TAMPA, Fla. — New Orleans Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro was a surprising scratch when the team announced its inactives about 90 minutes before Sunday’s season finale with the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Vaccaro, who lost his starting job two weeks ago, but regained it last week when Jamarca Sanford was sidelined by a hamstring injury, was among the team’s seven inactives with a torn quadriceps muscle.
After the Saints’ 23-20 win over the Bucs, Vaccaro said he played with the injury in last week’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons that knocked them out of playoff contention.
He said he practiced all week before deciding Friday to get an MRI, which revealed a Grade 2 tear of the quad muscle similar to the one wide receiver Kenny Stills struggled with for most of training camp.
“I’m not the training room type, so I kind of just played through it,” Vaccaro said. “I really wanted to finish out the season. I really wanted to play; that’s why I didn’t get an MRI until real late.”
Saints coach Sean Payton said Vaccaro participated fully in practice all week, but got some treatment after Friday’s workout.
“It was something that was really laboring him,” Payton said. “It was a little bit of a surprise. It was something that was significant and something we made a decision on (Saturday) night.”
Sanford, who started at strong safety two weeks ago but missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury, got the nod in place of Vaccaro.
It was one of three defensive changes for the Saints, who had two new linemen in the lineup after putting end Akiem Hicks (ankle) and nose tackle John Jenkins (abdomen) on injured reserve this week.
Brandon Deaderick started at left end for Hicks and third-year pro Tyrunn Walker, who had played in just 22 regular-season games, made his first career start at nose tackle.
Coming up short
Saints quarterback Drew Brees went into Sunday’s game needing 329 passing yards for his fourth consecutive 5,000-yard season, but came up short when he threw for 281 against the Bucs.
Brees, who totaled 4,952 yards for the season and pushed his career total to 56,033, still has four 5,000-yard seasons — doing it in 2008 and 2011-13. No other NFL quarterback has reached that milestone more than once.
In the past four seasons, Brees has piled up 20,767 passing yards.
Coming up short II
Running back Mark Ingram needed just 93 rushing yards Sunday to become the franchise’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Deuce McAllister had 1,057 in 2006.
Like Brees, Ingram came up a little short when he had 57 yards on 14 carries to finish the season with 964 yards. Ingram did have a 1-yard TD run in the fourth quarter that cut the Saints’ 20-7 deficit to 20-14.
“We won, so it’s all good,” Ingram said.
Beating the Bucs
With a 29-17 edge in the all-time series, the Saints have had more success against the Bucs than any other team in the league (minimum of five games) with a .630 winning percentage.
The Saints have won seven in a row over the Bucs and are 16-10 against them since they were put into the NFC South when the NFL re-aligned in 2002.
The sweep for the Saints this season was the third in a row after they defeated the Bucs in overtime 37-31 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Oct. 5.
Brees threw three interceptions Sunday, pushing the Saints’ giveaway total to 30 for the season with 17 interceptions and 13 fumbles and leaving their giveaway-takeaway margin at minus-13.
They finished one turnover shy of the most in a single season under Payton, however, as the 2007 team had 31 in a 7-9 season. The Saints also had 30 giveaways in 2010.
The Saints’ inactives were Vacarro, tackle Terron Armstead (neck), cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, wide receivers Seantavius Jones and Brandon Coleman, and linebackers Moise Fokou and Jerry Franklin.
Jones, Coleman and Franklin were recent additions to the active roster from the practice squad.
Bucs wide receiver Vincent Jackson injured his groin in the first quarter and didn’t return. … Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills experienced leg cramps on a hot, muggy day in the fourth quarter, but returned.
The Saints won their last four road games to finish 4-4 away from home, but were only 3-5 at the Superdome. … Payton recorded his 80th regular-season victory Sunday and now has an overall record of 86-52 — leaving him seven wins shy of Jim Mora’s club record of 93 victories. … Former Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin, who was signed to the active roster Saturday when Jenkins went to injured reserve, was active but did not play. … The Saints are now 3-6 in regular-season finales since Payton took over in 2006.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.