They also had to tear a few pages out from the Taysom Hill section of their playbook.
The Saints had to cut back on a lot of things they love to do with Hill on both offense and special teams during that stretch, because they needed to keep him protected as the No. 2 quarterback behind Teddy Bridgewater.
But Hill was certainly back to his old do-everything ways on Thursday night -- deflecting a punt on special teams, catching a 3-yard touchdown pass and scoring on a 30-yard run during the first half of New Orleans’ 26-18 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
“Look, I’m happy that Drew is back for multiple reasons,” Hill said. “I love playing with him, he’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around -- and it also creates more opportunities for me.”
Saints coach Sean Payton and his staff had an entire offseason to come up with creative new ways to use the 6-foot-2, 221-pound Swiss Army knife after he broke out in a big way last year as a read-option quarterback/running back/receiver/tight end/kickoff returner/special teams monster.
So you know it was killing Payton to leave some of those ideas on the shelf for a while.
Because not only does Hill add a few innovative wrinkles to worry about, but he also provides a much-needed spark for his own team.
“I don’t know that there’s anyone that enjoys playing football more than him. And that kind of rubs off and is kind of contagious on his teammates. So when guys like him makes a play, you see the bench get excited,” Payton said. “He’s neat to coach. ... There aren’t many guys like him. The first one I’ve ever coached like him. So while he’s developing as a quarterback, there’s a lot of places he’s playing.
“And I probably need to keep giving him the ball even more.”
It’s no coincidence Hill was such a big part of the game plan on Thursday night after the team spent the week preaching about the need to bring more “energy” into this game than it did in a stunning loss to the Falcons three weeks earlier.
Hill has a knack for the dramatic. He has four touchdown catches on just 13 total receptions this year (that’s more TDs than Odell Beckham Jr. and Davante Adams combined, as ESPN Stats & Information pointed out). And he now has one TD run.
Last year, including the playoffs, he scored three TDs. He also converted three fake punts and blocked a punt, among other game-changing plays.
“Look, I know what my role is on this team, and I’m happy with that,” said Hill, who began his career as an undrafted rookie with the Green Bay Packers in 2017 after thriving as a dual-threat quarterback at BYU. “I certainly have different goals and plans for the rest of my career. But I’m just happy to help our team win in any way that I can. So if I can step on the field eight to 10 or 15, 20 ... whatever number that is, my goal is to add a spark whenever I can.
“I love being able to go in and add some energy.”
Hill’s touchdown run on Thursday night was a play that the Saints ran for the first time all year. And it worked brilliantly by creating confusion when Alvin Kamara motioned out of the backfield and lured two defenders away with him.
Hill now has 127 rushing yards (7.9 yards per carry), 114 receiving yards and 35 passing yards this season – though he is still looking for his first career TD pass after throwing his only attempt away on Thursday to avoid pressure.
“When you have guys like Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Jared Cook -- the list goes on -- it kind of creates opportunities for ‘little old me’ because there’s so much attention that’s put on those guys,” Hill said. “And Coach is one of the best at being creative and putting guys in positions to be successful. And I was lucky because I was that guy tonight.”