Thu Dec 12 9:07pm ET
By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) hurdles over San Francisco 49ers free safety Jimmie Ward (20) in the first half an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)
Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack celebrates with offensive tackle Braden Smith (72) after his 2-yard touchdown run during the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) reacts after throwing a touchdown pass to Michael Thomas in the second half an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7) runs away from Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Zach Pascal (14) celebrates his touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with running back Nyheim Hines (21) and wide receiver Parris Campbell (15) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
New Orleans Saints linebacker Craig Robertson (52) celebrates his interception in the second half an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Saints coach Sean Payton is trying not to let New Orleans' latest bout with key injuries undermine his club's Super Bowl aspirations.
A pair of starting defensive linemen who are both former first-round draft choices - end Marcus Davenport and tackle Sheldon Rankins - left last week's loss to San Francisco with what turned out to be season-ending injuries.
But as the Saints (10-3) prepare to meet Indianapolis (6-7) on Monday night, they do so having already demonstrated how resilient they can be without prominent players in the lineup.
The Saints went 5-0 while record-setting quarterback Drew Brees was out with a thumb injury early this season. Star running back Alvin Kamara, top receiving tight end Jared Cook, left tackle Terron Armstead, left guard Andrus Peat, top cornerback Marshon Lattimore and return specialist Deonte Harris have missed games with injuries this season as well. Rankins also sat out the season's first three games while finishing up his recovery from an Achilles tendon tear in last season's playoff opener.
Yet by Thanksgiving, the Saints were NFC South Division title holders for a third season running and are still in contention to capture one of the top two playoff seeds in the conference.
''It's been a little bit more than we're used to,'' Payton said of the injuries to top contributors. ''You start with Drew, but it is what it is. You learn as you get older that there are certain things you can control. Those are the things you spend more time focusing on than the things you can't.''
The Saints are somewhat fortunate that they entered this season emphasizing depth on the defensive line. They still have experienced, productive players across their defensive front - just fewer of them. And they will be tested against Indy's sixth-ranked running game, featuring Marlon Mack.
''One of the things this year that we felt was beneficial was our depth at the defensive line position, carrying eight each game and getting into a rotation.'' Payton said. ''So that when you lose two starters, the depth helps you.''
The Colts could use a break, having lost five of six. They're now one loss from playoff elimination as they meet a Saints squad that odds makers have favored by more than a touchdown.
Indianapolis coach Frank Reich doesn't expect New Orleans' normally stout defensive front to crumble.
''They're rotating guys who substitute that are good players. I'm sure they feel like us and most teams do, these backups are going to step in and do a good job,'' Reich said. ''We certainly know we are going up against a good front.''
Dynamic Saints running back Alvin Kamara is coming off a relatively quite game by his prolific standards, with just 25 yards rushing and 18 receiving against San Francisco. That marked his second straight game with fewer than 100 yards from scrimmage, and third in the last five.
But Brees doesn't sound worried about Kamara, who needs just 38 yards receiving to become third player in NFL history with at least 500 yards receiving and 500 yards rushing in each of first three seasons.
''There's just only so many balls to go around,'' Brees said. ''Alvin is one of our playmakers. We want to get on the ball. We want to give him opportunities.''
The Colts have blown second-half leads each of the past three weeks, putting their playoff hopes in peril.
Indy has slid from the top of the AFC South to third place, and the reason is simple. Houston, Tennessee and Tampa Bay have outscored the Colts 31-0 in the fourth quarter.
''Very frustrating,'' tight end Jack Doyle said, but added that he believes the Colts ''have the right group of guys'' to bounce back.
Rookie Parris Campbell became the fifth Colts receiver to land on injured reserve this season when he broke his foot last week.
Indy filled his spot by bringing back a familiar name, Dontrelle Inman.
The Virginia alum was one of the Colts' midseason acquisitions last season, finishing with 28 receptions 304 yards and three TD catches in nine games. But the Colts and Inman couldn't agree to terms during the offseason. He wound up playing four games for the Los Angeles Chargers before returning to Indy.
He'll try to take pressure off of four-time Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton, who has missed five of the last six games with an injured calf and was limited in practice this week.
The Saints moved quickly to add a pair of free-agent veterans - tackle T.Y. McGill and end Noah Spence - but it remains to be seen how they perform in New Orleans' scheme.
''There's a vision with each one relative to what they do well and how we would use them. They are in good football shape and I'm anxious to see how they do.''
McGill was a teammate of Colts QB Jacoby Brissett at North Carolina State. He wasn't allowed to touch Brissett in practice, but now might get his first chance to sack him.
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Indy is making its first Monday appearance since October 2016.
That might be a bigger deal for some than Colts 2018 All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard, who enjoyed watching pro wrestling as a kid.
''I'm not going to lie, I watched Monday Night Raw,'' the reigning defensive rookie of the year said. ''But it's really special when you know the whole world is watching.''
Kansas City Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said the team could wait until next year to sign quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a long-term contract extension. "I don't want to say necessarily it has to be this offseason, but I will say that it's a priority to get him done," Hunt said. A first-round pick in 2017, Mahomes is eligible for a contract extension now that he's finished his third year in the NFL, but it sounds like the Chiefs aren't exactly in a hurry to get something done. The 24-year-old didn't post the gaudy numbers he had in 2018 -- 5,097 yards, 50 touchdowns -- but he was still more than adequate with 4,031 yards, 26 touchdowns and only five interceptions in 14 games. Mahomes is an elite signal-caller with exceptional athleticism with both his arm and legs. He's here to stay as a high-end QB1 and will take on the 49ers in the Super Bowl this Sunday.
Free-agent RB Alex Collins (Ravens) and QB Chris Streveler (CFL) worked out for the Miami Dolphins recently.
San Francisco 49ers DE Dee Ford (knee, hamstring) said he's not 100 percent and will play through pain of knee tendonitis and a hamstring injury in the Super Bowl.
Kansas City Chiefs running back LeSean McCoy, who hasn't had a touch since Week 15 and who was inactive for the AFC Championship against the Titans, said he's not ready to retire after this season. "Nah, I'm not ready to retire, yet," McCoy said. "I still can play. So, I'm not going to retire yet, but that day is coming. That day is definitely coming." The 31-year-old has taken a back seat to running backs Damien Williams and rookie Darwin Thompson down the stretch, and he's unlikely to have much of a role, if any, in the Super Bowl against the 49ers. Shady has become more of a mentor in the running back room than an on-field performer for fantasy owners.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) said his injured shoulder is feeling good but wants to see how his range of motion is and how he will be able to manage the pain in his shoulder.
Fantasy Spin: Fantasy players will need to monitor Coleman's practice participation this week to see if he will be in any danger of missing the Super Bowl. He will be part of a committee if he plays and can be a flex option.
Los Angeles Chargers impending free-agent QB Philip Rivers' status with the Chargers is uncertain at this time, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The team may consider placing the franchise tag on him or let him leave in free agency.
Fantasy Spin: Fantasy players will need to monitor the situation to see where Rivers will be playing in 2020. He likely will find a starting job this offseason but may only be a No. 2 quarterback in fantasy leagues.
San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle (shoulder) said he has been playing the last two seasons with a torn labrum in his right shoulder and does not plan to have surgery on the shoulder.
Fantasy Spin: Kittle seems to be playing fine despite the injury and continues to be an important part of the running and passing game. He continues to be one of the top tight ends in the NFL and is a must-start fantasy option.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (shoulder) said that he's been playing through a torn labrum in his right shoulder since the start of the 2018 season. "So I dislocated my shoulder last year," Kittle said Sunday on the Pardon My Take podcast, "and my labrum is completely torn. So I don't get surgery on it -- [The protective sleeve] basically helps me, so it doesn't hurt all the time." He didn't miss any games in 2018 and set the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end with 1,377. Kittle said there's "no chance" he has surgery in the future. The 26-year-old has been quiet in the postseason with four catches for 35 yards in two games, but the Niners haven't really needed him with their ground game humming. That could change in the Super Bowl against the Chiefs on Feb. 2.
Free-agent WR Tommylee Lewis (Lions) signed a Reserve/Future contract with the New Orleans Saints Monday, Jan. 27. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Chicago Bears WR Taylor Gabriel could be released this offseason since the team could save $4.5 million in salary cap space.
Fantasy Spin: Gabriel struggled with concussions this season but can be a role in an offense because of his playmaking abilities. He probably will be avoided in most fantasy leagues no matter where he plays in 2020.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt, who will be a free agent in March, emotionally admitted that he would fail a drug test to a police officer during a traffic stop recently. This was caught on video of the police officer's dash cam during the traffic stop. Hunt also admitted that the small amounts of marijuana found in the car were his, but the officer let Hunt off with just the speeding ticket. It remains to be seen if the NFL will consider a suspension for the 24-year-old from this incident. Hunt was released by the Chiefs during the 2018 season due to a domestic-violence incident, and he served a suspension before making his Browns debut in 2019. If he signs with another team this offseason and is given bell-cow duties in the backfield, Hunt could have RB1 upside.
The Los Angeles Chargers have "moved on from Philip Rivers," according to FOX Sports' Jay Glazer. Rivers is set to become a free agent in March, and the writing was on the wall when he recently moved his entire family from San Diego to Florida. Rivers will end a 16-year run with the Chargers, but it remains to be seen where he'll land on the free-agent market this offseason. The Buccaneers are a popular expected destination, but that'll only be if they move on from Jameis Winston. Rivers completed 66 percent of his passes for 4,615 yards, 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in 2019 for a QB rating of 88.5. He might have a few more seasons left in him, but at 38 years old his arm strength is clearly deteriorating, and he'll probably be more of a QB2 in 2020, depending on where he winds up.
The Buffalo Bills were cleared of violating policy over the reporting of DE Jerry Hughes' (wrist) wrist injury in 2019. Hughes posted to social media that he was undergoing surgery after playing the season with torn ligaments, but he was not listed on the injury report.
Philadelphia Eagles DT Fletcher Cox was credited with a 61-yard interception return for touchdown at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Indianapolis Colts TE Jack Doyle posted three catches for 63 yards and a touchdown on four targets for the AFC at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.
Pittsburgh Steelers DE T.J. Watt posted an 82-yard fumble return for touchdown in the fourth quarter for the AFC at the Pro Bowl in Orlando on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews ended up with a game-high nine receptions for an AFC-best 73 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Jacksonville Jaguars WR DJ Chark Jr. registered two grabs for 67 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown in the third quarter, for the AFC at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams ended up with a team-high six receptions for 61 yards and two touchdowns on seven targets for the NFC at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.