Take it as proof that things can always get worse — Saints receiver Brandin Cooks broke his thumb in Sunday’s 27-10 loss at home to Cincinnati, according to reports Monday from multiple media outlets, including Cox Sports Television, ESPN and NFL Network.
Estimates are that Cooks will be out two to four weeks for the Saints (4-6), who currently sit second in a weak NFC South whose leader is Atlanta, also 4-6. Atlanta is in first place because it beat the Saints at the Georgia Dome in Week 1, but the teams play each other again in New Orleans on Dec. 21.
Cooks’ importance to the Saints is obvious to even casual observers. The rookie first-round draft selection out of Oregon State is second on the team in receptions (53), yards (550) and touchdown catches (three), one of which was a 50-yarder. He’s also carried the ball seven times for 73 yards and another touchdown, and he’s been the primary punt returner for the team.
Under Cooks in the Saints’ pecking order are veteran receiver Marques Colston (34 catches for 536 yards and a touchdown) and second-year pro Kenny Stills (31 grabs for 431 yards and two TDs, including a 9-yarder against the Bengals). Below Colston and Stills are players such as Robert Meachem, Nick Toon and Joseph Morgan. Stills and Morgan are obvious candidates to replace Cooks at least in returning punts, given their speed.
It’s not been confirmed when Cooks was hurt. But he fielded a punt Sunday at the Saints’ 17 with about 3:30 to go, returned it four yards and fumbled the ball after being hit by Bengals defender Darqueze Dennard. The Saints recovered the fumble; but Cooks walked away from the pile over the ball clutching the area above his right wrist with his left hand, and he grimaced in view of a television camera.
The injury is the latest frustration of a season full of them so far. Aside from the lackluster record, there’s been numerous key injuries, such as the season-ending knee ligament tear to three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd ahead of Week 5 and the right fibula fracture another safety — Rafael Bush — sustained in the loss to Cincinnati.
Still another safety — rookie Vinnie Sunseri, a mainstay on the special-teams coverage units — fractured his arm in a loss to San Francisco on Nov. 9.
Bush was hurt about 80 seconds before Cooks was in terms of elapsed game time. Both Cooks’ and Bush’s fractures occurred while the Saints were down by the final score of 27-10; and there was essentially no chance of a comeback at that late stage of the game, enhancing the general sense of frustration surrounding the injuries.
“We’re banged up,” second-year safety Kenny Vaccaro said wearily after the Bengals game.
Another key member of the Saints’ offense missed three games earlier this season with a broken thumb: running back Mark Ingram. Ingram has racked up 618 rushing yards, 138 carries and six touchdowns to head the Saints’ ground game in the seven games he has played.
Cox Sports’ Victor Howell first reported Cooks’ injury. It was then confirmed by ESPN’s Mike Triplett and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. All cited league sources.