Saints lose additional running backs for Week 17 as close contacts to Alvin Kamara

METAIRIE, La. -- Replacing Alvin Kamara will be even harder for the New Orleans Saints on Sunday after their running backs room was ruled out following the star player's positive test for COVID-19.

Backups Latavius Murray and Dwayne Washington and fullback Michael Burton were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday and are out against the Carolina Panthers. Running backs coach Joel Thomas also will not travel for or coach in the game.

Kamara tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

None of the other running backs tested positive, a source told Schefter, and they are expected back with the team next week. Kamara cannot return before next Sunday since he tested positive -- putting his status for New Orleans' playoff opener in jeopardy, unless the team can clinch a first-round bye.

To get the bye, in addition to a win of their own, the Saints would need the Chicago Bears to defeat the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks to defeat the San Francisco 49ers.

Against the Panthers, the Saints will likely lean heavily on wide receiver/former RB Ty Montgomery, versatile quarterback Taysom Hill and rookie practice squad running back Tony Jones Jr., among others.

The Saints (11-4) were on the other side of a similar situation earlier this season when they defeated a Denver Broncos team that was without its entire quarterbacks room in a 31-3 rout.

Veteran backup safety D.J. Swearinger also was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, leaving the Saints thin at that position as well. Starting free safety Marcus Williams was previously ruled out with an ankle injury, and nickel safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list earlier this week. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis also was away from the team this week as a precaution because of a high-risk close contact.

This is the largest number of COVID-19-related absences the Saints have had all season. Before this week, they had placed six players on the reserve/COVID-19 list: left tackle Terron Armstead, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, quarterback Jameis Winston, offensive lineman Derrick Kelly II, cornerback Ken Crawley and Washington.

The Saints will need to get creative on offense Sunday since they are also without three of their top receivers on injured reserve -- Michael Thomas (ankle), Tre'Quan Smith (ankle) and Deonte Harris (neck). Thomas is expected to return in time for New Orleans' playoff opener, and Harris could return next week as well.

New Orleans has relied on its running game more than usual this season, in part because of injuries to Thomas and quarterback Drew Brees.

The Saints are averaging the most rushing yards per game (140.6) and fewest passing yards per game (237.8) in the Brees/Sean Payton era. And they are on pace to run for more yards as a team (currently 2,109) than they have since 1983.

For Sunday's game, the Saints elevated seven players from their practice squad to the active roster: running back Tony Jones Jr., wide receivers Lil'Jordan Humphrey and Tommylee Lewis, tight end Garrett Griffin, linebackers Chase Hansen and Andrew Dowell, and cornerback Grant Haley.