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Bet on the NFL Pierre Thomas believes his injuries are almost over. He has called it a Freddy Kruger like nightmare. On Wednesday, more than two months since he severely sprained his left ankle, Thomas looked like he was finally on the cusp returning to action, sprinting and making sharp lateral cuts as he worked on running back drills. He was officially listed as "limited," meaning he also participated in some action when the full offense and defense were going at one another in practice.

Even if Thomas doesn't wind up playing against the Bengals, the Saints will be healthier as a team than they've been in a while. Two other regulars, tight end Jeremy Shockey and safety Darren Sharper both fully practiced Wednesday, and Payton said he would be surprised if they didn't play. The only player on the active roster who didn't practice was reserve running back Ladell Betts (neck).

Now on a four-game winning streak and in the thick of the NFC playoff picture, the defending Super Bowl champion Saints (8-3) could be getting stronger as the regular season's homestretch begins.

Their late season schedule has helped some, with a bye in Week 10 and now a 10-day rest between their narrow Thanksgiving triumph at Dallas and this weekend's game against struggling Cincinnati.  When betting on football note the injuries and stats.Unlock HQ Video HQ video delivered by Akamai

Shockey, who has 31 catches for 314 yards and three TDs this season, has missed two games since bruising his ribs while making a touchdown catch Nov. 7 at Carolina. Sharper, an All-Pro last season, missed the first six games of the season while recovering from offseason left knee surgery, then sat out the past two games after pulling his left hamstring.

Thomas was the Saints' leading rusher last season with 793 yards and six touchdowns. An effective receiver on screens and swing passes, Thomas also caught 39 passes for 302 yards and two scores. He capped his 2009 season with touchdowns on screen passes in both the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl.

This season, Thomas had 147 yards and one score on 46 rushes, along with 133 yards on 17 catches, before his injury at the end of a Week 3 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Thomas said his rehabilitation has been complicated by disagreement among doctors and trainers concerning how serious his injury was and whether tendons or ligaments were partially torn or just badly stretched.

About a month ago, when progress was slow, trainers advised Thomas to wear a protective walking boot and use crutches to give the ankle as much rest as possible. Thomas said his ankle responded well, and he started running again after Thomas said his goal this week is to show coaches that he can cut run full speed, run through the holes, take a hit.


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