ATLANTA — Tim Lelito could have folded under the mental exhaustion of a tough week, one in which he buried the woman who raised him.
Instead, the Saints backup guard, an undrafted rookie, stepped in for an All-Pro and came through with the biggest game of his career after having just one day to prepare for Atlanta.
And for that, Lelito earned a game ball from the coaching staff after New Orleans’ hard-earned 17-13 win over the Falcons.
“It was, ‘block it out, I have a job to do,’ ” Lelito said afterward. “But at the same time, I knew that she was gonna be with me and help me along the way.”
Lelito played for Jahri Evans, who was inactive for the first time in his career due to an ankle injury. But because of the short week following Sunday’s win over San Francisco, the Saints had an abbreviated work week.
Preparing for the Falcons game, however, took a back seat when Lelito’s grandmother died in Michigan. The Saints allowed him to return for the funeral on short notice.
“I was adopted by her when I was a young kid,” Lelito said. “So, they’re basically mom and dad to me. Raised until I was 14 of 15, then that’s when I moved in with my dad and step-mom.”
Lelito was in Michigan for less than a day, spending about 16 hours there after arriving around midnight Tuesday. Wednesday night, he flew to Atlanta, where he met his teammates.
“Unbelievable,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “Obviously, in a week where you really have very little time to prep – for a young guy to get one walk-through, basically, and then get the news that his grandmother who raised him passed away and go back and take care of her and the family and then meets us here last night.
“Obviously an emotional deal for him, a roller coaster and yet, comes out, starts and plays phenomenal.”
Lelito didn’t have a totally clean game; he was beaten early on a play that ended in lost yardage and also was called for holding penalty. Still, he finished with a near even grade, according to Pro Football Focus, which was much better than Week 3, when he earned his career start.