Saints lose running back McAllister for year

Already beset by a natural disaster, the reeling New Orleans Saints have now suffered a physical one as well, with a Monday morning MRI exam revealing that star running back Deuce McAllister has a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, an injury that will sideline the five-year veteran for the rest of the season.

McAllister, the workhorse of the Saints offense and once again cast as the centerpiece of what coach Jim Haslett had hoped would be the return to a power running game in 2005, will seek a second opinion. But the matter appears academic and the Saints will finish what already has been a dismal season without the veteran who is arguably their best offensive player.

"If that's the case, a torn ligament, he's out for the year,"
Haslett said. "I feel bad first of all for Deuce. He's worked hard
to get to this point. He's a great football player."

The injury occurred in the third quarter of Sunday's loss at Green Bay when McAllister caught a screen pass and his right foot seemed to catch in the turf at Lambeau Field. An on-field examination by team physicians originally indicated that McAllister suffered an injury to the posterior cruciate ligament. Further scrutiny of the knee following the 52-3 defeat raised alarms the damage was actually to the anterior cruciate ligament, and that it was more severe.

After the game, McAllister insisted he was "all right" and suggested that he would be able to play in next Sunday's game against Atlanta at the Alamodome. McAllister had carried 11 times for 31 yards at the time of the injury.

The Monday MRI exam confirmed the team's worst fears. It is not yet known when the second opinion will take place or when McAllister will undergo surgery. Typically in such cases, teams will wait until the swelling in the joint subsides before they will have a player undergo surgery.

A first-round pick in the 2001 draft, and the 23rd overall selection that year, McAllister has missed only three games in his career. The former University of Mississippi star, who is widely regarded as one of the NFL's premier tailbacks, has rushed for 4,529 yards and 34 touchdowns on 1,054 carries. That includes 93 carries for 335 yards in 2005.

McAllister, 26, entered this season with three straight 1,000-yard campaigns, including a career-best 1,641 yards in 2003. He also has 182 catches for 1,379 yards and four scores.

Haslett vowed this spring, after a 2004 season in which the New Orleans offense seemed to deviate from his blueprint for it, to return to a more physical attack, with McAllister as the primary catalyst. With their top back gone now, the Saints likely will split time at the tailback spot between Antowain Smith and Aaron Stecker. The Saints, already displaced by Hurricane Katrina, and now temporarily based in San Antonio, are 2-3.

"I have a lot of confidence in our team," Haslett said.
"We've overcome a lot in the past year and the last couple of

"[The loss against Green Bay] was enough for a lifetime.
Anytime you lose a player like Deuce you have to have him
surrounded by people who can pick up their game. Everybody has to
play better."

At the outset of training camp, the club signed McAllister to a pricey seven-year contract extension. The extension, which created an eight-year contract in total, is worth $50.1 million and includes $12.5 million in signing and roster bonuses.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.