Brand-new players step up to help injury-riddled Saints

by Jeff Duncan, The Times-Picayune

Instead of chanting “Who Dat?” Saints fans likely found themselves muttering it to themselves as they watched their beloved Bless You Boys batter the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
Who Dat making all those sacks at defensive end?

Who Dat kicking all those field goals?

Who Dat playing fullback instead of Mike Karney?

There are a lot of ways to win football games in the NFL. Most of the time, you ride the play of your stars to victory.

But every once in a while, you win when a bunch of unheralded no-names rises to the occasion and steals the spotlight.

Sunday was one of those days for the Saints.

With seemingly half their roster sidelined with injuries, it took a village of heretofore-unknown Who Dats, many who weren’t even on the roster six weeks ago, for them to beat the Chiefs 30-20 at Arrowhead Stadium.

Defensive end Jeff Charleston, who was working at a woodshop in Portland, Ore., when the Saints offered him a job in mid-October, had two sacks and two quarterback hurries to lead a spirited effort by the Saints’ defense.

Rookie kicker Garrett Hartley, who was out of a job and on the street three weeks ago, drilled all three of his field-goal attempts, including a 35-yarder to make it a two-score game and essentially ice the victory with 3:28 left.
Punter Glenn Pakulak and kickoff returner Courtney Roby, who like Hartley were also out of work last month when the Saints signed them, teamed with the kicker to spearhead a stellar special-teams effort. Pakulak had a 48.5-yard average on his two punts. Roby returned four kickoffs for a 28-yard average, including a 54-yarder to set up the Saints’ first score.

Thanks to their work, the Saints enjoyed a comfy starting drive position at the 36-yard line.

“That’s what it takes,” running back Deuce McAllister said. “We’re going to need guys to step up like that each week.”


And it wasn’t just the new guys who stole the spotlight.

There were some familiar faces in strange places, as well.

With regular fullback Mike Karney sidelined with a knee injury, the Saints worked tight end Billy Miller, running back Pierre Thomas and even linebacker Troy Evans at fullback.

Thomas said he hadn’t played fullback since his college days at Illinois. Evans hadn’t played it since high school. And Miller said he’d never played the position.

“Now I know what Mike Karney goes through,?” Miller said with a smile. “There’s not glory in blocking. Whatever it takes to help this team win.”

With starting cornerbacks Mike McKenzie and Tracy Porter on injured reserve and reserve Aaron Glenn hobbled, the team, for all practical purposes, was down to three cornerbacks Sunday. Freshly signed Leigh Torrence and Donald Pittman were too green to be pressed into duty.

That left Randall Gay, Usama Young and Jason David standing. Young and David, you might recall, were so far down the depth chart at various times this season that they were inactive on game days.

Yet there they were Sunday, matching up play after play with Dwayne Bowe and Mark Bradley, combining for six of the Saints’ eight pass breakups, the second-highest total by the secondary this season. Young’s interception in the final minutes marked the first pick by a Saints defensive back in five weeks, dating to David’s interception against Oakland in Week 6.

“Sometimes you’ve got to go with what you got,” said Young, whose first career interception sealed the victory. “That’s football. You never know when your number is going to be called.”

The head-spinning attrition forced Saints coach Sean Payton and his staff to get extra creative with their weekly game plan.

In addition to the improvisation at fullback and cornerback, they also inserted free safety Josh Bullocks as the dime back in passing situations.

Indeed, it was a good day to have a team roster handy.

“So much in our league each week can change,” Payton said. “You need to be flexible enough to change. From a personnel standpoint, I thought we did a good job. Being able to be flexible enough to utilize some other guys on the roster just to really fill in for Mike Karney, that was important.”

It might not have been the prettiest win the Saints have had, but it was no less satisfying.

For a team desperately trying to stay in contention in the NFC South Division and coming off a bitterly disappointing loss to Atlanta, the win was nothing less than critical.

And it a took a village of Who Dats to bring it home.

Jeff Duncan can be reached at jduncan@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3404.

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