Kamara led the Saints (12-4) in yards rushing (932) and yards receiving (756) in 15 games. In the last game he played, against the Vikings on Christmas, he scored six touchdowns. He also set Saints records for TDs rushing in a season (15) and total TDs in a season (21). He was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list last week after testing positive for the coronavirus.
The Saints’ 2,265 yards rushing are the most since the Sean Payton era began 2006.
Thomas, the 2019 AP Offensive Player of the Year, has missed nine games this season because of the ankle issues but returned to practice this week. He had 40 catches for 438 yards and no touchdowns in seven games during the regular season.
The Saints had already ruled out sack leader Trey Hendrickson and offensive guard Nick Easton. Hendrickson had career-high 13½ sacks this season, which tied for second in the NFL. But he missed practice late this week because of a nagging neck injury that also sidelined him from New Orleans’s penultimate regular season game.
The Saints have depth at defensive end with Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport, along with second-year reserve Carl Granderson, whose five sacks ranked fourth on the team.
Easton has concussion symptoms. He has started nine games this season.
Meanwhile, the Bears (8-8) have ruled out leading tackler Roquan Smith and second-leading receiver Darnell Mooney. They were injured in the regular season finale against Green Bay and did not practice during the week. Smith injured his left elbow and Mooney suffered an ankle injury after setting career highs with 11 catches for 93 yards.
Smith’s injury leaves the Bears without a disruptive force at inside linebacker, especially with Kamara returning. Smith had a career-high 139 tackles and ranked second in the league with 18 tackles for loss.
The Bears activated linebacker Manti Te’o and defensive back Marqui Christian from the practice squad.
The Saints also announced that wide receiver/return specialist Deonte Harris and cornerback Patrick Robinson were activated from injured reserve; wide receiver Jake Kumerow was waived; offensive lineman Nick Easton was placed on IR; and linebacker Chase Hansen and wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey were elevated from the practice squad.
The Bears also activated linebacker Manti Te’o and defensive back Marqui Christian from the practice squad.
While the four-time NFC South champion Saints embark on yet another playoff run, linebacker Demario Davis is imploring teammates to narrow their focus and stay in the present.
“The only thing that we’re promised is this moment. That is the only clock that you could be looking at,” Davis said. “It isn’t like, as a team, you’ve got so many opportunities to be here. The only moment we have is right now and it’s all about what we do with it right now.”
For the Saints, the stakes are high because their quarterback is the 41-year-old Brees, who has become synonymous with New Orleans during the past 15 seasons. Brees brought the football-obsessed community it’s lone major pro sports championship 11 seasons ago, and became the NFL’s all-time leader in yards passing.
Brees will turn 42 on Jan. 15 and hasn’t committed to playing beyond this season, so each game could be his last.
Asked if he’d decided whether this season would be his last, Brees said only: “I’ve made a decision about being the best I can be this week so we can go win this game so we can keep playing.”
Brees is in his ninth postseason with New Orleans and 11th in his career.
Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky, now in his fourth NFL season, is in the playoffs for just the second time after what was a turbulent 2020 for him. Trubisky was benched earlier this season and has started just nine games. But the Bears went 6-3 in those games, with three victories in four games to close the regular season and sneak into the playoffs.
“We got nothing to lose. We know everybody is overlooking us,” Trubisky said. “We’ve got to come in playing smart and play disciplined football, but that doesn’t mean coming in being uptight. I think, go in and play free.”