. Here’s your opportunity, and I’m behind you 100 percent.’ I have a ton of confidence in him.”

Brees also said Hartley’s abrupt departure from the Saints shows every player under coach Sean Payton is “always on the hot seat.”

“Your heart hurts for him,” Brees said. “We’ve all been there. It’s kind of a shakeup, but it’s a wake-up call to all of us that any of us could be next if we’re not getting the job done.

“We have to prove week in and week out that we belong and that we can help this team win.”

The 6-foot-5, 304-pound Armstead will slide in for four-year veteran Charles Brown, who was benched early in the second half of the Saints’ 27-16 setback to St. Louis, Payton announced Wednesday. He had just given up a sack that resulted in a lost fumble by Brees.

It was the second of two sacks he gave up to Rams defensive end Robert Quinn. Brown also was called for holding and had an illegal-use-of-hands penalty that nullified an 8-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Lance Moore.

That would have reduced a 21-point deficit to 24-10 at halftime. But New Orleans instead had to settle for a 36-yard kick, which Hartley drove low and had blocked.

Hartley later missed a 26-yard field-goal attempt late in the game. He was 22-of-30 for the season and ranked among the least-accurate kickers in the NFL when the Saints let him go and signed free-agent veteran Shayne Graham to be his replacement.

It was a shocking end to Hartley’s tenure with the Saints, whom he had kicked into their only Super Bowl with a 40-yard, overtime winner in the 2009 NFC Championship Game. He subsequently made three kicks in the Super Bowl and helped New Orleans capture its first-ever major pro sports title.

The Saints (10-4) can win the NFC South title and clinch the No. 2 seed in their conference for the playoffs if they beat Carolina, who is 10-4, 6-1 at home and eager to avenge a 31-13 loss in New Orleans on Dec. 8.

“Now, we buy in, we move on and we get ready to win a big football game,” Brees said.

Meanwhile, in Carolina, Armstead doesn’t seem to be striking much fear in the heart of the man he’s matching up against, defensive end Greg Hardy, who has eight sacks this season.

Hardy reportedly told Carolina media that he’d never heard of Armstead, who attended Arkansas-Pine Bluff and was one of two third-round draft picks for the Saints this year and has only played on special teams in four games.

“What happened to the other guy?” Hardy supposedly said.