NEW ORLEANS — The Atlanta Falcons had what head coach Arthur Smith described as “a scary moment” before Sunday’s game when New Orleans Saints returner Rashid Shaheed collided with Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees during pregame warmups.
The collision sent Pees falling backward to the turf around the 35-yard line. Medical staff and coaches surrounded Pees for a number of minutes before a cart and stretcher came out on the field. They worked to stabilize Pees’ neck before placing him on the cart to take him off the field.
Pees was treated and released from University Medical Center New Orleans and will fly back with the Falcons to Atlanta on Sunday night, the team later announced.
“We called them up when we got in from warmups, said our prayers for him and tried to update them and just be honest about the situation. Everybody in the stadium saw it,” Smith said. “Scary moment for him. Thankfully the Saints doctors and our doctors did a hell of a job, got him evaluated and will continue to monitor him.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of something like that.”
Falcons safety Erik Harris was among the players to check on Pees before he was taken off the field. Smith, general manager Terry Fontenot, team president Rick McKay and owner Arthur Blank were among the people surrounding Pees after the collision.
Shaheed said after the Saints’ 21-18 victory that he was sorry for what had inadvertently happened to Pees.
“I was backing up to catch a punt and I kind of just ran into him,” Shaheed said. “… I never saw him. I immediately was super concerned. But I got word that he’s back from the hospital, he’s healthy and doing OK, so I’m thankful for that. I’m glad he’s doing OK.
“If he sees this, I’m sorry. My apologies.”
By the time Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver and the other defensive backs came out on to the field, they saw a huddle around Pees on the ground and had no idea what had happened.
“It’s definitely going to mess with your mental (composure) a little bit,” Oliver said. “But more so than anything else, we weren’t really settled down in those first two drives. We just weren’t really locked in on our details.
“That had more to do with us than anything else.”
Linebacker Mykal Walker said Smith told the team Pees was going to be OK, but at first the news “startled” him a little bit. Walker said he was able to check on Pees when he returned after being discharged from the hospital.
Oliver said he didn’t think Pees’ situation had anything to do with the team’s poor defensive start, though. The Falcons gave up touchdowns on the first two drives of the game, including a two-play, 73-yard drive. Linebackers coach Frank Bush was the defensive playcaller against the Saints on Sunday. Atlanta allowed 348 total yards (134 rushing, 214 passing) and 6.3 yards per play against New Orleans.
The 73-year-old Pees is the oldest defensive coordinator in the NFL. He has been with Atlanta for two seasons after coming out of retirement once the Falcons hired Smith. It isn’t the first time Pees has had to be taken to the hospital from a game.