Mike McKenzie, New Orleans Saints cornerback, likely out for season

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune November 09, 2008 10:19PM

For the second year in a row, Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie suffered a devastating knee injury that likely will end his season.

He fractured his right kneecap while making a diving tackle during the third quarter of Sunday’s 34-20 loss at Atlanta. He will visit Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., this week for the official prognosis, but season-ending surgery is the most likely option.

“It’s a physical game, and you can never take (your health) for granted,” said McKenzie, 32, who plans on rehabbing and returning again.

He admitted to having those negative thoughts about going under the knife again and going through another long rehab process, but he said he didn’t feel sorry for himself.

“It’s not a ‘Why me?'” McKenzie said. “You know, I’m happy, I’m blessed, I play in the NFL. You know, I love the team that I play with, I love my teammates. So I really just plan on .¤.¤. it’s a lot of motivation for me to just get back out there.

“The most positive thing, I’m happy I’m alive. It’s only a broken knee. It could be worse.”

McKenzie made a great tackle on the play. He dived to bring down receiver Michael Jenkins short of the first-down marker on third down, forcing Atlanta to settle for a field goal. But his kneecap hit the hard turf surface, and he instantly felt the bone break.

McKenzie tore the anterior cruciate ligament in the same knee last December, and he worked his way back into the lineup this year, making his regular-season debut in Week 3. He has one interception and 25 tackles in seven games.

The two injuries could be related. The recovery from the ACL tear may have weakened the knee structurally. In 1997, when receiver Jerry Rice returned early from an ACL tear after three months out of the lineup, he broke his kneecap in his first game back.

The good news for McKenzie is that Rice came back at full strength the next season and had another Pro Bowl year.

“It’s hard,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said. “I mean, it’s real disappointing. His rehab process, and what it takes to rehab from a major knee injury is very long and tedious. So I was disappointed for him. And I know the rest of his teammates feel the same way.

“I just saw him in the locker room, and he’s in some pain right now. He’s a pretty tough-minded guy, but it’s certainly a blow to our defense. And we’ve just got to get him healthy and get him fixed.”

If McKenzie is out for the season, he will become the 10th member of the Saints’ injured reserve list. Fellow starting cornerback Tracy Porter suffered a season-ending wrist injury in Week 5 against Minnesota.

It’s not clear who will replace McKenzie in the starting lineup alongside veteran Randall Gay. Aaron Glenn and Usama Young both will play increased roles, with Jason David sliding back onto the active roster.

McKenzie is due $4.45¤million next year in the final year of his contract.

McKenzie was one of several Saints who left Sunday’s game with injuries. Fullback Mike Karney strained a medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Right tackle Jon Stinchcomb strained his right calf. Tight end Jeremy Shockey sprained an ankle, and tailback Aaron Stecker strained a hamstring. The extent of all those injuries is unknown. Glenn hobbled off the field late in the fourth quarter, but he wasn’t listed on the postgame injury report.

KICKERS STEP UP: Among the Saints’ few bright spots Sunday were the solid performances by new kicker Garrett Hartley and punter Glenn Pakulak. Hartley drilled both of his field-goal attempts, from 24 and 44 yards, when the game still was competitive, and his kickoffs were good, though he failed to convert two onside kick attempts. Pakulak averaged 48.3 yards on three punts, with a long of 56 yards.

“Of course, it’s always good to get your first kick in the NFL and make it,” said the rookie Hartley, who said he felt confident during pregame warmups, when he made all his kicks, and throughout the game. “It was unfortunate, though, that it really didn’t come down to (the field goals).”

LINEUP CHANGES: Two other players made their 2008 debuts with the Saints on Sunday — defensive tackle Hollis Thomas and receiver/kickoff returner Courtney Roby. Thomas played a handful of snaps in his first game back from a torn triceps injury, though he finished with no tackles. Roby, a free agent who was signed last month, returned five kickoffs for 127 yards, with a long return of 41 yards in the third quarter.

Receiver David Patten returned after missing the past four games with a groin injury. He replaced receiver Robert Meachem, who was inactive, and caught two passes for 35 yards.

Also inactive for the Saints on Sunday: tailback Reggie Bush, center Jonathan Goodwin, offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod, defensive tackles Antwan Lake and Remi Ayodele, David and quarterback Joey Harrington.

PAYTON’S OFF DAY: It seemed like none of Payton’s gambles worked out Sunday. He dialed up a deep play-action pass to receiver Devery Henderson on the first play from scrimmage, but it was well covered and resulted in an interception by safety Erik Coleman. … He decided to go for it on fourth-and-4 late in the second quarter rather than attempt a 46-yard field goal because he liked his play call, but Brees’ pass to Marques Colston was knocked away by cornerback Chris Houston. … He failed on yet another replay challenge in the third quarter when he challenged the spot on Michael Turner’s first-down run (his eighth rejection in 10 attempts this season). … And he called for back-to-back onside kick attempts in the fourth quarter, sensing he could fool the Falcons with some misdirection, but the second kick scooted out of bounds.

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