Saints’ Brandin Cooks out 4-6 weeks after surgery to repair broken thumb _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks fumbles while being tackled by Cincinnati's Jayson DiManche, right, James Wright, back, and Darqueze Dennard on a punt return Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Cooks walked off the field after the play clutching is right arm above his wrist and had surgery Monday to repair a fractured thumb. He is expected to be out for four to six weeks.

As if to prove things can always be worse, Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks had surgery to repair a thumb he fractured in Sunday’s 27-10 loss to Cincinnati at home, and doctors estimate it could be between four and six weeks before he’s back in action, the player’s agent, Jeff Sperbeck, announced Monday on Twitter.

Cooks’ verified Twitter account sent out its own messages Monday attempting to assuage the concerns of Saints fans.

“People, there is nothing to worry (about),” read the dispatches from Cooks’ account. “This is a part of his plan. I just smile ... (and) just watch and see God ... work.

“The devil saw an opportunity to try to break my relationship with Christ, but little did he know. Death nor pain can do that Haha devil is wack.”

Cooks’ positive outlook may not do much to console distressed Who Dats.

His importance to the Saints is obvious to even casual observers. The rookie first-round draft selection out of Oregon State is second on the team in receptions (53), receiving yards (550) and touchdown catches (three), trailing only star tight end Jimmy Graham (59 grabs for 623 yards and seven TDs). Cook also has carried the ball seven times for 73 yards and another touchdown, and he’s been the primary punt returner.

These are crucial times for the Saints (4-6), who have six games left this regular season. Despite dropping their past two games, both at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, they sit second in a weak NFC South, whose leader, Atlanta, is also 4-6. Atlanta is technically in first place because it beat the Saints at the Georgia Dome in Week 1, but the teams play each other again in New Orleans on Dec. 21.

All division victors in the NFL are guaranteed a home playoff game.

Under Cooks in the Saints’ pecking order are veteran receiver Marques Colston (34 catches for 536 yards and a touchdown) and second-year pro Kenny Stills (31 grabs for 431 yards and two touchdowns, including a 9-yarder against the Bengals). Below Colston and Stills are players such as Robert Meachem (five catches for 85 yards), Nick Toon (no receptions) and Joseph Morgan (one grab for 7 yards). Stills and Morgan are obvious candidates to replace Cooks at least in returning punts, given their speed. So is backup running back Travaris Cadet, who handles fielding kickoffs.

It’s not been confirmed when Cooks was hurt. But he fielded a punt Sunday at the Saints’ 17 with about 3:30 to go, returned it 4 yards and fumbled the ball after he was hit in the right hand by the helmet of Bengals defender Jayson DiManche. The Saints recovered the fumble; but Cooks walked away from the pile of players over the ball clutching the area above his right wrist with his left hand, and he grimaced in apparent pain in view of a television camera.

The injury is the latest frustration in a season in which little has gone to plan for the Saints. Aside from the lackluster record, there have been numerous key injuries, including the season-ending knee ligament tear to three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd ahead of Week 5.

Another key member of the Saints’ offense missed three games earlier this season with a broken thumb: running back Mark Ingram, who has racked up 618 rushing yards, 138 carries and six touchdowns to head the Saints’ ground game this year.

A second safety — rookie Vinnie Sunseri, a mainstay on the special-teams coverage units — fractured his arm in a loss to San Francisco on Nov. 9.

Yet another safety, Rafael Bush, broke his right fibula making a tackle late in the loss to Cincinnati.

Bush was hurt about 80 seconds before Cooks was in terms of elapsed game time. Both Cooks’ and Bush’s fractures occurred while the Saints were down by the final score of 27-10; and there was essentially no chance of a comeback at that tardy stage of the game, enhancing the general sense of frustration surrounding the injuries.

Saints coach Sean Payton on Monday declined to discuss the injuries to Cooks and Bush, who initially believed he had a more serious tibia fracture but could nonetheless also miss four to six weeks.

Perhaps second-year safety Kenny Vaccaro best summed it up for the Saints after the Bengals game when he wearily said, “We’re banged up.”

The Saints host Baltimore (6-4) on Monday night.