Saints safety Rafael Bush realized the chances of a comeback couldn’t have been slimmer.
His team trailed by the score it ultimately lost by: 27-10. And there were fewer than five minutes left in the game against the Bengals on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Nonetheless, when he had the chance to help tackle 6-foot-2, 236-pound Bengals running back Jeremy Hill at the end of a 5-yard gain around Cincinnati’s 32, Bush didn’t hesitate, and he went all out against a player with uncommon size for that position.
The price Bush paid for doing his job on what at first appeared to be an inconsequential play was steep: he fractured the primary weight-bearing bone, or tibia, in his lower right leg.
“Obviously, you don’t want those things happening that late in the game,” said Bush, sitting at his locker after the game with crutches at his side and his right leg enveloped in ice and a bandage. “But ... being (a) competitor and continuing to fight — that’s ... all I was doing. It was ... a freak accident. There’s nobody to blame.”
All the same, though, things were looking pretty grim at safety for the Saints in the wake of Bush’s injury.
Bush was one of four safeties on the Saints’ roster heading into Sunday’s contest, alongside second-year pro Kenny Vaccaro; Marcus Ball, who’s in his first NFL season after spending time in the Canadian Football League, and Jamarca Sanford, who had joined New Orleans four days earlier.
Previously, safety Jairus Byrd had sustained a season-ending knee injury in an Oct. 2 practice. Rookie safety Vinnie Sunseri had also been lost for the remainder of the year after he fractured his arm in a Nov. 9 defeat at home to San Francisco.
A Saint since 2012 and in his first season of a two-year contract worth up to $3.8 million, Bush was starting in place of Byrd, whom New Orleans signed in free agency in March to a deal worth up to $54 million through 2019 (with more than $26 million guaranteed).
He was second on the Saints at kickoff Sunday with 49 combined tackles (41 solo), a total he upped by five (three solo) in the setback to the Bengals.
Meanwhile, the Saints acquired six-year veteran Sanford as a substitute for Sunseri, who was a mainstay on special teams and was used sparingly on defense.
Bush did not know what his fate would be for the balance of a 2014 campaign that had the Saints at 4-6 on Sunday, in second place of an NFC South division they’d led since Oct. 30.
He said he was expecting to undergo testing beyond the initial evaluation that determined he’d broken his right tibia.
But there didn’t seem to be much optimism he’d avoid landing on season-ending injured reserve, to which Sunseri and Byrd had already been sent. Teammates such as Vaccaro and cornerback Corey White embraced Bush and wished him luck as they all packed up to leave the stadium, scenes that carried a “get well for next year” vibe.
All of which means the Saints could soon shuffle the roster around to add depth around Ball, Sanford and Vaccaro.
“We’re banged up,” said Vaccaro, who has the most tenure in New Orleans of the Saints’ healthy safeties with 23 career games. “It’s on me really.”
However, whatever occurred after Sunday, Bush wanted to let his teammates know he was staying positive, and there were plenty of reasons for them to do the same.
The Saints had the same record as the first place team in the NFC South: the Falcons, who improved to 4-6 on Sunday by triumphing at Carolina (3-7-1). Atlanta is technically higher than the Saints in the divisional standings because the Falcons beat New Orleans in Week 1.
The good news is the Saints have plenty of chances to recover the ground they ceded Sunday in the race for the home playoff game winning a weak NFC South would ensure. They have divisional games against Carolina and Tampa Bay (2-8) — teams the Saints have already won against this season — as well as Atlanta left on the calendar.
“We ... have a legitimate opportunity to win (the NFC South),” said Bush, who vowed to assist his teammates’ preparations for upcoming games in whichever ways he could. “That’s the bright thing.”
But before all that for Bush was touching base with his daughter, wife and mother, whom he texted immediately after his injury. Of special concern was his little girl, who was at the game and supposedly called out for her dad when he was hurt and then carted off the field.
“She’s only 1, ... but the fact is she feels something’s wrong,” Bush said. “That’s ... just crazy.”