ATLANTA — Drew Brees joined the loud chorus of NFL players railing against playing Thursday night games after his New Orleans Saints lost six players to injuries during a 20-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night.
“It’s 100 percent a product of playing on Thursday night,” Brees said. “Do you understand what guys’ bodies go through in a game? And then to have to turn around four days later and to play? Look at the injury studies, they’re off the charts. They’re off the charts. So is this smart as it pertains to guys’ health and safety? No, absolutely not.”
Players around the league have been vocally critical for years about playing with just three days’ of rest between games. Last month, Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin said Thursday night football should be “illegal” after his team suffered a barrage of injuries, including cornerback Richard Sherman‘s torn Achilles.
In this latest Thursday game, Saints running back Alvin Kamara and guard Senio Kelemete left the game with concussions; linebacker A.J. Klein and safety Kenny Vaccaro left early with groin injuries; defensive end Trey Hendrickson left with an ankle injury and receiver Ted Ginn Jr. left with an unspecified injury late in the game.
Four other Saints players left briefly with injuries but returned to the game.
“I can sit here and tell you that no player likes putting himself at risk on four days’ rest to come and put their bodies through what they put them through in a game,” Brees said. “So you hope that it’s addressed [this offseason], you hope that it’s talked about, and you hope that something is done about it.
“When you see guys go down, when you lose guys for what you think is unnecessary just because you put ’em at a much higher risk in such a quick turnaround, that gets you upset.”
Brees, who was a longtime players’ union leader, was asked if he plans to use his standing to speak up loudly on the issue.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Brees said. “And it’ll be addressed.”
Brees wasn’t the only Thursday critic. Coach Sean Payton hinted at his frustration by throwing an injury question back at the room of reporters.
“What do you guys think? Seriously, speak up,” Payton said. “What do you guys think? Why do you think there were so many injuries tonight? Anyone?”
Payton just sighed when someone suggested the short week as the reason.
“Anyway, credit Atlanta. They came back, showed some heart, got a big win, and it was disappointing for us,” said Payton, who credited his team — especially the defense — for fighting so hard despite all the obstacles on and off the field. Other players chimed in, too, including Vaccaro, who said his body didn’t have time to recover from the scar tissue being broken up from the pre-existing adductor injury this past Sunday.
“Your body’s just not back,” Vaccaro said. “Muscle injuries, especially soft-tissue injuries, come from fatigue, and when you’re playing that close after a game on Thursday, chances are higher.”
Payton’s frustration spilled over onto the field Thursday from both the injuries and penalties that mounted against his team throughout the night. The Saints were flagged 11 times for 87 yards, including the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that Payton himself drew for yelling at officials on the field in the final minutes while Atlanta was running out the clock.
“I called a timeout, and then he asked me again and I said, ‘I’ve already called the timeout.’ I probably said it with a little more oomph or vigor than I was supposed to, but I had enough. I gotta be smarter than that,” Payton said.
Payton was also particularly upset about an alignment penalty that wiped out a Saints field goal before halftime — when he said it’s normal protocol to give a player a warning in that situation, especially since it was a backup who had just recently entered the game (because of injury).
“It was just one of those games. Listen, I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never been a part of a game like that,” Payton said, specifically referencing the flags thrown. “And it was frustrating. But our guys, we’ll bounce back.”