Saints defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth looks at Sheldon Rankins as a big brother.
So seeing Rankins carted off the field into the locker room in the first quarter of Sunday's divisional playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles was tough for Stallworth.
"When he went down I was like 'Damn, I miss my brother; he isn't out here,' " Stallworth said. "At the same time, you have to continue to play. We gotta do this because we just lost one (of our brothers). It was sad, but we have to keep going."
Rankins tore his Achilles tendon on the play and is out for the rest of the season. Whether the remainder of the Saints' season lasts one more game or two could depend on how well the Saints play Sunday in their first game of the year without Rankins — the NFC championship game against the high-powered Rams.
Rankins, in his third season, anchored the middle of the line and recorded a career-high eight sacks this season. He also had 12 tackles for loss and was a big reason the Saints finished second in the league in run defense during the regular season.
"I feel like he's had his best year," said Saints coach Sean Payton. "The other players have to step up. He was an active part of our front."
Saints defensive tackle Tyeler Davison, like Stallworth, admitted it was tough seeing Rankins go down.
"I was sad, hurt," Davison said. "That's my guy. We have been grinding together for three years now, trying to improve and get the team to this point. Now that we are here and Rank hurt his Achilles, that sucks. I feel for him. We want to all work together and bring him the championship."
Davison expects the guys on the defensive line to be up to the task.
"We all know it has to be the next guy up mentality," Davison said. "We are battle-tested. We know the playoffs is another step up."
Stallworth, a rookie, was in on 20 snaps on Sunday and recorded three tackles. Much of what Stallworth has been able to do in making the team as an undrafted rookie he credits to Rankins. Stallworth says he began feeling comfortable in his role around midway through the season.
"I learned so much from him," Stallworth said. "Just seeing how he prepares for a game, the whole way he coached me up on a lot of things. We are a man down now, so whatever you did before he got hurt, you have to take it up even more now."
Rankins' presence in the middle made things easier for guys like linebacker Demario Davis, who led the team in tackles this season.
“He created a lot of mismatches on the offensive line and was somebody that had to be accounted for," Davis said. "But (he’ll) definitely be missed, but it’s a next-man-up league. That is just the nature of the business that we are in.”
And while No. 98 won't be on the field with them, teammates say they'll make sure he isn't forgotten. Rankins, they say, has given them even more incentive this week.
"He's obviously hurt that he's out," Davison said. "If we win the Super Bowl, I know it will make him feel that much better."