METAIRIE (AP) – A fluke injury on a crazy play has ended Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie’s season, making New Orleans’ slim playoff hopes even slimmer.
Saints coach Sean Payton said Monday that McKenzie tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while nearly recovering Donovan McNabb’s fumble in what turned out to be Philadelphia’s first touchdown in the Eagles’ 38-23 victory in New Orleans on Sunday.
McKenzie has been placed on injured reserve, as has reserve running back Jamaal Branch, who fractured his right leg during kickoff coverage.
Players were given Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, so McKenzie was not available for comment. He’ll need reconstructive surgery, followed by months of rehabilitation, which may affect his ability to participate fully in practices when training camp opens next August.
Next season, McKenzie will be in the fourth year of his current five-year, $22 million contract with the Saints.
McKenzie had been the Saints’ best defensive back this season, returning a pair of interceptions for touchdowns and being chosen as an NFC alternate for the Pro Bowl.
He was the first player to arrive at the loose ball resulting from McNabb’s fumble, but the ball squirted into the end zone after he tried to fall on it at the 2-yard line. McKenzie then quickly bounced up to give chase before collapsing in the end zone.
It was one of several error-filled plays Sunday that cost New Orleans (7-8) a chance to take control of the race for the final wild-card spot in the NFC.
However, because Minnesota lost to Washington later Sunday night, the Saints remained alive heading into their regular season finale in Chicago this Sunday.
To advance, the Saints must beat the Bears, then hope that Minnesota (8-7) falls at Denver and that Washington (8-7) loses to visiting Dallas.
New Orleans plays one of the early games that day, while Minnesota and Washington both play later in the afternoon, sparing the Saints from scoreboard watching while they’re trying to win a game.
“If we’re watching the scoreboard, we just better be watching our own score right now,” said Payton, who had mysteriously lost his voice but explained in a squeaky whisper that he felt fine otherwise. “We’ve got one game left to finish and we’re going to have to play better in all areas.”
Payton said Marques Colston, the Saints’ leading receiver with 90 catches for 1,108 yards, is expected to play in Chicago after being knocked out of the Philadelphia game with a chest contusion that had him spitting up blood.
The coach said Reggie Bush might return after missing three games with a partial tear of his left posterior cruciate ligament, an injury that normally requires about a month of rehabilitation.