Dec 6, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) holds on to the ball while being tackled by Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell (24)  during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Saints WR Michael Thomas needs multiple surgeries

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas is “likely” to have multiple surgeries, ESPN reported Tuesday.

Thomas needs procedures to repair a torn deltoid (shoulder) and address a season-long ankle problem, according to the report.

Thomas knew it could be Drew Brees’ last season and continued playing, hoping to help the veteran quarterback go out with a Super Bowl win, per the report.

After setting an NFL single-season record with 149 receptions for a league-leading 1,725 yards in 2019, Thomas first got hurt in the 2020 season opener and wound up catching just 40 passes for 438 yards and zero touchdowns in seven games.

Thomas, 27, did not record a reception on his four targets in Sunday’s 30-20 divisional playoff loss to the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was the first game of his five-year career without a catch.

A three-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro selection, Thomas has 510 receptions for 5,950 yards and 32 scores in 70 games since the Saints drafted him in the second round in 2016.

Thomas inked a five-year, $96.3 million contract extension in 2019 and is due to earn a base salary of $12.6 million with a cap hit of $18.8 million in 2021.

–Field Level Media

Dec 25, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton talks to quarterback Taysom Hill (7) in the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Saints’ Latavius Murray, Taysom Hill likely out

The New Orleans Saints are unlikely to have backup running back Latavius Murray or multifaceted offensive weapon Taysom Hill when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Sunday’s NFC Divisional Round playoff game, according to NFL Network.

Hill, who plays quarterback, wide receiver and running back, suffered a knee injury last week in a 21-9 win over the Chicago Bears and was held out of practice during the week.

Murray was also held out through the week with a quadriceps injury. Both returned to practice Friday but were limited.

Hill frequently replaces starting quarterback Drew Brees in short-yardage situations and filled in as the starter for four games when Brees was injured. He went 3-1 in that stretch.

For the season, Hill has completed 72.7 percent of his passes for 928 yards and four touchdowns. Hill has also rushed 87 times for 457 yards and eight touchdowns and caught eight passes for 98 yards and one score.

Murray, who backs up Alvin Kamara, had 146 carries for 656 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season. He added 23 receptions for 176 yards and one TD.

–Field Level Media

Oct 4, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; New Orleans Saints center Will Clapp (64) at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Saints’ Will Clapp tests positive for COVID-19

The New Orleans Saints will be without backup center Will Clapp for Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after he tested positive for COVID-19, according to NFL Network.

Luckily for the Saints, contact tracing has apparently shown no high-risk close contacts.

Clapp, 25, played in just nine games this season, including some snaps on special teams.

He was on the field for just four special field plays in the Saints’ 21-9 wild-card victory over the Chicago Bears last week.

–Field Level Media

Jan 10, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) runs the ball in for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears in the NFC Wild Card game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Saints smother Bears in wild-card win

Drew Brees threw two touchdown passes and the New Orleans defense dominated in a 21-9 victory over the visiting Chicago Bears in an NFC wild-card game on Sunday afternoon.

The NFC South champion Saints, who were 12-4 in the regular season, advance to host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional round next weekend. New Orleans won both regular-season meetings.

Brees completed 28 of 39 for 265 yards while Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky completed 19 of 29 for 199 yards.

The Bears, who finished the regular season 8-8 to claim the last wild card in the NFC, gained just 239 yards and 11 first downs, four of which came in the final two minutes.

The Saints welcomed back their top two offensive weapons — wide receiver Michael Thomas, who was activated off injured reserve, and running back Alvin Kamara, who scored six touchdowns on Christmas Day before being sidelined by testing positive for COVID-19.

But the Bears defense kept them and the New Orleans offense contained in the first half, which ended with the Saints holding a 7-3 lead.

On New Orleans’ first possession of the third quarter it put together an 85-yard drive that ended with Brees’ 6-yard touchdown pass to Latavius Murray.

Kamara ran three yards for a touchdown to give the Saints a 21-3 lead with 8:50 remaining.

Trubisky threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham as time expired.

Brees connected with Thomas three times on the Saints’ first two possessions, the third completion being an 11-yard touchdown that gave New Orleans a 7-0 lead that stood at the end of the first quarter.

The Bears were in scoring range, but they passed on a field-goal attempt on fourth-and-4 at the Saints 34 and Trubisky was stopped after scrambling for a two-yard gain.

New Orleans missed a scoring opportunity of its own when Wil Lutz was wide right on a 50-yard field-goal attempt.

John Jenkins recovered a fumble by Taysom Hill at the Saints 24, leading to Cairo Santos’ 36-yard field goal that cut the lead to 7-3 with 8:06 left in the first half.

–Field Level Media

Jan 3, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) is sacked by New Orleans Saints defensive ends Cameron Jordan (94) and Trey Hendrickson (91) in the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Injury update favors Saints’ offense vs. Bears

The New Orleans Saints final injury report of the weeks suggests they are still anticipating the return of star offensive players Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and Deonte Harris in time for Sunday’s wild-card playoff game against the visiting Chicago Bears.

But the Saints’ sack leader, Trey Hendrickson, has been ruled out of the game with a neck injury.

For the Bears, the most significant update is that standout inside linebacker Roquan Smith (elbow) is listed as questionable. The team’s leading tackler, Smith injured the elbow in the first quarter last week in the loss to Green Bay and has missed practice all week.

The Saints have bounced through a succession of injuries through the season, but by the time they start what they hope to be a long playoff run Sunday, only Hendrickson and guard Nick Easton (concussion) are listed as out of the game, with no other players even listed as doubtful or questionable.

Significantly, Thomas and Harris appear to be ready after returning to limited practice this week. Thomas missed the last three regular-season games because of an ankle injury, and return specialist Harris participated fully this week for the first time in more than a month.

The Saints have missed Thomas and Harris in recent weeks, as quarterback Drew Brees returned from his own broken ribs only to have a depleted cast of his receivers at his disposal. The Saints are expected to activate Thomas from the injured reserve list on Saturday.

Kamara, meanhile, remains on the COVID-19/Reserve list until Sunday. He tested positive for the coronavirus after scoring six touchdowns on Christmas Day in leading a 52-33 victory over Minnesota. He missed the regular-season finale at Carolina and has joined the team only via video conferencing since then.

On Thursday, Kamara said on social media he would be playing on Sunday.

“See y’all Sunday” Kamara posted on Twitter.

Had the Saints been scheduled to play on Saturday, Kamara would not have been eligible to return. As it is, he would have to play against the Bears without having practiced all week, and coach Sean Payton had declined to say early in the week whether Kamara would start Sunday.

In the Saints’ 26-23 overtime victory against the host Bears on Nov. 1, Kamara had 163 yards from scrimmage, including a 20-yard run to set up Wil Lutz’s winning field goal.

The loss of Hendrickson, however, is a setback for the Saints. He missed Week 16 because of his neck injury, but returned to play last weekend and had a sack, finishing the season with 13.5 sacks and 25 quarterback hits.

Easton’s concussion sustained Sunday is of particular concern because it was his second concussion in three weeks.

For the Bears, only cornerback Buster Skrine (concussion) is listed as out. Four players were listed as questionable Friday: Smith, wide receiver Darnell Mooney (ankle), cornerback Jaylon Johnson (shoulder), and inside linebacker Josh Woods (toe/glute).

Like Smith, Mooney missed practiced all week, while Johnson was limited in workouts.

–Field Level Media

Dec 25, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) gestures in the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Saints go for historic NFC South sweep vs. Panthers

The New Orleans Saints still have things to accomplish in the final game of the regular season on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

The Saints are on the verge of dominating the NFC South in an unprecedented fashion when they visit Charlotte, N.C.

That’s just part of the objective.

“I just want to be playing our best football,” New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said. “I want to be as sharp as we possibly can, understanding that obviously we’re still missing a few guys that hopefully we’ll have when we get to the playoffs.”

The Saints (11-4) can clinch the overall No. 1 seed in the NFC and a subsequent first-weekend bye in the playoffs if they win at Carolina (5-10) along with a Seattle (11-4) victory at San Francisco (6-9) and a loss by Green Bay (12-3) at Chicago (8-7).

“We just have to keep playing our game,” Saints offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk said. “… The stakes are high right now.”

Already, New Orleans has secured its fourth straight NFC South title. A victory against the Panthers would mean the Saints complete a six-game sweep of the other NFC South teams, which is something no team in the division has ever accomplished.

“You understand how hard it is to win the division,” Brees said. “Week-in and week-out, there are so many battles. … That would be a great accomplishment. At the end of the day, it’s just getting another win, which just better positions ourselves for the playoffs.”

Carolina won for just the second time in a 10-game span with last weekend’s conquering of Washington. Yet the Panthers are accustomed to taking on first-place teams as this will mark their fifth game in a nine-game stretch against a divisional leader.

With a first-year staff under new coach Matt Rhule, the Panthers are trying to set a foundation that will be beneficial in the future.

“For us to have this new staff, new players, it’s about building each and every week,” Carolina safety Tre Boston said. “I told y’all a few weeks back: When that wall on the house is just one wall, everybody is going to say stuff about it, but as we build this house and make it a home, we’re going to be one to reckon with.”

The Panthers, who posted a November shutout of the Detroit Lions, held Washington without a touchdown until the last two minutes.

“A lot of points this season, we were really searching to find our identity and find out what we do and what we have — and that’s what we’re doing,” Carolina cornerback Donte Jackson said. “We were in a search trying to find our identity, but we found it.”

The Saints aim to build on their reputation and be in position for a long playoff run.

“Understand exactly what wins football games and let’s make sure we’re doing all those things,” said Brees, who pointed out it’s important for the offense to retain timing and rhythm.

Saints running back Alvin Kamara’s NFL record-matching six-touchdown performance against the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas night showed what the team is capable of doing with its talent-laden offense.

“Over time,” Brees said, “it wears defenses down.”

Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has another opportunity to face New Orleans. Last year with the Saints, he filled in for an injured Brees during a midseason stretch.

This is the final chance for Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn to make a case for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

“It has been my goal to finish the season strong,” said Chinn, who has 110 tackles, five passes defensed, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and a sack to go along with scoring two touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey won’t play in the finale. He appeared in just three games this season. Running back Mike Davis (ankle) and receiver Robby Anderson (groin) also sat out Wednesday’s practice.

The Saints defeated the Panthers 27-24 on Oct. 25, with the outcome not decided until a late-game field-goal attempt from 65 yards out was just short for Carolina’s Joey Slye.

New Orleans has defeated the Panthers in the last three meetings and in seven of the teams’ past eight games.

Attendance will be limited to 1,500, with only family and friends of team members permitted entry, because of increased concerns in the Charlotte area regarding the coronavirus pandemic. This is a change from most of the season, when more than 5,000 fans were allowed to purchase tickets for Carolina home games.

–Field Level Media