New Orleans banged up for NFC South showdown
METAIRIE — With a Thursday night game against the Atlanta Falcons looming, everything for the Saints has a condensed feel about it this week.
That included interim coach Joe Vitt speeding through Monday’s media briefing even quicker than his normal impatient pace.
“I really have nothing to add from what I said after the game last night,” Vitt said, referencing Sunday’s 31-21 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. “It was a tough loss for our team to swallow and a tough loss for our coaching staff to swallow.
“The reality of it is this: We have a 24-hour rule around here, and that rule has been cut to 12 hours.”
And even that extra 12 hours might not be enough additional preparation time for a road game against a team that shares the best record in the NFL (10-1), with that lone loss coming to the Saints, 31-27, just 15 days ago.
In fact, the Saints (5-6) probably would prefer to wait until Thursday to make the short flight to Atlanta, but league rules mandate that a visiting team arrive the day before the game, so they will depart at 6 p.m. Wednesday after cramming five days’ worth of preparation time into three.
The players watched film, lifted and ran on Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday will be full practice days followed by the flight to Atlanta.
“I don’t make the schedule,” Vitt said. “My thoughts are all about this team showing up and playing the game.
“We are going to play the hand we are dealt and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
It’s not just preparation time that’s decreased this week.
It’s less healing time for bodies coming off the most physical game of the season.
And some players won’t make it back at all.
Rookie right tackle Bryce Harris — who made his first start Sunday replacing Charles Brown, who was replacing Zach Strief — was carted off after suffering a lower leg injury in the first half. And although the Saints did not post an official injury report until Monday evening, Vitt said Harris would not play Thursday.
Vitt added that Strief, who has missed the past two games with a groin injury, “is pretty close” to be able to go Thursday, but that the team would be looking at additional tackles Monday afternoon. The Saints have no tackles on the practice squad.
Third-year man William Robinson, signed as a free agent last week, replaced Harris on Sunday after he was injured.
“To come in here for three or four days and do the job that he did, I thought was very impressive,” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who was sacked five times. “I think it speaks volumes about (the offensive line).
“It’s not five individuals. It’s a unit, and so much of what they do is communication.”
The Saints also are getting beat up in the secondary, where safety Isa Abdul-Quddus suffered a concussion tackling 49ers tight end Delane Walker, and cornerbacks Corey White and Elbert Mack were both inactive because of previous injuries.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said he was hopeful of getting White and Mack back this week.
“(Johnny Patrick) went in there and did an admirable job,” Spagnuolo said. “I’d like to get Corey back because he had a really good game in the one where he got hurt (Atlanta).
“But we’re in a short week.”
Obviously, the Falcons also are in a short week as well.
And, unlike the Saints, the Falcons played on the road Sunday, pulling out a 24-23 victory at Tampa Bay.
But by the time the Saints were coming off the field after their late-afternoon game, the Falcons probably were back in Atlanta. And, even though it’s a short trip for the Saints, that’s something the Falcons don’t have to do.
“We’re just trying to get as much rest as we can so we’ll be fresh Thursday night,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “We’ll have ourselves prepared.”
And the teams are familiar with each other, thanks to the NFL making as many of its Thursday night games, which this year will feature every team in the league, matching division opponents.
Plus the Saints have some experience with Thursday games.
Two years ago, the Saints played at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, winning 30-27.
“We are using the same schedule and format,” Vitt said. “It worked pretty well for us in Dallas.”
Bunkley not suspended
The NFL will not be suspending Saints starting defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley for his kick to the back of offensive lineman Alex Boone’s helmet in the final minutes of San Francisco’s 31-21 victory over New Orleans on Sunday, a person familiar with the situation said.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on Monday on condition of anonymity because the league has not announced any punishment, and a fine is still possible later in the week.
The decision not to suspend Bunkley means he can play when the Saints visit Atlanta on Thursday night.
Bunkley was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct and ejected with 1:05 left for kicking Boone after the Saints had blocked a field goal.
Mack, who has a concussion, participated in conditioning Monday. Strief and White were limited. Backup tight end David Thomas was out with a knee injury, and special teams captain Courtney Roby (shoulder, ankle) was also out. ... Atlanta will wear throwback red helmets, black jerseys and white pants Thursday. The Falcons’ only loss wearing the throwbacks was in last year’s game against the Saints. … Sunday’s loss was the Saints’ 46th to the 49ers. That matches the number against Atlanta for the most to any opponent.
The Associated Press
contributed to this report.