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Saints lose RB Thomas for season, now will lean on Bush, Jones

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints must try to repeat as Super Bowl champions without their top two power running backs.

Pierre Thomas, one of the stars of last season's title run, was placed on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday because of his injured ankle. The Saints made that move only one day after placing leading rusher Chris Ivory on IR because of a left foot injury that occurred during Sunday's regular-season finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"That's tough," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said of losing both running backs this week. "You can't deny that just because of the physical presence they bring and obviously their productivity."

When the Saints (11-5) open the playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks (7-9) on Saturday, the only remaining healthy running backs from New Orleans' regular-season roster will be Reggie Bush and Julius Jones.

"Naturally, I'm going to have to step up," Bush said.

Bush missed eight games with a fracture in his lower right leg. He has rushed for just 150 yards and not scored a rushing touchdown this season, but he started to look stronger Sunday, when he had 70 yards on just nine carries and had 55 yards on five catches.

Jones has 223 yards and no touchdowns on the ground. The only other running backs on the Saints' roster are fourth-year pro DeShawn Wynn, who was signed Tuesday but also was with the team during the preseason, and rookie Joique Bell, who was signed Wednesday from the Philadelphia Eagles' practice squad.

Brees said he remained optimistic that the versatility of the Saints' offense and the way they spread the ball among so many players will allow them to weather such injuries, perhaps better than most teams.

"In the end, you just work to the strengths of the guys that you have. You don't worry about what you don't have, just what you have," Brees said. "While you would love to have all of the guys and all of the elements that they bring, I feel like Reggie Bush can do some pretty special stuff and Julius Jones can do some pretty special stuff. Deshawn Wynn, when called upon, can do the job. You realize that the passing game may have to pick up some slack at times depending on how the game plan changes by having those guys in."

Bush, who returned from his broken right fibula on Thanksgiving, said he has been feeling stronger lately and is looking forward to the chance to be New Orleans' primary running back. However, he stressed that the success of the offense would hinge on many more factors than him.

"It's about a team effort. It's not just about one person," Bush said. "We have some mistakes that we made as a team throughout the season on offense, defense and special teams that we've got to clean up. The running back position is just one small piece of the puzzle."

Yet as the playoffs approached, the Saints had been optimistic their offense would be better with Thomas, who scored memorable touchdowns in both the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl last season.

Plagued by a left ankle injury that limited him to just six games this season, Thomas started to look effective again during a 17-14 victory at Atlanta in Week 16, when he had 102 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. However, he aggravated the injury during practice last week and sat out the regular-season finale.

"The setback he had was substantial, and we're at that point in the season where you want to do what's best, and yet you want to be mindful of the injury the player has," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "So I think on all fronts -- doctors, trainers, the player and ourselves -- we felt that this was the best move."

Thomas initially was hurt during an overtime loss to the Falcons in Week 3, then missed nine games before coming back for three late-season games. He finished with 269 yards and two touchdown on the ground and 29 receptions for 201 yards.

Late this season, Thomas also had handled kickoff returns after Courtney Roby was placed on IR with a head injury. Payton said wide receivers Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem are taking most of the practice time in that area this week.

Ivory's injury is a lisfranc, which is a fracture and dislocation in the mid-foot, and will require surgery, Payton said. After joining the Saints as an undrafted rookie out of Division II Tiffin, Ivory ran for 716 yards in 12 games and had a team-leading five rushing TDs.

Payton said he wasn't prepared to discuss whether or not Thomas will need surgery. Thomas, who entered the NFL with the Saints as an undrafted rookie in 2007, was playing under a one-year contract as a restricted free agent this season.

Notes:Saints WR Marques Colston fully practiced Wednesday after missing practice and the game last Sunday while recovering from what Payton described as minor arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. ... TEs Jeremy Shockey (groin) and David Thomas (right knee), who both missed last Sunday's game, practiced on a limited basis, and fellow TE Jimmy Graham (sprained left ankle) sat out. ... Also missing practice were safety Malcolm Jenkins (right knee), DL Anthony Hargrove (left knee) and LB Danny Clark (hamstring).

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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