METARIE, La. — The Saints' struggling defense was dealt a significant setback on Friday when the team learned that three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.
Byrd injured his lateral meniscus in practice Thursday, coach Sean Payton said, and had surgery Friday — two days before a home game against Tampa Bay.
"It was a play where he just kind of turned to catch a ball down the field and kind of tweaked his knee and got up, and obviously, it was more significant than that," Payton said. "The good news is the repair went well, and it's something that, with the right rehab and treatment, there should be no carry-over effect" next season.
Reserve safety Rafael Bush, a regular in the defensive backfield, has been promoted to Byrd's starting spot, Payton said.
Byrd's father, Gill, is a cornerbacks coach with the Bucs. So while Payton generally avoids giving away significant personnel changes to opponents in the days leading up to a game, he made an exception. "It was important that he let his dad know and that was more important, obviously, than the opponent not knowing," Payton said. "As a father, I would want to know."
The Saints signed Byrd, 27, to a six-year, $54 million contract this past offseason, when the safety became a free agent after spending his first five seasons in Buffalo, which drafted him in the second round in 2009 out of Oregon. Byrd intercepted 22 passes during his first five years in the league, more than any safety during that span. In four starts this season, Byrd had yet to intercept a pass, but created a turnover with a forced fumble in the season opener at Atlanta.
"It's a big loss. Byrd's not just a great player, he's a great teammate. It's going to be unfortunate to not have him around as much," fellow starting safety Kenny Vaccaro said.
Still, the defense was struggling, ranking 29th with 396 yards allowed per game. "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 going to have to overcome all these other things anyway,'" Vaccaro said. "So it's a loss, but you get what I'm saying. We were playing so bad across the board that it can't get worse, I don't care who you lose. … You can plug anybody in and play better (as a unit) than how we've been playing."
The team also ruled out running Mark Ingram (hand) and fullback Erik Lorig (ankle).
Bears: Starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff are out Sunday at Carolina. Bushrod suffered ankle and knee injuries in practice. Ratliff is recovering from a Week 2 concussion.
Broncos: Matt Prater, who is about to come off his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, was cut, so first-year kicker Brandon McManus has turned his temp job into a full-time one.
Cardinals: Drew Stanton will get his third straight start on Sunday. Quarterback Carson Palmer, out since the opener with a "dead" nerve in his throwing shoulder, wasn't at practice. Coach Bruce Arians said Palmer was receiving an unspecified "special treatment."
Chiefs: Donnie Avery had surgery for a sports hernia and has been ruled out for Sunday's game at San Francisco, though the receiver is expected back later this season. Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry will miss his third straight game with a high ankle sprain.
Falcons: The team ruled out offensive guard Justin Blalock for Sunday's game against the Giants because of a back injury, meaning there will be three new starters on the offensive line. Also, receiver Harry Douglas will miss his second straight game with a foot injury. Blalock's injury ends a streak of 102 consecutive starts, the longest on the team.
Jaguars: Right tackle Austin Pasztor, who missed the first four games while recovering from a broken right hand, will start Sunday against Pittsburgh. The team ruled out receiver Cecil Shorts, who had been unlikely to play because of a hamstring injury. Rookie receiver Marqise Lee (hamstring), cornerback Dwayne Gratz (concussion) and tight end Mickey Shuler (illness) also will be inactive.
Patriots: Bill Belichick denied speculation that a verbal battle between receiver Aaron Dobson and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels caused the former to be inactive the last two games. The coach offered a one-word response to why Dobson was benched. "Football," Belichick told ESPN on the reason for his inactivity. He added that there was nothing to the rumors about the heated argument between Dobson and McDaniels. The Boston Globe reported Thursday that the two had "at least one loud disagreement." The report also claimed that the team is concerned about the 23-year-old Dobson's maturity level.
Fines: Geno Smith, the Jets' second-year quarterback, was fined $12,000 by the league for cursing at a fan after the team's game against Detroit on Sunday. Pittsburgh defensive lineman Cameron Heyward was docked $22,050 for using abusive language toward an official during the Steelers' loss to the Bucs. Houston's J.J. Watt was fined $16,537 for roughing the passer against Buffalo. San Diego left tackle King Dunlap and Jacksonville defensive end Alan Branch were each fined $8,268 for their fight during the Chargers' 33-14 win Sunday. Chicago guard Kyle Long was also docked $8,268 for unnecessary roughness in the Bears' loss to the Packers.
Late Thursday: Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder finished 22-for-44 for 222 yards passing, but nearly all of his success came late with the game well in hand. He was sacked six times. The former FSU star's 6-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter ended a shutout en route to a 42-10 loss to the host Packers. Otherwise, this wasn't what Ponder envisioned when he was called on to start with rookie Teddy Bridgewater sidelined by a sprained left ankle. "Playing like that, you don't have much to say. It was embarrassing," Ponder said. "I feel bad that I put the team in this position. Point the finger at me." Linebacker Julius Peppers returned a Ponder interception 49 yards for a touchdown, Aaron Rodgers threw for three scores and Eddie Lacy ran for a season-high 105 yards and two touchdowns for Green Bay.
ME says Bironas' blood alcohol level was 0.218
NASHVILLE — Titans kicker Rob Bironas had a blood alcohol level of 0.218 percent when he died in a one-vehicle crash Sept. 20, according to the Davidson County Medical Examiner's Office. The limit at which Tennessee presumes driver impairment is 0.08. The toxicology report also says a low level of Diazepam or Valium was detected, but at a level so low to have a "negligible effect." The autopsy shows the Bironas, 36, died of blunt force trauma after his SUV went off the road and crashed into a line of trees.