The Saints may have a tougher time getting their season on track, though, as star running back Reggie Bush is injured and they’re losing a home date on their schedule to serve as the designated hosts in Sunday’s matchup against the Chargers in London.
New Orleans and San Diego both look to bounce back from discouraging losses and avoid the distractions of playing overseas when they meet at Wembley Stadium.
Neither the Saints (3-4) nor the Chargers (3-4) have managed to get in rhythm this year, but New Orleans’ season may have taken a turn for the worst last Sunday as Bush sustained cartilage damage in his knee in a 30-7 loss to Carolina.
Bush, who has 660 scrimmage yards and five touchdowns on the season, had surgery on his left knee Monday instead of traveling with the team to London. It’s unclear how long he’ll be out.
“He has been a big part of what we have been able to do offensively and it’s an injury that we have to deal with,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.
While the loss of Bush certainly hurts, New Orleans has other problems.
The Saints are in last place in the NFC South and have lost all three of their games away from the Superdome.
“We came over here knowing that this is pretty much a must-win game for us,” said wide receiver Marques Colston, who returned from a thumb injury last week. “We have the bye week next week, and just to go in with a win could set our season back on the right track.”
New Orleans was held to a season low in points last week, as Drew Brees finished 21-of-39 for 231 yards and an interception.
“Our three previous losses were all games that we had opportunities to win at the end,” Brees said. “This was the first one that we were beaten decisively. … That was more disappointing than anything.”
Brees was drafted by San Diego in 2001 and played his first five seasons for the Chargers, leading them to an AFC West title in 2004 before signing as a free agent with New Orleans before the 2006 season. Since then, Brees has thrown for an NFL-best 11,065 yards and is fourth in the league with 66 touchdowns.
“I’d by lying if I told you it was just any other game,” said Brees, who leads the league with 2,224 passing yards this season. “But certainly I’m not blowing it out of proportion, and I’m not putting any added pressure on myself or my team.”
In the last meeting between these teams on Nov. 7, 2004, Brees threw four touchdown passes in leading San Diego to a 43-17 victory.
Philip Rivers was a rookie for the Chargers in 2004, and San Diego named him the starting quarterback in 2006. Rivers helped lead San Diego to the AFC Championship game last season, but this year has been a struggle at times.
In last Sunday’s 23-14 loss at Buffalo, Rivers fumbled twice and threw an interception.
“The taste of that loss isn’t gone by any means,” Rivers said after arriving in London on Monday. “It was a big game that we lost yesterday, and we know that, but we’re going to have to rebound.”
Rivers leads the league with 16 touchdown passes, but he’s had little help in the ground game from LaDainian Tomlinson, who still appears hesitant while nursing a toe injury.
After running for a season-high 106 yards and two touchdowns in San Diego’s 28-18 win over Oakland on Sept. 28, Tomlinson has rushed for 150 yards and no scores in his last three games.
“The run game comes with opportunities and gaining some momentum,” Tomlinson said. “Obviously, we didn’t have any momentum in the run game. That’s why we’re suffering.”
This matchup will be the league’s second regular season game in London after the New York Giants defeated Miami 13-10 last Oct. 28.
The Giants, who opened 2007 with back-to-back losses, improved to 6-2 with the victory over the Dolphins and went on to win the Super Bowl.
“They were kind of going through the same struggles,” Tomlinson said of the Giants. “They came here and it kind of changed their season. We’re hoping for the same kind of luck. Hopefully, London brings us that.”