METAIRIE, La. -- Just when it seemed as though things couldn't get much worse for the struggling New Orleans Saints defense, it lost three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd to a season-ending knee injury.
Byrd, who signed a six-year, $54 million contract in free agency this offseason, will be placed on season-ending injured reserve after tearing his lateral meniscus during Thursday's practice, according to Saints coach Sean Payton.
He had surgery performed Friday by Dr. James Andrews.
Byrd, 27, was injured when he got up to run after making an interception deep down the field, according to observers.
Payton said the surgery will require extra rehab because it's a "bucket-handle tear." But Payton added that the repair went well and a full recovery with "no carry-over effect" is expected.
Byrd took to Twitter on Friday to thank his supporters.
Thanks for all the prayers and txts I will bounce back... I thank God even in this situation. Philippians 4:11-13
- jairus byrd (@jairusbyrd) October 3, 2014
Byrd will be replaced in the starting lineup by experienced veteran Rafael Bush, who has played a lot over the last two years in nickel packages and as a part-time starter.
But losing Byrd is obviously a huge blow to a Saints defense that already was struggling mightily during the team's 1-3 start.
"You know, it's terrible for the young man. He worked so hard, and he's getting ready to play a big game against his father [Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerbacks coach Gill Byrd]. That's tough," Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "But for us, in football, it's the tough part of this business. Guys get injured, and you have to step up and move on. And that's what we've done. He's loved by his teammates and his coaches. ... But we'll be ready to go."
Safety Kenny Vaccaro was one of many who expressed that it's "a big loss" because, "Byrd's not just a great player, he's a great teammate. It's gonna be unfortunate to not have him around."
But Vaccaro said he has a lot of faith in Bush, and he managed to put a positive spin on the injury, saying, "It's hard, but the way we were playing, we had so many different issues, we had so many things to fix, that it's like, 'All right, we're gonna have to overcome all these other things anyway.'"
Although Byrd was off to a slow start along with everyone else on the Saints' defense, he did have the team's only takeaway this season (a forced fumble in Week 1). And he was expected to help the Saints turn around their fortunes in that area. Byrd had 22 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles in his first five seasons with the Buffalo Bills.
Bush (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) has made seven starts over the past two years, primarily as the Saints' fifth defensive back. The Saints had to match an offer from the Atlanta Falcons to keep him as a restricted free agent this offseason.
"It's a profession and everybody has to know their job inside and out. And everybody has to understand that in this game, it's 100 percent chance of being injured, so you could be up just like that," said Bush, who pointed out that it was "almost the exact same thing" when former Saints safety Roman Harper was injured early last year. "It's unfortunate what happened to Byrd. I think he's a great player. We're going to miss him, but it's the next-man-up mentality, and we just gotta keep going and try to get these wins."
When asked what he'd tell fans to alleviate their anxiety after this latest blow, Payton said, "The thing we can say is not right now. The thing we can say is Sunday at 12 noon. What's most important is we play well Sunday."