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Nov

30

Bucs slow down Brees to beat Saints 23-20

By FRED GOODALL,

AP Sports Writer

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) New Orleans put the game in Drew Brees’ hands, and Tampa Bay took it right away.

The relentless Buccaneers defense pressured the NFL’s leading passer all afternoon, then intercepted him twice in the closing minutes Sunday to stay atop the NFC South with a 23-20 victory over the Saints.

“You know you’re going to get opportunities,” Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said after Brees threw on nine of New Orleans’ first 11 plays and finished with 47 attempts on a rainy day that might have discouraged some other quarterbacks.

Instead it was Tampa Bay’s defense, sometimes overlooked during the team’s 9-3 start, that got the best of the Saints star.

“We’ve got to relish this because we feel like we’re one of the best secondaries in the league, and I think our performance today, at least in our minds, proves it,” Barber said.

Brees, on pace to break Dan Marino’s single-season yardage record, threw for 296 yards and two touchdowns but also was picked off three times – once in the end zone on a pass that Barber tipped to Cato June – and sacked once.

“We had our perfect chances out there and we didn’t take advantage of it,” Brees said. “It’s disappointing, very disappointing. It’s probably one of the more disappointing losses I have ever been a part of.”

The victory was the fourth straight for Tampa Bay. The Bucs are 6-1 since Jeff Garcia regained the starting quarterback job, which he lost after a poor performance in a season-opening loss against the Saints (6-6).

Garcia was limited to 119 yards passing, but threw 38 yards to Antonio Bryant for a third-quarter touchdown that put the Bucs up 20-10. Carnell “Cadillac” Williams also scored on an 8-yard run, his first TD since a career-threatening knee injury 14 months ago.

“That was big,” said Williams, who gained 20 yards on four carries in his second game since being activated from the physically unable to perform list. “I was just glad that down around the goal line they called my number.”

Brees was 25-of-47 and wiped out a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit by throwing a 20-yard TD pass to Pierre Thomas and taking advantage of a short punt to tie the game on Garrett Hartley’s second field goal with 5:34 to go.

With the game on the line, though, he couldn’t stop New Orleans from falling to 0-17 when trailing after three quarters under coach Sean Payton.

“We talk all the time about (putting games away in the fourth) despite what happens through the entire course of the game. We had a chance, at least two chances, and we didn’t take them at all,” Brees said.

“Give them credit because they played very well and knew what to do to throw us off offensively and make the plays on defense. What hurts really is that we had a chance to win it in the end and didn’t take it.”

A week after gaining 418 yards in a 51-29 rout of Green Bay, the Saints’ high-powered offense sputtered until Brees put together a six-play, 72-yard drive just before the half to give New Orleans a 10-6 lead on his 13-yard TD pass to Lance Moore.

Brees hurt the Bucs with three completions of 39 or more yards in the season opener, but Tampa Bay’s secondary did a much better job this time. Marques Colston’s 37-yard reception set up the Saints’ first TD, though Brees’ longest completion other than that was 22 yards to Colston in the first quarter.

The Bucs took control early in the third quarter, marching 46 yards to regain the lead on Williams’ first TD since Sept. 23, 2007, against St. Louis – the week before he torn the patellar tendon in his right knee.

Special teams has been a big part of Tampa Bay’s success, and return man Clifton Smith was a huge factor again Sunday. He ran down Glenn Pakulak’s 70-yard punt and raced 42 yards to the Saints 39 to set up a second-quarter field goal, then had a 12-yard return to the New Orleans 43 to position the Bucs for Garcia’s TD throw to Bryant.

Josh Bidwell’s 18-yard punt helped the Saints tie the game, but he redeemed himself with a 37-yarder that pinned the Saints at their own 7 with just under four minutes to go. Phillips intercepted a pass intended for Colston to set up the winning field goal, then Buchanon sealed the victory with his pick on a throw intended for Moore with a little more than a minute left.

“I really feel something special about this team. This is a championship team. We continue to get better; the chemistry continues to grow,” Williams said.

“We’ve got a lot of unselfish guys on this team that play roles. If we keep it rolling like this, the sky’s the limit for this team.”

Notes: Colston had six catches for 106 yards. Reggie Bush played for the first time since tearing the meniscus in his left knee on Oct. 19 and having arthroscopic surgery. He finished with zero yards rushing on three carries and five receptions for 32 yards. … Warrick Dunn led Tampa Bay with 74 yards rushing on 22 attempts.

Nov

29

New Orleans Saints are learning lessons about using Reggie Bush

Posted by Jeff Duncan, The Times-Picayune November 28, 2008 11:33PM

The Saints’ offense has gotten along just fine during Reggie Bush’s four-game hiatus due to a knee injury.

The education of Reggie Bush continued this week. In his rookie season, the Saints’ ultra-back learned he couldn’t outrun NFL defenders the way he did at Southern Cal.Last season he learned how to run between the tackles, to wait on blocks to develop, and trust the scheme.

This season Bush is learning another facet of Advanced NFL Running 101: How to play with pain.

Bush has missed the past four games as he recovers from arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee.

The surgery took place Oct. 20. Initially, team officials projected a two-to-four-week recovery time for the injury and indeed Bush himself predicted he’d play in both the Chiefs and Packers games.

Bush has watched the Saints’ two-game winning streak from the sideline, bedeviling his fantasy football owners along the way.

He said the decision to not play against Green Bay was “a mutual thing” between he and Coach Sean Payton.

“I didn’t feel like I could be me and be 100 percent, and I would be hurting the team, ” Bush said.

Bush is right in one respect. He’s not like most players. His effectiveness is based almost entirely on speed and cutting ability. If he can’t cut, juke or sprint, he’s useless.

And Bush isn’t shy about expressing his feelings about it. He’s made it clear the past few weeks that he isn’t about to play at anything less than 100 percent, explaining he needs to make a wise “business” decision.

This week Bush once again declared his intention to play.

“I know I said that last week, ” said Bush, who again was limited in practice Friday. “But it’s definitely a go this week.”

Asked if he was certain he’d be the Bush of old this week, Bush said “I wouldn’t be playing this game if I wasn’t . . . 100 percent certain I’ll be able to do everything that I was doing before I was injured.”

He added, “These last two years have been tough, just from trying to fight this injury bug. I obviously don’t want to be known as the guy who’s always injured.”

Bush better get used to it. Injuries are part of the game, especially at running back, where the average tenure is 3 1/2 seasons.

Bush need only look around him for evidence. Aaron Stecker, who dresses in the locker next to him, is out for the season with a torn hamstring. Next to Stecker, Deuce McAllister soldiers through pain on a pair of surgically repaired knees. Next to Deuce, fullback Mike Karney has missed the past two weeks with a right knee injury.

And Bush, with his slight build and heavy workload, might be more vulnerable than any of them.

Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, the man Bush is most often compared to, has endured a similar fate throughout his career. His injury history includes abdominal, knee, foot, rib, chest, triceps and wrist ailments.

Former Saints coach Jim Haslett used to say the NFL isn’t a league for little guys.

“They’re always going to be nicked up, ” Haslett said.

Bush has now been “nicked” each of the past two seasons. Each time he loses a fraction of the speed and elusiveness that made him the No. 2 pick in the 2006 NFL draft. It’s this very scenario that caused some NFL experts to question Bush’s effectiveness as an NFL feature back before the draft that year.

“More may be less and less could be more with Reggie, ” Cleveland Browns General Manager Phil Savage notably said that spring. “If they utilize him in the right way, he can still be a Heisman Trophy winner at the pro level, even if he’s touching the ball 10 or 15 times a game. At his size, carrying it 20 or 25 times a game for 16 games, I think that’s almost an impossibility for somebody to do that.”

Hopefully Bush, as well as the Saints, have learned this lesson.

Despite predictions to the contrary, the Saints have fared quite nicely without Bush. They’ve averaged 425.3 yards in the 4 1/2 contests they’ve played without him. In the 6 1/2 games with him, their average is 411.07.

The same thing happened last season when Bush was sidelined for the final four games with a knee injury.

In fact, the past two seasons the Saints are 5-3 in games without Bush and 8-11 with him.

Bush’s absence the past month has opened the door for players like Lance Moore and Pierre Thomas to step into leading roles. Now Payton has the dicey challenge of working Bush back into the rotation without upsetting the momentum of his high-powered attack, which is firing on all cylinders.

As Payton formulates the plan, he’d be wise to heed Savage’s advice.

With Bush, less is definitely more.

Nov

28

With Reggie Bush likely to return, New Orleans Saints offense may be at full health

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune November 26, 2008 8:16PM

Reggie Bush says he will play Sunday at Tampa Bay. ‘But I know I said that last week.’

Reggie Bush insisted that he’ll be back on the field Sunday at Tampa Bay. And this time he said he means it. “Oh yeah, I’m definitely a go this week. I know I said that last week, but it’s definitely a go this week, ” said the Saints tailback, who missed the last four games with a left knee injury. “I’m 100-percent certain I’ll be able to do everything that I was doing before I got injured. . . . I’ll be doing it all. Punts and everything.”
Saints Coach Sean Payton wasn’t quite as emphatic, but he too said that he thinks Bush will play against the Buccaneers.

Bush, who tore the meniscus in his knee on Oct. 19 at Carolina, participated in Wednesday’s practice on a limited basis. It will be a good sign if he can return to the practice field again today. He has not yet practiced two days in a row.

“I felt good today, ” Bush said. “I obviously didn’t do a whole practice today, but I was doing a little bit here and there, just kind of easing back into it. But I felt great. The leg feels great. It’s the best it’s felt since I injured it.”

The Saints have actually fared quite well without Bush, winning three of four games while he’s been out — including a dominating 51-29 victory over Green Bay on Monday night.

Bush still believes he can crank the offense up another notch.

“I’m a competitor, and Coach Payton and the rest of my teammates know when I’m on the field that they always have a chance, ” said Bush, who was leading the Saints in touchdowns, rushing yards and receptions before he suffered the injury. “No disrespect to any of the other guys, because we have a lot of great players on this team, a lot of game-breakers, and I think you saw a lot of that against Green Bay. But obviously I feel like I have the ability to break the game open anytime that I touch the ball, and that’s obviously a threat for defenses. They have to prepare for me, and Coach Payton does a great job of putting me in a position to score and to make plays.”

Both Payton and quarterback Drew Brees said they are looking forward to having Bush back in the lineup because he adds one more threat for defenses to worry about.

And it’s not just Bush coming back into form. Both receiver Marques Colston and tight end Jeremy Shockey have been inching closer to full speed and full strength after being saddled with injuries early in the year. Meanwhile, their replacements, Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore and Billy Miller, have developed into superior weapons.

“It’s, OK, pick your poison, ” said Brees who explained that the Saints’ goal is to put pressure on opposing defenses and dictate the tempo and rhythm of the game, forcing them off balance — rather than allowing defenses to set the tone. “We’re on our way back with all our guys, with everybody feeling like, hey, the roles are defined, everybody knows what to expect.

“You know, we go into every game plan with opportunities for every guy, and we kind of get into the game and see how we’re being played and who might have the hot hand and that sort of thing. We just continue to build, and I’m waiting for one of those games where Marques catches 10 balls for a buck fifty and three touchdowns. That type of game is right around the corner for him.”

Colston caught just one pass on Monday night, but it was a big one — a 70-yard touchdown in the third quarter after he put a move on cornerback Charles Woodson. It was his first touchdown of the year after he combined for 19 touchdowns in his first two seasons.

Colston has been inconsistent since returning from thumb surgery last month. He had just one breakout performance, seven catches for 140 yards at Atlanta while the Saints were in desperation mode, throwing the ball on every down late in the game.

“I think it’s only a matter of time, because I feel like the offense is rolling right now, ” Colston said. “You can tell that the vibe in here and just the rhythm on the field is getting close to what it should be, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Colston and Miller both caught their first touchdown passes of the season Monday night, bringing the total to 10 players who have caught scoring passes from Brees this year.

Even Brees, who has been putting up astonishing passing numbers all year, was a little surprised by that particular statistic.

And the list doesn’t even include Shockey, who was supposed to be a premier red zone target, or Thomas, who has become a focal point of the offense recently.

Brees started trying to figure out who else he can add to the list, first asking about Deuce McAllister, who already caught one at Atlanta, then asking about fullback Mike Karney, who has not caught one yet this season.

“We can really spread the love for the rest of the season, ” said Brees with a smile.

ADMONISHED: Colston said he was chastised by the coaching staff after he casually tossed the football away as he crossed the goal line on his touchdown catch Monday night. Replays showed that Colston released the ball almost simultaneously as he broke the plane of the end zone. He insisted that he knew he was in before he let go of the ball, but it was still a risky decision that could have erased six points.

OTHER INJURIES: Three players did not practice Wednesday — Karney (knee), cornerback Aaron Glenn (ankle) and defensive end Jeff Charleston (foot). Karney worked to the side with the training staff and said he felt good. He’s still doubtful for this week, but he’s hoping to be back sooner than later. Charleston aggravated his foot late in Monday night’s game. Payton said he’ll know more about his status Thursday.

GIVING THANKS: Several of the Saints’ more high-profile stars often receive recognition for their community service and charitable foundations, such as former Saints Man of the Year winners Brees, McAllister and Mike McKenzie. But they aren’t the only ones out there giving back to the community week in and week out.

Players make frequent visits to schools and hospitals, among other endeavors on their off days and during the offseason. Some of the most actively involved players who deserve special acknowledgement are Moore, Thomas, offensive linemen Jon Stinchcomb and Zach Strief, cornerback Usama Young and linebacker Troy Evans.

Nov

28

New Orleans Saints place cornerback Aaron Glenn on injured reserve, activate defensive end Josh Savage

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune November 27, 2008

New Orleans Saints cornerback Aaron Glenn has been placed on injured reserved.

The Saints placed cornerback Aaron Glenn on injured reserve Thursday, officially ending his season, and they activated defensive end Josh Savage from the practice squad.

Glenn, who has been battling an ankle injury for almost the entire season, became the 14th member of the Saints’ injured reserve list this season.

The 15th-year veteran, who signed with the Saints in free agency this year, appeared in four games, mostly as a nickel back. He originally injured his ankle in Week 2 at Washington, then he re-injured it at Atlanta three weeks ago.
Savage, 28, has been with the Saints for the past two years, mostly on the practice squad. He was active for one game last season and two this September, but he played sparingly on defense and special teams. The 6-foot-4, 276-pounder will likely replace Jeff Charleston as the No. 3 defensive end in Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay. Charleston missed practice again Thursday with a foot injury.

Savage might be needed for the rest of the season if starting defensive end Will Smith winds up serving a four-game suspension over the final month.

The Saints replaced Savage on the practice squad with tight end Kolo Kapanui.

Charleston and fullback Mike Karney (knee) were the only two players who did not participate in Thursday’s practice. Tailback Reggie Bush participated on a limited basis and still appears to be on track for Sunday’s game. The Saints went through a light practice with no pads and no helmets. The players were dismissed early this afternoon for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Nov

28

New Orleans Saints’ Will Smith hopes this isn’t year’s last hurrah

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune November 27, 2008 6:49PM

Will Smith has not had a big season statistically, but he has been battling injuries for much of the season.

Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay might be the last hurrah this year for Saints defensive end Will Smith, who is facing a possible four-game suspension for the final four weeks of the regular season. But he said that won’t give him any extra incentive to “leave it all on the field.”

“I leave it all out there every game, so if I was to say that, that would mean I’m taking it easy the rest of the other games, ” Smith said. “Every game you’ve got to go out and play hard and do what you want to do. In this profession, you never know when your last game is, so you’ve got to go out and give it your all every week.”

For the record, Smith still believes he and teammates Deuce McAllister and Charles Grant can avoid their looming suspensions by winning the appeal they made to the league office last week in New York.

The three Saints players tested positive this summer for the banned diuretic bumetanide, which can be used to mask steroids in urine samples. But they claim the substance came from an over-the-counter weight-loss product called StarCaps, which advertises itself as all-natural and does not list the banned substance on its label.

That controversy is just one of several reasons why this has been the most frustrating season of Smith’s five-year career, but you won’t hear him complain.

Smith, who earned a trip to the Pro Bowl after the 2006 season, signed the richest contract in Saints history this offseason, a seven-year deal with a maximum value between $60 million and $70 million if he reaches all incentives.

He has had his worst statistical season to date, though, with just 3 1/2 sacks and one forced fumble through 11 games.

Smith lost his longtime running mate, fellow defensive end Grant, to a season-ending triceps injury last month. Smith also has been battling an abdominal/groin strain since early September, an injury that he didn’t want to talk about, but Coach Sean Payton reluctantly revealed this week.

“There are a lot of issues that go on that you deal with that aren’t really public knowledge, ” Smith said. “You have to fight through those other issues and go out and play and do your best on Sundays. What happens happens, and your team knows what’s going on and all that stuff. So as long as everybody’s on the same page and knows that you’re busting your butt, I think it’s fine.”

Teammates and coaches indeed have been praising Smith this season. Rookie defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis said he is a great teacher and leader for the defensive line and pointed out that he has stepped up big in some big moments — like the two stops he made during the Saints’ two goal-line stands at Kansas City two weeks ago.

Assistant defensive line coach Travis Jones said Smith has remained a high-energy, motivated worker who hasn’t let the challenges wear on him this season.

“Will’s got one of those mentalities on game day where he’s a warrior, ” Jones said. “He’s got a look in his eye that when the ball kicks off, you don’t want to be in his path. And it’s exciting to be around a guy like that who has that type of intensity on game day.”

The Saints have 20 sacks this season, which ranks tied for 22nd in the NFL.

Part of the reason for the lack of sacks is the quarterbacks and offenses they’ve faced. Guys like Denver’s Jay Cutler, San Diego’s Philip Rivers, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, Tampa Bay’s Jeff Garcia and Carolina’s Jake Delhomme do a good job of releasing the ball quickly and avoiding the sack.

When the Saints have faced quarterbacks who tend to stay in the pocket longer, such as San Francisco’s J.T. O’Sullivan, Oakland’s JaMarcus Russell, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Kansas City’s Tyler Thigpen, they’ve taken advantage.

Smith, who racked up 33.5 sacks and 12 forced fumbles in his first four seasons, said of course he wants to put more quarterbacks in the ground, like any competitor. But he said he hasn’t had to fight the urge to get down on himself.

“When you don’t have them, it just makes you try harder and encourages you to do more things to try to make things happen, ” Smith said. “As far as being satisfied, I’m never really satisfied with anything. Even when I do play good, I think I can always play better. Never get too satisfied and never get too down. Just try to always stay on an even keel.”

If this is indeed Smith’s final game of the regular season, he’d sure like to end on a high note.

A victory would put the Saints at 7-5 and give them a fighting chance to make the playoffs — leaving open the door for Smith and McAllister to return in the postseason, even if they do lose their appeal.

GLENN PLACED ON IR: The Saints placed cornerback Aaron Glenn on injured reserve Thursday, and they activated defensive end Josh Savage from the practice squad.

Glenn, who has been battling an ankle injury for most of the season, is the 14th member of the Saints’ injured reserve list this season. The 15th-year veteran, who signed with the Saints in free agency this year, played in four games, mostly as a nickel back. He injured his ankle in Week 2 at Washington, then he re-injured it at Atlanta three weeks ago.

Savage, 28, has been with the Saints for the past two seasons, mostly on the practice squad. He was active for one game last season and two in September, but he played sparingly on defense and special teams.

The 6-foot-4, 276-pounder will likely replace Jeff Charleston as the No. 3 defensive end in Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay. Charleston missed practice again Thursday with a foot injury. Savage might be needed for the rest of the season if Smith serves a suspension.

The Saints replaced Savage on the practice squad with tight end Kolo Kapanui.

PRACTICE REPORT: Charleston and fullback Mike Karney (knee) were the only two players who did not participate in Thursday’s practice. Tailback Reggie Bush participated on a limited basis and still appears to be on track to play Sunday. The Saints went through a light practice with no pads and no helmets. The players were dismissed early Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Nov

26

New Orleans Saints look to build on big Monday Night Football victory over Green Bay Packers

Posted by Teddy Kider, The Times-Picayune November 25, 2008 7:55PM


Drew Brees had reason to smile after the Saints beat the Packers 51-29 Monday night. ‘Rarely do you get in a game and you just feel like whatever you’re calling is working.’

The Saints ran 54 offensive plays Monday night, tying their lowest number in a game this season. They held the ball for just less than 28 minutes, their third-lowest time of possession in a game this year.

That, perhaps, was why quarterback Drew Brees, the leader of the No. 1 offense in the NFL, was most impressed by the points the Saints scored in their 51-29 win against the Green Bay Packers on Monday night at the Superdome.
“We put up a lot of points, ” Brees said Tuesday afternoon. “That’s the most points we’ve put up since we’ve been here, and I know we tied a franchise record. I’d say it just felt like anything we did worked. Rarely do you get in a game and you just feel like whatever you’re calling is working.

“What’s amazing is we only ran (54) plays. I got done watching the film, and you look at the count at the bottom — (54) plays, you say, ‘Wow, I felt like we ran about 80 plays.’ Just because you score 51 points, you figure you had the ball for a long time. But we really didn’t have that many third downs because we were getting chunks. We made some big plays, and the points just added up.”

The Saints’ scoring contributed to a historic week for the NFL, helping to shatter the record for combined points in all league games in one weekend, now at 837.

But the relevance of Monday’s game for the Saints is not yet clear.

It could go down as the “Monday Night Football” game that served as the turning point for New Orleans’ season and began an unlikely road to the playoffs, or it could become just another game for a team that could not string together enough victories to match heavy expectations.

“I think the next two, three weeks have always, in our league, cleared things up and narrowed the field, if you will, ” Saints Coach Sean Payton said Tuesday. “And I think it will be the case again this year.”

The question for the Saints in a shortened week of preparation is how they can build on their first two-game winning streak of the season and keep momentum intact against three NFC South opponents in their final five games.

Most teams would be reluctant to adjust an offense that scored a point for almost every play and had a quarterback narrowly miss a perfect passer rating in its most recent game. Running back Pierre Thomas has become a competent rushing threat, receiver Lance Moore has a fine connection with Brees, and formerly injured players such as tight end Jeremy Shockey and receiver Marques Colston finally seem to be playing up to their usual level.

The Saints also found a way for their defense to feed off their offense’s success and the offense then to take it even further, as displayed during a dominant third quarter in which New Orleans just piled points on the Packers.

But adjusting is exactly what the Saints will do, as soon as Sunday at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, if running back Reggie Bush returns to the lineup from knee surgery.

“Once he does come back, we’ll tailor the game plan accordingly, ” Brees said. “Whoever’s in the lineup, that’s how we tweak the game plan. It’s all about putting all those guys in positions to succeed according to their strengths.”

Payton said “we’re searching still for our most complete game, ” noting some of the problems he had with Monday’s performance: the Packers’ third-down conversions in the first half, negative yardage on rushing attempts for the Saints early on, a bad call for a third-quarter trick play that resulted in an interception thrown by Moore.

Besides probably not wanting to seem too high after a win against a 5-6 Packers team, Payton likely knows the uphill battle his team still faces for a playoff spot. The NFC has nine other teams with the same or a better record than the Saints’ 6-5 mark, and New Orleans has beaten only one of those teams this season.

The Saints do, however, face four of those teams, plus the Detroit Lions (0-11), in their final five games.

“Each game that we play from here on out, that game is the most important game of the season, ” Brees said. “I think we have to approach it that way. Especially when you look at we still play everybody in our division one more time, two of those games at home. These are the most important games, and this is really going to define our season.”

Nov

25

New Orleans Saints vs. Green Bay Packers in-game updates

Posted by The Times-Picayune November 24, 2008 7:03PM

Deuce McAllister became the all-time touchdown leader for the Saints Monday night against Green Bay.

Welcome to the Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints in-game blog, live from the Superdome.

The weather outside is a little wet, a slow drizzle has been falling most of the afternoon here in New Orleans, but the fans have been out in force, tailgating anyway.

We’ll be updating this same file throughout the game so keep hitting the refresh button.

Game of the year
It was the game Saints fans – and probably Saints players and coaches – have been hoping for all season, a 51-29 whipping of the Green Bay Packers.

Drew Brees was well, Drew Brees. Four touchdown passes – including two 70-yarders – and great decision-making all evening.

Deuce McAllister got his touchdown record in what could have been his last game in the Superdome. And on “Monday Night Football” no less.

The defense – and much maligned cornerback Jason David – made just enough big plays to stop the Packers.

And the team kept its playoff hopes alive at 6-5, making Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers meaningful. If Brees and Co. can play at this level the rest of the season – the team tied the franchise record for points in a game – the Saints should make the final five weeks of the season interesting.

Record in sight (8:39 4Q)
Pierre Thomas, who has had a great game, scored on a 31-yard touchdown run to make it 51-29 Saints. That ties the most points the Saints have scored in franchise history. If Sean Payton hadn’t gone for a 2-point conversion the Saints would have set the record. Odds are they’re going to get it on their next possession. The Packers’ defense looks whipped

Packers running out of time (11:45 4Q)
Green Bay scored and converted the 2-point conversion to make the score 45-29 with 11:45 left in the game. The only problem: it took the Packers 5 minutes and 41 seconds to score. That’s way too long. And it forced the Packers to try an onside kick which failed.

Now all the Saints and Sean Payton have to do is run the ball, run the ball and run the ball.

Making an entrance (2:26 3Q)
Marques Colston, who had been missing all evening, just raced in with a 70-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees. It was Colston’s first reception and he showed good speed in outrunning the Packers defenders. Everything is going the Saints way now. A 45-21 lead looks real safe and should make the Packers one-dimensional. Aaron Rodgers just doesn’t look good enough tonight to lead that big of a comeback.


Click to view the graphic.

Why did the Packers trade Favre and why didn’t the Saints run the ball? (5:35 3Q)(
Aaron Rodgers threw another pick right to Jason David giving the Saints great field position but the Saints gave up it right back when Lance Moore, yes Lance Moore, threw an interception on a gadget play.

Sean Payton was going for a knockout blow but a more conventional call would have done the job. Aside from the first possession, the Packers haven’t stopped his offense all night.

Deuce gets his due (7:40 3Q)
Deuce McAllister, the greatest Saints running back of all-time, just scored his 54th touchdown of his career, to set the team record. The Superdome crowd went nuts and it gave the Saints a huge 38-21 lead. There’s no doubt Deuce is right up there with Archie Manning as the fans’ favorite.

Jason David, definitely not a fan favorite, returned an errant Aaron Rodgers’ pass 42 yards to the Saints’ 3-yard line to set up the score. The guy gets beat but every now and then he makes a big pick. This one was more a bad play by Rodgers than a great interception but at least he didn’t drop it.

How good is Drew Brees? (8:34 3Q)
With every pass Drew Brees throws he looks better and better. His 16-yard TD pass to tight end Billy Miller was a thing of beauty, arching it over a well-beaten A.J. Hawk. It was the 75th touchdown pass of his brief Saints career. Brees is 17 for 22 for 245 yards and three touchdowns.

Is any quarterback playing as good as Brees this season? No.


View an interactive graphic that tracks key statistics for Saints starting quarterback Drew Brees. (Updated with week 12 statistics against the Green Bay Packers)

Gutsy move (12:29 3Q)
Payton went for it and got it with a strong run by Pierre Thomas. Smart move. The Packers have been holding onto the ball all night and the way the Saints’ defense has been playing likely would have marched down the field for another score.

Big call (12:53 3Q)
Mike McCarthy won a challenge on the spot of Lance Moore’s third down reception that would have given the Saints a first down, forcing a fourth-and-1 for the Saints. Good challenge by the Packers’ coach, forces Payton to have faith in his defense or to go for it and possibly give Green Bay great field position.

A half and a half (halftime)
OK, we’re all tired. It’s halftime and the Saints and Packers have marched up and down the field, seemingly at will. The Saints have 211 total yards, the Packers have 195. You want a Monday Night Football shootout? You got one. Both quarterbacks have performed big time on the big stage.

Drew Brees is 13-of-16 for 194 yards and two TDs, and Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay 11-of-17 for 108 and a touchdown.

More stats just came in: Lance Moore, who looks like he’s replaced Marques Colston as Drew Brees’ favorite target, has caught four passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Jeremy Shockey is quietly putting together his best game as a Saint: four catches for 43 yards with a long of 19.

The Packers’ Ryan Grant is just gashing the Saints: 16 carries for 64 yards. If McCarthy keeps calling his number there’s no doubt he’ll fly past 100 yards.

Sideline warning, issued by us (:02 2Q)
Saints Coach Sean Payton must have some special priviledge. He just walked down to about the 15-yard line before the snap. Packers Coach Mike McCarthy is on the field, just outside the 15. What gives? These guys are not supposed to be inside the 32.

Maybe Payton wanted a better look at the Garrett Hartley field goal, which sort of fluttered over the crossbar, to give the Saints a 24-21 lead with :02 left in the half.

Gimme thirds (1:44 2Q)
When it’s all over, this could be a key stat: the Packers have converted 8-of-10 third downs. One of the misses came on the first drive. Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings looks like he’s wide open on every play and Aaron Rodgers has thrown him four passes already. On their eighth conversion, the Packers tied the score at 21 with a 10-yard run from Rodgers.

The Saints have 1:44 left in the half to try to get more points. They get the ball to start the second half, so with this game looking like a last-team-to-get-the-ball situation, it could be a key drive.

They’re off to a good start as Courtney Roby returned the kickoff 62 yards. What a game.

A passing fancy (8:39 2Q)
The answer to one of the Saints’ fans questions is ‘No.’ The one about would the Saints try to run the ball more against the Packers since Green Bay isn’t that good against the run. But, look, at this point in the game, Drew Brees has completed 11 consecutive passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns. And Lance Moore has his second TD catch of the game, a 14-yarder to give the Saints a 21-14 lead. This just in: That Lance Moore guy is fast.

Shootout anyone? (13:43 2Q)
There was a trend in the NFL this weekend: everybody forgot how to play defense. OK, that’s not fair, the Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans held their opponents to less than 10 points. But, 11 teams scored 30 or more points.

Looks like we’re on our way to another big output here at the Dome. The Packers just tied the score at 14, after moving the ball pretty freely. Aaron Rodgers hit Greg Jennings for a short touchdown pass, that was relatively easy.

The Packers came this close to scoring on the drive near the end of the first quarter on a long pass when Rodgers missed Jennings down the seam. Jennings was completely uncovered and probably would have scored easily. The Saints were in that crazy defensive package where they drop a defensive end back in coverage, in this case Will Smith, who had no chance of actually covering Jennings.

Isn’t this FOOTball? (4:14 1Q)
Didn’t the Saints just do this? Green Bay punter Derrick Frost shanked a punt off the side of his foot that traveled 24 yards, allowing the Saints to begin at the Packers’ 41. The marketplace could suddenly be flooded with punters.

The Saints took this gift and proceeded to score in about two and a half minutes, with Pierre Thomas capping it off with a 4-yard run. (Not Deuce McAllister, by the way, he’s still looking for one more touchdwon to be the all-time Saints leader). The Saints are up 14-0 and that was an impressive drive, one that looked like the opening drive against Tampa Bay this season, or one that resembed that 2006 team. It didn’t resemble many of this season’s drives.

That Saints secondary is awf… wait (8-something 1Q)
The Saints defensive backs are supposed to be their weakness. It’s right there in the scouting report, throw on this team, they can’t stop the pass. So what got into the Packers? They just ran the ball down the defense’s throat. Six straight runs and a short touchdown by fullback John Kuhn and the Pack jumps ahead 7-0.

But before the groaning fans can get another brew or get back from the restroom, the Saints answered with a looong pass from Drew Brees to Lance Moore. Moore scored quicker than you can say “Stand up and Get Crunk”, which immediately came on the P.A. after the extra point. It was a 70-yarder. That made up for the crappy opening drive that netted nothing.

This game could be crazy.

Feets fail me now (12:06 1Q)
The first punt of the game for the Saints’ Glenn Pukalak is a stinker. He hit a soft, low wobbler than was picked up on the bounce by Will Blackmon, who returned it 27 yards. This is significant because of the way Saints Coach Sean Payton has changed punters and kickers like socks this season. Pukalak is the third punter the team has used this season. More kicks like that, and, they’re be a fourth. … Quick note, Saints receiver Robert Meachem made his first career start because the Saints came out in a quirky formation, three tight ends and one wide receiver on their first play from scrimmage. No doubt, that will win somebody a bar bet one day.

They’re rowdy already
Boy, these Saints fans are fired up. We’re less than two minutes into the game and the noise is at a fever pitch. The Packers call a quick time out and the place is going nuts. It’s just the opening drive. But, maybe it’s because it’s third-and-2, which hasn’t been a good place for the
Saints defense this season. Randall Gay gets a pass breakup and the Saints hold. Hmm, a good play by a defensive back, the crowd was rewarded.

Intros
The teams get ready to take the field as the U2 song plays over the P.A. You know the one, “The Saints are comin’, the Saints are coming, lalalalalalalallalalalalalaala, the Saints are comin’, the Saints are coming, lalalalalala, lalalalala, la, laaaaaaaaa.”

After a wrestling match involving Sir Saint, Gumbo and a guy dressed in a Green Bay shirt – that ended with the guy getting raked over a fake cheese grater – the Saints were introduced. Well, the offensive was introduced. It was a toss-up on biggest ovation, Marques Colston, Drew Brees and Deuce McAllister. Scratch that. It was no toss-up. Deuce got the biggest cheers, in what could be his final game at the Superdome.

By the way, an annoying trend we’d like to see go away: during the national anthem, at the part of “… rockets red glare…”, the pop guns that go off. What’s the purpose?

Lineup changes
Jonathan Goodwin is starting tonight at center for the Saints. It will be his first start since the Saints played Carolina at Charlotte, N.C. on Ocot. 19. He hurt his knee in that game and had been replaced by Matt Lehr.

Other lineup changes for the Saints: Deuce McAllster is slated as the starter in place of Reggie Bush and Darian Barnes will start at fullback in place of Mike Karney. For Green Bay, Michael Montgomery will start at right defensive end in place of Jeremy Thompson. Thompson, Brian Brohm (QB), Charlie Peprah (S), DeShawn Wynn (RB), Nick Barnett (LB), Breno Giacomni (T) and Allen Barbre (WR) are inactive.

Before the game
It’s about 15 minutes before kickoff and all the tailgaters haven’t found their way in. The two teams are warming up on the field, the Saints are in their all black unis, the Packers are in the white jerseys and gold pants. We’re expecting a pretty electric atmosphere because it’s the first time the Saints have been at home since Oct. 12, a 34-3 win against the Oakland Raiders.

Nov

19

Injuries are no worse for New Orleans Saints than that of, say, New England

Posted by John DeShazier, The Times-Picayune November 19, 2008 12:00PM

I’d feel a lot sorrier for the New Orleans Saints if it wasn’t for New England.

I’d be a lot more inclined to give more credence to New Orleans’ injury situation being a reason for its 5-5 record – giving the Saints an out that, to their credit, the players and head coach thus far have refused to take – if not for the Patriots, who arguably are in a worse injury fix and are 6-4.
When reserve running back Aaron Stecker was placed on injured reserve Tuesday he became the 13th Saints player this season to join the list. Likely, the franchise never has had a season like this when it comes to losing players to season-ending injuries and the potential that it could get worse, since there are six regular-season games remaining, is too real.

Saints fans have lamented the loss of, roughly, a player per week and it’s impossible to not say all the injuries haven’t had an effect on the team. The constant shuttling ravages continuity. The fill-ins, obviously, aren’t as good as the guys they’re replacing – otherwise, they wouldn’t have been fill-ins in the first place.

Those things put a franchise at a disadvantage and it’s hard to keep up with the Joneses when the vast majority of the Joneses aren’t as beat up as you are.

But, Saints fans, before you let the woe-is-us chorus grow too loud, before you continue to proceed with the thought that your Saints are injured at an unprecedented level and that any team in a similar situation would be as inconsistent, look at New England.

The Patriots are in no better shape injury-wise but, all things considered, certainly seem to have been a lot less inconsistent on the field.

New England has 10 players on injured reserve and, yes, that’s three less than the Saints. But if we’re talking value, there’s no comparison.

Three of the Patriots who are out for the season are quarterback Tom Brady, safety Rodney Harrison and running back Laurence Maroney. Take the best four Saints on injured reserve – defensive end Charles Grant, cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Mike McKenzie and defensive tackle Brian Young – and the Patriots’ three are more accomplished than the Saints’ four. Truth be told, the Patriots’ three are more accomplished and very well could carry more impact than the Saints’ entire 13.

New England’s three is comprised of a league MVP, multiple Super Bowl winners and multiple Pro Bowl players. The Saints have some guys who are valuable (particularly McKenzie and Porter, the starting cornerbacks), but Brady is a former Super Bowl MVP who is bound for the Hall of Fame.

And yet, New England has managed to rally behind a quarterback (Matt Cassel) who hadn’t started a game since high school. The Pats are tied for second in the AFC East, a game behind the Jets; the Saints are last in the NFC South, three games behind Carolina.

Granted, it helps the Patriots that they’re playing in a weaker division (6-4 gets you third place in the NFC South). But New England lost its best player, Brady, in the first game of the season, Maroney had just 28 carries and Harrison started six games before heading for the sideline.

You see that, and it’s hard to feel as sorry for the Saints as you otherwise might feel.

The good thing – the key thing – is that the Saints publicly haven’t bothered feeling sorry. Correctly, players and Coach Sean Payton have maintained that injuries simply are part of the game. While fans debate whether the Saints’ training camp work and conditioning drills directly have been responsible for the rash of injuries, the team has done the only thing it can do, move ahead and expect the replacement to play as well as he can.

But while Saints fans are lamenting and feeling as though their beloved franchise is hexed this season, they’d do well to take a peek at the Patriots.

New England’s schedule hasn’t been particularly murderous and it doesn’t look specifically punishing down the stretch. But all a team can do is play the opponents on the schedule and see where it stands. That the Patriots have done so, without three players everyone would consider more critical to what New England does than they would consider the top four Saints to what New Orleans does, and have a winning to show for it says something about the Patriots.

Here, it says not to feel so sorry for the Saints – or, at least, not as sorry as you might feel otherwise.

Nov

19

New Orleans Saints place Mark Campbell on injured reserve

Posted by Teddy Kider, The Times-Picayune November 19, 2008 12:50PM

The Saints added another player to their injured reserve list Wednesday, ending the season for tight end Mark Campbell after he injured his left knee against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

Campbell’s roster spot will be filled by running back Mike Bell, who signed with the Saints on Wednesday.

Nov

18

New Orleans Saints should expect the worst from meeting with NFL

Posted by John DeShazier, The Times-Picayune November 18, 2008 4:01PM

Charles Grant is one of the Saints appealing a possible suspension.

Hope for the best today for Deuce McAllister, Will Smith and Charles Grant during their appeals process with the league. But, honestly, expect the worst.

Realistically, it’s a lot better to assume those three – and every other NFL player caught up in the Bumetanide net, having knowingly or unknowingly taken the banned diuretic – soon will be suspended four games by the NFL. It’s a lot safer to envision the Saints without McAllister and Smith (Grant already is out the rest of the season with a triceps injury) for a month or the rest of the regular season, depending on when the penalty actually is assessed, than it is to envision them on the field once the league hears their appeals.
Because it’s just hard to see the NFL changing lanes on its stance regarding banned supplements.

The players very well could have done almost everything right. They could have had the product – all allegedly are guilty of taking StarCaps, a weight-loss pill – tested in the past and they reportedly are spot on in the charge that the banned product isn’t listed among the ingredients in the supplement.

But when league rules stipulate that a player is responsible for whatever it is he takes and will be held accountable if it falls outside the boundaries, it just doesn’t look like a good result will be forthcoming for the I-didn’t-know-it-was-in-there defense. Because the NFL has made it clear that it doesn’t care whether or not the player knew the banned substance was in there.

We all have been educated to the fact that Bumetanide is on the list is because it’s a masking agent.

And while I understand that none of the guilty is a previous offender, all of them say they only wanted to lose weight and all could be victims of the company that produces the pill because the banned substance isn’t listed, there remains the chance, however slim, that the product actually was used to hide the use of a performance-enhancing drug.

Whether or not we want to believe, that very much is possible.

There’s no way to know for certain whether the intent was one thing or the other and if the NFL office is going to go down the slippery slope of taking players’ words regarding intent to cheat, no player ever again is going to be suspended. Every future violator will say he has been duped, like almost every past violator has claimed.

So the safe assumption is that the league probably isn’t going to go there. I’m thinking that no matter how passionate or compelling will be the defense offered by McAllister, Smith and Grant, they all are going to be suspended without pay for four games.

Now, they can appeal the suspensions and continue playing through that appeal and, maybe, finish out the 2008 season. And they can, and will, maintain their innocence all the while.

But more than likely, all they’ll be doing is delaying the inevitable.

There’s a chance they will win their appeals to the league, but the NFL hasn’t shown itself to be lenient in any way regarding banned substance suspensions. This isn’t the same as rescinding a fine for a questionable hit, because the tackle in question can be reviewed, detailed and determined whether it violates the spirit of sportsmanship.

There’s no film to review on this and intent can’t be calculated, either.

This is something where intent can’t be judged, which is why the league doesn’t even bother with trying to judge intent. This is something where the league specifically tells players that they take supplements that aren’t on the league’s approval list at their own risk. And that if they turn up dirty, that’s on the players.

That seems pretty clear, as does what is going to happen to McAllister, Smith and Grant after their appeals are heard today.




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