New Orleans’ top draft pick, Andrus Peat, left Thursday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons in the first quarter after going down with an apparent leg injury.
Peat, making his second start at left tackle in place of the injured Terron Armstead, was off to a solid start on the Saints’ opening drive, then went down.
He was helped off by trainers and was immediately taken to the locker room. Peat’s return was listed as questionable.
That put the Saints in a bind. Armstead had made an effort to return to the lineup by coming back to practice on a limited basis this week, but he was unable to make a full recovery in the short week, leaving New Orleans in an emergency situation.
With Peat down, the Saints had to turn to their fourth offensive tackle, Tony Hills — who has been on the roster for just two weeks.
Hills signed after Armstead went down with a knee injury following the Dallas game. The seven-year veteran has played for 10 NFL teams, but he had just 13 games of experience and one start to his name.
For the Saints, Peat’s injury represented the latest in a long line of bugs that have bitten the New Orleans front. Only two starters, right tackle Zach Strief and center Max Unger, have been able to answer the bell for every game.
When the Saints traded promising receiver Kenny Stills for a draft pick and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, the move initially frustrated fans, given that Ellerbe missed nearly all of last season with a hip injury. Ellerbe made Saints fans a believer early against Atlanta.
A frenetic, high-energy player, Ellerbe replaced David Hawthorne as the full-time starter at weakside linebacker, and he was all over the field in the first half against the Falcons.
Ellerbe racked up 10 tackles, regularly chasing down Falcons running backs who had wide-open holes on the play side, and he played a big role in two red-zone turnovers.
On the first, Ellerbe ripped the ball out of Tevin Coleman’s hands on the way down, a play that Brandon Browner recovered to escape a key drive by the Falcons. Then, with Atlanta driving on the next series, Ellerbe found his way to a dropped snap by Matt Ryan, ending another drive and giving the Saints a chance at a two-minute drill.
Beat up, banged up
The short week left the list of injured Saints fairly long entering the game.
In addition to the loss of Armstead, left guard Tim Lelito was forced to miss action with a shoulder injury suffered against Philadelphia, forcing Senio Kelemete to switch sides after filling in at right guard the past three weeks for an injured Jahri Evans.
Wide receiver Marques Colston, who reportedly suffered a separated shoulder against the Eagles, was also forced to miss the game, and punter Thomas Morstead missed his second straight game with a strained right quadricep.
Rookie nickelback Damian Swann, another key piece on the defense, was forced to miss the game with a concussion, and starting cornerback Keenan Lewis was on a limited snap count for the third straight game as he comes back from a hip injury.
The news wasn’t all bad: New Orleans got back both Evans and rookie defensive end Bobby Richardson, who was forced to miss the Philadelphia game with a hip injury. Richardson, who was unsure whether he’d be able to go during the week, returned to his normal starting spot on the strong side.
Much-maligned kicker Zach Hocker pushed a 51-yard field goal attempt right at the end of the first half, but he punched through a 31-yard field goal in the third quarter to bounce back. ... Quarterback Garrett Grayson and defensive end Obum Gwacham were the Saints’ only healthy inactives. ... Former Saints special teamer Steve Gleason, who continues to battle ALS both personally and at the national level, was presented with the PFWA’s George Halas Award, annually given to the NFL figure who overcomes adversity to succeed, in a pregame ceremony.