More specifically, they had one dynamic pair of legs missing from their backfield when breakout rookie star Alvin Kamara left with a concussion on the opening drive.
Of course, every team has to deal with injuries throughout the season. But it felt like the Saints lost a part of their offensive identity -- and certainly a big part of that Thursday night's game plan -- when Kamara went down. He had two catches for 29 yards and a run for 2 yards on that opening drive before he was injured in a helmet-to-helmet hit from linebacker Deion Jones while being swallowed up on a screen pass.
“Annoying. Annoying, really. That’s all I can say,” Kamara said of the first and only game he has missed any part of due to injury so far in his young career. “Of course I wanted to play, but we’ve got another one [this Sunday in the Superdome]. So I’ll be able to play in this one.”
Kamara said he thinks that feeling is shared by the entire Saints locker room after their frustrating 20-17 loss at Atlanta, which was plagued by a barrage of injuries and some questionable officiating calls that left coach Sean Payton seething.
“It’s one of these things where, ‘OK, we can get some payback,’” Kamara said.
Kamara and veteran Saints running back Mark Ingram have formed one of the best running back duos in NFL history this year. On Tuesday night, they became the first pair of running back teammates to make the Pro Bowl in at least 42 years. And they are on pace to become the first duo in NFL history to each surpass 1,500 yards from scrimmage in the same season.
Kamara is tied for second in the NFL with 12 touchdowns this year. Ingram is tied for fourth with 11.
They have been the driving force behind New Orleans’ offense, which ranks first in the NFL in yards per game (401.5), yards per play (6.4) and yards per rush (4.9).
So the Saints will obviously be a much tougher out the second time around for Atlanta. New Orleans (10-4) is 10-1 since Week 3 in games in which Kamara hasn’t been knocked out with a concussion.
“I mean, we’ve had us two in the game the whole season. So it made an impact,” Kamara said, though he didn’t want to overstate it.
Payton also didn’t want to pin the blame solely on the loss of Kamara. “It changes a little bit, your packages, and yet we have to play better than we played in the first game,” Payton said. “Certainly you want to be healthy and be able to get to your packages that you have, but that wasn’t the reason.”
We as viewers were definitely cheated when Kamara left that game, since the matchup between him and second-year linebacker Jones has the potential to become one of the best in the NFC South for years to come.
Jones, a second-round pick from LSU in 2016, has doubled down on his breakout rookie season with another 118 tackles this year, along with one sack and two interceptions -- including his game-clinching interception in the end zone against Saints QB Drew Brees in their first meeting.
“If you just watch him ... if anybody turns on some Falcons tape and watches him, he flies around and makes plays, athletic. He’s a great player,” said Kamara, who agreed that Jones is “definitely” one of the toughest matchups in the NFL for his style of play.
When asked if he is eager for that test, Kamara laughed. “I mean, I think everybody sees how capable he is,” Kamara said. “I wouldn’t say I’m eager for the matchup. [But] you see him flying around, so we know he’s there.”