Saints Falcons Football

New Orleans Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson (91) lies injured against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

Danny Karnik

ATLANTA — The New Orleans Saints flew out of Atlanta on Thursday night with a team that is more banged up than after any other game this season.

Alvin Kamara and Senio Kelemete suffered concussions. A cart came to get rookie defensive end Trey Hendrickson off of the sideline after an examination. Middle linebacker A.J. Klein and safety Kenny Vaccaro both left the game due to groin injuries. 

Wide receiver Michael Thomas, running back Mark Ingram and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. all left the game and returned on New Orleans' final series, only the latest in a long line of Saints who suffered injuries on Thursday night. 

And the Saints were furious, led by their head coach, who responded by asking the assembled media in front of him a question that seemed rhetorical at first but ended up being far from it.

"Seriously, speak up?" Sean Payton said. "What do you guys think, why do you think there were so many injuries tonight?"

Payton was hinting at an answer his quarterback put bluntly later in the locker room. 

"It's 100 percent a product of playing on Thursday night," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "You understand what guy's bodies go through in a game, and then to turn around four days later and play a game? Look at the injury studies. They're off the charts. Is this smart, as it pertains to guys' health and safety? No, absolutely not."

Several of the players who suffered injuries were already battling nagging ailments. Under normal circumstances, the week between games is often enough time to get players ready to go.

Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro didn't have enough time this week. 

“When you play three days later three days after a tough game against Carolina, it started swelling up on me and got real sore," Vaccaro said. "It just got to the point where I started feeling my adductor (muscle). I had to make a decision, do I want to stay in there and potentially hurt it again, or do I want get rested up play next week against the Jets?"

New Orleans is not the first team to raise these concerns.

After Seattle's injury-plagued Thursday night win over the Arizona Cardinals in early November, several Seahawks spoke up against the safety concerns of Thursday night football.

A lot of players, including Brees, want to see a change to Thursday night football. 

"No player likes putting himself at risk on four days rest to come and put their bodies through what they put them through," Brees said. "You hope it's addressed, you hope it's talked about, and you hope that something is done about it."

New Orleans, a team in the thick of a playoff race, now must hope its players are back healthy for the final three games of the season. 

"I hope Senio's OK, I hope Trey's OK, I hope Kamara's OK," offensive lineman Josh LeRibeus said. "That's a tough one. I don't think anybody enjoys playing on Thursday."

The severity of most of the Saints' injuries remains unclear. 

A few of the injuries, like Vaccaro's, may have been aggravations stemming from the lack of rest. 

"It’s not a setback at all, I have 10 days to rest now," safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "I’ll be fine. I didn’t reinjure it at all. It’s just tough coming off that injury. Thursday night football. You see it every week."

New Orleans may have 10 days, but the Saints need to get healthy quickly. Atlanta's victory leaves the door open in the NFC South, and the Falcons will be back on Christmas Eve.

At least that game will be played on a Sunday. 

"We want all our guys out there," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "Now it's time to heal up. Luckily, we've got them again."

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.