ALAMEDA -- The Raiders were faced with the possibility Thursday of being without one of their most dependable and durable defenders as strong safety Tyvon Branch missed practice for the second straight day with a neck injury.
Branch, the Raiders' leading tackler this season and in the previous two seasons, has started 57 consecutive games after missing the second half of his rookie season with shoulder surgery.
"If he's able to practice tomorrow then I'd anticipate he'd be able to play," coach Dennis Allen said. "I'd have some real concern if he's not able to practice tomorrow."
It's not known exactly when Branch was hurt. Mike Mitchell, who would start in Branch's place if he's unable to go, said, "He was kind of sore, and then on the plane he was kind of stiff, but we didn't really know anything."
In the same situation as Branch is wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who has missed the past two practices with a hamstring strain -- always a tricky injury for skill position players who depend on speed.
If Heyward-Bey does not play Sunday against New Orleans, it would mean increased time for Rod Streater, Derek Hagan and Juron Criner.
Running back Darren McFadden (right ankle sprain) did some running on the field with the training staff, according to Allen, but did not practice. Backup running back Mike Goodson (right ankle sprain) has not begun running.
Defensive tackle Richard Seymour (hamstring) didn't practice, and it's likely he will miss the Saints-Raiders game along with McFadden and Goodson.
Free safety Matt Giordano (concussion) was cleared to practice and is a likely starter against the Saints.
As a rookie in 2001, Brees watched as the Raiders crowd showered Flutie with insults, mostly along the lines of, "Hey Flutie, you're short. You stink."
So Flutie walked toward the crowd, and suddenly, according to Brees, it was, "Hey Doug, how you doing, man? Good to see you. I'm such a huge fan. Will you sign this for my daughter?"
After a few moments of warm exchanges, Flutie left to warm up and immediately Brees said the talk reverted to, "Hey Flutie, you're short. You stink."