Why isn’t Michael Thomas playing on ‘Monday Night Football’? Fight, injury keep Saints star out for Week 5

Michael Thomas was slated to return from an ankle injury Monday night after missing multiple weeks of action, but the New Orleans Saints will again be without their star wideout in Week 5.

Thomas was reportedly involved in a fight during practice with Saints defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. New Orleans officially noted that Thomas’ “change in game status is not injury related,” then added that it was for “team discipline.” Thomas hasn’t played since spraining his ankle in Week 1 against the Buccaneers, and the Saints will be without last season’s NFL reception king against the Chargers on “Monday Night Football.”

Why is Michael Thomas out in Week 5?

Based on multiple reports, Thomas and Gardner-Johnson got into a scuffle at the end of one of this week’s practices. Saints beat reporter Nick Underhill reported that Thomas and Gardner-Johnson were “jawing” back and forth before Thomas punched at Gardner-Johnson’s helmet. 

Underhill also reported that this wasn’t the first time Thomas and Gardner-Johnson had fought in practice. He said it had also happened in 2019 leading up to a Sept. 22 Saints game against the Seahawks.

The Saints decided Sunday morning that they’d be suspending Thomas for Monday night’s game, per Underhill. 

Is Michael Thomas injured?

Thomas has been out with a high right-ankle sprain since being hurt in Week 1. But his practice trends (limited participation Thursday, Friday and Saturday) suggested that Thomas would likely make his return in Week 5.

Instead, a reported fight will keep Thomas out. The absence likely gives Thomas enough time to be fully healed from his ankle injury by the next time New Orleans takes the field. The Saints are on bye in Week 6 before playing the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Oct. 25 in Week 7.

Who did Michael Thomas punch?

The reported target of Thomas’ punch was safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.

Gardner-Johnson attended the University of Florida and was a fourth-round NFL Draft choice by the Saints in 2019. Gardner-Johnson, also known as C.J. (Chauncey Jr.), made the Pro Football Writers Assocation All-Rookie Team in 2019.

Gardner-Johnson wasn’t suspended for Monday’s game. Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reported that those present believed Thomas was in the wrong and didn’t immediately apologize.

What’s the impact of Michael Thomas’ absence to the Saints?

Thomas had a record-setting 2019 for the Saints, reeling in 149 passes for 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s Drew Brees’ favorite target by a large margin.

In the 2020 opener, Thomas struggled to the tune of three catches on five targets for 17 yards before departing in the fourth quarter with his injury. But he likely would’ve begun to bounce back in the ensuing weeks that he couldn’t play in due to his ankle injury.

Thomas’ absence has pushed free-agent signee Emmanuel Sanders further into the spotlight, although Sanders has struggled so far with only six catches for 93 yards against the Lions in Week 4 serving as a breakout. Tre’Quan Smith has been Brees’ more consistent passing-game target, and he caught two touchdowns in Week 4.

Running back Alvin Kamara has also seen an increased passing-game role on shorter passes with Thomas not there to fill that role. In Week 2, Kamara caught nine balls for 95 yards, and he went even further in Week 3, catching 13 passes for 139 yards.

After winning to open the season, New Orleans dropped its Week 2 and 3 games in prime time without Thomas. Only a meeting with the Lions got New Orleans back in the win column in Week 4. Against a solid Chargers secondary in Week 5, New Orleans’ secondary receivers who are forced to fill primary roles without Thomas could struggle to get open. 

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