Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
TAMPA, Fla. – Sean Payton slowly moved out of the Saints locker room in the hallway beneath Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, his arms braced by crutches and his left leg stabilized by a brace.
He was wearing his Super Bowl XLIV ring, a vestige of the success he’s had on the sidelines with the Saints in the recent past.
For the next few weeks, though, Payton won’t be prowling those same sidelines.
Instead, he’ll call the Saints offense from the press box after tearing his left medial collateral ligament and fracturing his tibia plateau in a freak sideline accident in New Orleans’ 26-20 loss to Tampa Bay.
Payton will have surgery Monday morning and hopes to be released from Ochsner Hospital, where team orthopedist Dr. Deryk Jones is expected to perform the operation, by Tuesday afternoon so he can go to the Saints’ Metairie facility to begin game-planning for Sunday night’s home game against Indianapolis.
“At first I just thought I went down and hurt my knee and when I tried to get up, I clearly felt something was up with it,” Payton said. “The main thing was just the X-rays at halftime.”
The injury occurred with 10:17 to play in the first quarter on the Saints’ third offensive play of the game.
Quarterback Drew Brees checked the play at the line on third-and-six, eventually finding tight end Jimmy Graham for a six-yard gain.
But Graham, who fought for yards with two Tampa Bay players grasping him, was finally driven out of bounds by Buccaneers safety Sean Jones. Graham rolled up on Payton, who said he already was looking at his play sheet for the next play.
“He came in to see me and I didn’t understand why,” Payton said. “I didn’t even pay attention to the fact that it was Jimmy. So obviously he has no responsibility with that.”
Said Graham, “I talked to him and said my bad. He said, ‘No, it’s not your fault. You’re the one fighting for the first down.’ He thought he had a little time so he was looking up to make the next play call and I ended up getting knocked into him”
Payton stayed down for several minutes before being helped to the bench, where he sat for the rest of the first half. Eventually, after going to the locker room for X-rays with less than 3:30 to play in the first half, he ceded play-calling to assistant coach Pete Carmichael Jr. and Brees, who handled it in the no-huddle offense.
“I felt like Pete did a great job of getting play calls in and all the stuff that we would have called in those situations,” Brees said. “He deserves a lot of credit, as does the rest of our coaching staff, just to try and pick up the slack for what Sean would have done, obviously, as head coach and play caller.”
Payton said it’s not unusual for coaches and players to have “near misses” on the sideline in similar situations.
He couldn’t get away this time, getting injured for what he said was the first time in his life.
“Not once have I ever had an injury in all the years I played,” Payton said. “This is one where it just got up on me and I didn’t get out of the way quick enough.”