NFC South Inside Slant — New Orleans

Get the latest updates on Tampa Bay's division rivals with the "Inside Slant," a premium service of Bucsblitz.com. In this edition, the New Orleans Saints deal with the aftermath of the season-ending injury to Deuce McAllister as they enter their bye week.

Saints running back Deuce McAllister is no doctor, but he didn't need to be one to diagnose the injury that knocked him out of Monday night's game with the Tennessee Titans -- and also ended his season.

As soon as he came down awkwardly on his left leg after trying to catch a high pass from quarterback Drew Brees, McAllister knew right away what he had done. That's because McAllister had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in 2005 against the Green Bay Packers.

So the MRI he underwent Tuesday morning, about 12 hours after being injured, was a mere formality. The test confirmed what McAllister already knew: that he will have to undergo surgery to repair the damage and face a grueling six-month rehab process for the second time in 23 months.

"I was just hoping and praying it wasn't as bad as I thought," McAllister said Tuesday. "But I knew. I didn't want to believe it, but taking the walk to the locker room I could feel it kind of giving way a little bit. It was reminiscent of how the other one felt."

McAllister, who is the Saints' all-time rushing leader with 5,678 yards, also tore cartilage in the knee. He expects to have Dr. James Andrews, who also repaired his right knee, repair the damage in the next couple of weeks -- once the swelling goes down.

After that, he'll rehab for about two weeks at Andrews' clinic in Birmingham, Ala., then return home to continue the process at the Saints' facility.

Considering he's already been through it once, McAllister said the injury isn't any easier to take. That's because he remembers the long days, weeks and months of rehab work that it took for him to be ready for the 2006 season.

"That's the hardest part about it, knowing the hard work that you have to put in just to get back to that level," said McAllister, who will turn 29 on Dec. 27.

"Any time you've done it once before and now it's the other knee, you question whether you'll be the same, whether you'll ever be the back that you once were. Will you ever play again? Those are different thoughts that run through your mind as a player. But we'll just take it day by day. We'll see how the surgery goes and go from there."

McAllister has five years remaining on an eight-year contract he signed in 2005, shortly before his first knee injury. While most teams would be leery about having a running back with a torn ACL in each knee, Saints coach Sean Payton said it's too early to talk about McAllister's future.

"It's way too premature to start talking about where he is from a career standpoint," Payton said. "He's the type of guy that will have the conviction and belief it takes. It's going to take time and a lot of hard work, but he's someone who's tough enough to handle it."

NOTES

The Saints began a somber bye week schedule on Wednesday with a practice at their Metairie training facility.

In addition to being 0-3 after Monday night's 31-14 loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Saints lost cornerback Jason David for 4-to-6 weeks with a fractured left forearm.

Coach Sean Payton put his team through a practice session that was closed to the media and then gave his players four days off. After getting Thursday through Sunday off, the team will return on Monday for a bonus practice for the Saints' next game on Oct. 7 against the Carolina Panthers.

Payton said the coaches would meet Sunday to install the game plan for the meeting with the Panthers.

Quarterback Drew Brees said he could not find fault with the fourth-and-one call Payton made late in the first quarter of Monday's game with the Titans.

Payton rolled the dice and went for it from his own 45. But instead of running the ball, Payton called for a deep pass down the middle for wide receiver Marques Colston that he didn't come close to -- partly because of good coverage by Titans strong safety Chris Hope.

"I loved it, loved it," Brees said Tuesday. "I loved the aggressiveness of it, and I loved the fact that that's probably the last thing they thought we were going to do on fourth-and-one from our own 45-yard line or whatever it was. That's where you can get some big plays."

Payton said he wrestled with the decision to go for it, but felt he had to go for it to give his struggling offense a chance to make a big play.

"Field position was something we would have gained there," he said. "I was trying to create a little momentum. We needed a little jolt."

— Saints running back Reggie Bush made the 100th pass reception of his young career on an 11-yard pass from Brees with a little more than 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter against the Titans.

Bush, who set an NFL record for rookie running backs with 88 catches last season, reached the 100-catch milestone in just 19 regular-season games.

— Former Saints defensive end Joe Johnson has been chosen to enter the Saints Hall of Fame. He'll become the 35th person to be enshrined during ceremonies in early November.

Johnson, who played for the Saints from 1994-2001, was a fierce pass rusher who ranks fifth on the club's all-time sack list with 50 1/2. He was also a solid player against the run.

The 13th pick of the 1994 draft, Johnson played in 106 games with 104 starts with the Saints. He made the Pro Bowl in 1998 and 2000, with the second visit to Hawaii coming after he missed the entire 1999 season with a torn patellar tendon.

Johnson had a career-high 12 sacks and also forced six fumbles in 2000 and was named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year after helping the Saints win the NFC West title and advance to the divisional playoffs.

— Saints fans will be recognized with the Saints Hall of Fame's Joe Gemelli Fleur de Lis Award, which annually goes to the person or persons who contribute to the betterment of the organization.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the fans showed undying support in making sure the team remained in New Orleans and sold out every seat in the Superdome on a season basis for the first time in franchise history.

BY THE NUMBERS

7 -- Interceptions thrown by Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the team's first three games, including a career-high four against the Tennessee Titans. Brees was intercepted just 11 times en route to earning All-Pro honors in 2006.

QUOTE TO NOTE

"I'm almost at a loss for words to say what this guy means to our team. He's just a quality guy with great character. You'd be hard pressed to really find a better guy in the NFL." -- Saints center and offensive captain Jeff Faine, on the loss of Deuce McAllister.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

With Deuce McAllister out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee, the Saints will be counting on Reggie Bush and two others to pick up the slack for the next 13 games.

Naturally, you would expect Bush should get the bulk of the carries. But eight-year veteran Aaron Stecker, who ran for a career-high 363 yards when McAllister tore his right ACL in 2005, will spell Bush at times. He can also line up in the backfield with Bush in the slot or split wide in Sean Payton's various offensive sets.

Rookie Pierre Thomas, an undrafted free agent who beat out fourth-round draft pick Antonio Pittman for a roster spot in training camp, will likely be used as well after being inactive for the first three games.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

RCB Jason David had surgery on Tuesday to attach a plate to his fractured left forearm. He likely will be sidelined 4-to-6 weeks.

LT Jammal Brown dislocated a finger in the Saints' loss to the Titans on Monday night, but should be ready for the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 7.

SLB Scott Fujita sprained his ankle against the Titans, but is expected to be good to go after the Saints' bye this weekend.

DT Kendrick Clancy was inactive for the Titans game because of a right turf toe injury. His status for the contest with the Panthers was unknown Wednesday.

S Jay Bellamy, who was released prior to Monday's game, was re-signed to take McAllister's roster spot.


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