Archive for November, 2008



New Orleans Saints place running back Aaron Stecker on injured reserve, sign running back Mike Bell and fullback Darian Barnes

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune November 18, 2008 6:21PM

Aaron Stecker was placed in IR by the Saints, ending his season.

The Saints placed tailback Aaron Stecker on injured reserve Tuesday after he aggravated his lingering hamsting injury in Sunday’s 30-20 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. They replaced him with free agent tailback Mike Bell, a 6-foot, 225-pounder who spent the past two seasons with the Denver Broncos.

They also signed free agent fullback Darian Barnes (6-2, 240), a seventh-year veteran who was with Detroit and Buffalo earlier in the year.
Stecker’s injury was expected to need four to six weeks to heal, according to his agent Ronald Slavin. With only six weeks remaining in the season, the Saints needed the roster spot.

Stecker, 33, is a free agent after this season after he signed a one-year deal to remain in New Orleans this past spring. The valuable utility man has been with the Saints for five years after spending his first four seasons in Tampa Bay.

Bell, 25, had a breakout rookie season with the Broncos in 2006 after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona. But he played only sparingly last year and did not catch on with a team this season after a brief cameo with the Houston Texans in training camp. Bell ran for 677 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie and just three yards on six attempts last year. His agent Steven Feldman confirmed the signing.

Barnes, 28, has bounced around with eight different NFL teams since he originally signed with the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Hampton in 2002. His most extensive playing time came in Dallas in 2004, when he scored his only career touchdown.

The other player released from the Saints’ active roster has not yet been announced.



Brand-new players step up to help injury-riddled Saints

by Jeff Duncan, The Times-Picayune

Instead of chanting “Who Dat?” Saints fans likely found themselves muttering it to themselves as they watched their beloved Bless You Boys batter the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
Who Dat making all those sacks at defensive end?

Who Dat kicking all those field goals?

Who Dat playing fullback instead of Mike Karney?

There are a lot of ways to win football games in the NFL. Most of the time, you ride the play of your stars to victory.

But every once in a while, you win when a bunch of unheralded no-names rises to the occasion and steals the spotlight.

Sunday was one of those days for the Saints.

With seemingly half their roster sidelined with injuries, it took a village of heretofore-unknown Who Dats, many who weren’t even on the roster six weeks ago, for them to beat the Chiefs 30-20 at Arrowhead Stadium.

Defensive end Jeff Charleston, who was working at a woodshop in Portland, Ore., when the Saints offered him a job in mid-October, had two sacks and two quarterback hurries to lead a spirited effort by the Saints’ defense.

Rookie kicker Garrett Hartley, who was out of a job and on the street three weeks ago, drilled all three of his field-goal attempts, including a 35-yarder to make it a two-score game and essentially ice the victory with 3:28 left.
Punter Glenn Pakulak and kickoff returner Courtney Roby, who like Hartley were also out of work last month when the Saints signed them, teamed with the kicker to spearhead a stellar special-teams effort. Pakulak had a 48.5-yard average on his two punts. Roby returned four kickoffs for a 28-yard average, including a 54-yarder to set up the Saints’ first score.

Thanks to their work, the Saints enjoyed a comfy starting drive position at the 36-yard line.

“That’s what it takes,” running back Deuce McAllister said. “We’re going to need guys to step up like that each week.”


And it wasn’t just the new guys who stole the spotlight.

There were some familiar faces in strange places, as well.

With regular fullback Mike Karney sidelined with a knee injury, the Saints worked tight end Billy Miller, running back Pierre Thomas and even linebacker Troy Evans at fullback.

Thomas said he hadn’t played fullback since his college days at Illinois. Evans hadn’t played it since high school. And Miller said he’d never played the position.

“Now I know what Mike Karney goes through,?” Miller said with a smile. “There’s not glory in blocking. Whatever it takes to help this team win.”

With starting cornerbacks Mike McKenzie and Tracy Porter on injured reserve and reserve Aaron Glenn hobbled, the team, for all practical purposes, was down to three cornerbacks Sunday. Freshly signed Leigh Torrence and Donald Pittman were too green to be pressed into duty.

That left Randall Gay, Usama Young and Jason David standing. Young and David, you might recall, were so far down the depth chart at various times this season that they were inactive on game days.

Yet there they were Sunday, matching up play after play with Dwayne Bowe and Mark Bradley, combining for six of the Saints’ eight pass breakups, the second-highest total by the secondary this season. Young’s interception in the final minutes marked the first pick by a Saints defensive back in five weeks, dating to David’s interception against Oakland in Week 6.

“Sometimes you’ve got to go with what you got,” said Young, whose first career interception sealed the victory. “That’s football. You never know when your number is going to be called.”

The head-spinning attrition forced Saints coach Sean Payton and his staff to get extra creative with their weekly game plan.

In addition to the improvisation at fullback and cornerback, they also inserted free safety Josh Bullocks as the dime back in passing situations.

Indeed, it was a good day to have a team roster handy.

“So much in our league each week can change,” Payton said. “You need to be flexible enough to change. From a personnel standpoint, I thought we did a good job. Being able to be flexible enough to utilize some other guys on the roster just to really fill in for Mike Karney, that was important.”

It might not have been the prettiest win the Saints have had, but it was no less satisfying.

For a team desperately trying to stay in contention in the NFC South Division and coming off a bitterly disappointing loss to Atlanta, the win was nothing less than critical.

And it a took a village of Who Dats to bring it home.

Jeff Duncan can be reached at jduncan@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3404.



Saints breeze past Chiefs for first road win


AP Sports Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Like a slick and experienced salesman, Drew Brees knows how to close.

Kansas City, desperate for a win, scored in the fourth quarter to get within seven points and had the home crowd raising a ruckus. But Brees coolly took the NFL’s top-ranked offense on a 12-play drive that ate 6 minutes and 27 seconds off the clock and was capped by Garrett Hartley’s 35-yard field goal.

A moment later, Usama Young ended Tyler Thigpen’s string of 161 passes without an interception and New Orleans preserved a 30-20 victory. It was the Saints’ first win on the road since last Dec. 12 in Atlanta.

“The one with more than 3 minutes to go sealed the deal,” Brees said. “Only being up by a touchdown, we realized we needed to put a drive together to put it away.”

The Saints (5-5) were 0-4 on the road before Brees threw for 266 yards and a touchdown. New Orleans sacked Tyler Thigpen four times and made two great defensive stands near the goal line.

“This is our time to make a run,” Brees said. “We’ve said that for a while now.”

Thigpen connected with Dwayne Bowe on two touchdown passes and became the first Chiefs quarterback to throw for a score in four consecutive games since Trent Green in 2005. But it wasn’t enough to keep the Chiefs (1-9) from losing for the 18th time in 19 games.

“It’s really frustrating,” defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey said. “There were some things that we could have done differently. We were hanging with them and making some plays. But it always comes down to a couple of plays that we should have made that end up determining the outcome of the game.”

Lance Moore had eight catches for 102 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown strike when he got behind Ricardo Colclough on the Saints’ second play of the third quarter.

Colclough was one of several unemployed players the Chiefs signed two weeks ago to shore up their injury-wrecked defense.

“It was a slant and go. Lance did a great job of selling it and the corner bit,” Brees said. “The second play of the second half really set the tempo for what we were going to do.”

Running back Larry Johnson, who had been benched three games by the Chiefs and suspended one by the league, made his long-awaited first start in a month and had 67 yards on 19 carries. Johnson also fumbled twice.

Jarrad Page intercepted Brees on the Saints’ second possession.

“I was so mad,” Brees said. “I knew the coverage. It is one of those things where you look at it from the press box or on film tomorrow and say, ‘What are you doing?'”

Nine plays later, Thigpen connected with Bowe on a 6-yard TD pass and the Chiefs, for the fourth game in a row, had a lead they would let fritter away in a loss.

“We’ve got to do better,” Thigpen said. “We’ve got to win a game. That’s the bottom line. It’s not about me. it’s not about what I do or what I put up stat-wise. It’s about this team and we want to win a game.”

The Chiefs had a first-and-goal from the 1 in the first half and a first-and-goal from the 8 in the second. But each time, they had to settle for field goals by Connor Barth. On the Chiefs’ first opportunity, Johnson appeared to break the plane of the goal line with a vault over the line. The Chiefs challenged the no-TD call, but it was confirmed.

“I think Larry really and truly scored on that one,” Thigpen said. “That’s just a tough call by the ref.”

The Chiefs’ line didn’t have a good da, after showing improvement the previous two weeks.

“I thought we tackled pretty well and kept the ball in front of us,” New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. “We were able to force them to kick some field goals. I thought that was important, early on especially.”

Deuce McAllister scored on a 1-yard run for New Orleans in the second quarter and Hartley also had field goals of 30 and 23 yards.

“It was an important win, and that’s really where we’re at right now,” Payton said.

Notes: The Saints host Green Bay on Sunday in their first game in their own stadium since Oct. 12, playing two road games, a bye and the “home” game in London since then. … McAllister tied Dalton Hilliard for first place on New Orleans’ career list with 53 touchdowns. … The Chiefs tied a season-high with 21 first downs. They’ve had 330 or more yards of total offense in each of the past four games, but lost every one of them.



Film doesn’t lie: New Orleans Saints loss to Atlanta Falcons was ugly

Posted by Jeff Duncan, The Times-Picayune November 11, 2008 2:25PM

Mike McKenzie’s injury is going to be tough for the Saints to overcome.

In studying the film of the New Orleans Saints’ 34-20 loss to the Falcons, there were few bright spots.

The Falcons dominated the Saints on both sides of the ball and looked like the smarter, better-coached, better-prepared, more physical, more enthusiastic and more disciplined football team.
More than anything, the thing that stood out to me was the Saints’ breakdown in composure.

FOX sideline reporter Charissa Thompson reported that cornerback Mike McKenzie was screaming at teammates, primarily safety Roman Harper, after the Falcons’ second touchdown, which was set up by a 32-yard catch by Michael Jenkins when the Saints appeared to blow a coverage on the play.

And everyone saw the normally cool-headed Drew Brees get into it with tight end Jeremy Shockey at the end of the third quarter.

The Saints have tried to downplay he incident but it was noteworthy simply because such scenes occur so rarely from the Saints, who by and large are a calm, collected and professional bunch.

Down the stretch, it’ll be interesting to see if these incidents are indeed isolated or the start of an ugly trend.

Stay tuned.

Now on to the video tape:

DEFENSIVE BREAKDOWNS: Saints fans keep clamoring for defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs to blitz but it seems like every time he does dial up a “red dog” the Saint get burned. On Jenkins’ 32-yard catch that set up the Falcons’ second touchdown, safety Harper got caught in no-man’s land, leaving 5-foot-9 Aaron Glenn in single coverage against the 6-4 Jenkins. Harper cheated to the line of scrimmage to help in run support but was hung out to dry when Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan audibled to the deep ball at the line. One series later, Gibbs sent free safety Kevin Kaesviharn on a delayed blitz but the veteran appeared to also have the assignment on running back Jerious Norwood if he came out of the backfield. Kaesviharn was so hell-bent on rushing the quarterback that he picked up Norwood’s release too late and Ryan found him for an easy 21-yard gain. Later the Saints blitzed cornerback Randall Gay and linebacker Jon Vilma on the play, leaving Scott Shanle in single coverage on Norwood. Ryan unloaded the pass before the pressure arrived and Norwood was off to the race. Maybe now we know why the Saints don’t blitz more often. When they do it blows up in their faces.

Atlanta’s Roddy White made the Saints secondary look bad.

CORNER TROUBLE: The Saints cornerbacks really struggled. The Falcons attacked Gay on their first scoring drive, going at him three times in four plays for gains of 14, 13 and 16 yards, the latter a touchdown reception by Roddy White. Gay wasn’t close to making a play on the ball on any of the plays. Not making excuses for him, but Gay doesn’t look 100 percent healthy. Perhaps he’s still hampered by the undisclosed injury he suffered against the Chargers. Saints coaches called it “cramps” but it looked more like some kind of lower back injury. And Gay wasn’t the only one who struggled. Even before his injury, Mike McKenzie gave up a lot of big plays and looked hesitant to challenge the Falcons receivers. Ditto Glenn.

BAD CALLS OF THE DAY:The Saints reeled off consecutive gains of 30, 8, 11 and 8 on their first drive of the second quarter to give them a second-and-2 at the Atlanta 20. Then, they squandered their chances to score a touchdown and trim the Falcons margin to 14-10 with a pair of head-scratching calls. First, they ran Pierre Thomas into the gut of the Falcons defense on second-and-2, where he was stuffed by Grady Jackson for no gain. Where was fullback Mike Karney? Instead, the Saints went with a two-tight end set and motioned Billy Miller from the fullback alignment to the line of scrimmage. Then, on third-and-2, Sean Payton again tried to get cute, spreading the Falcons out with a three-receiver, one-tight end personnel package with Aaron Stecker as the lone back. Brees attempt to throw for the first down was thwarted when John Abraham beat Jammal Brown for the sack. If you want a definition of why the Saints are labeled a finesse team look no further than those two plays.

DIDYA NOTICE?: The Saints weren’t the only ones with a “shot” play – what Payton called the Saints first play, taking a shot down the field – in their repertoire on the first snap. It looked the Falcons were attempting a flea flicker on their opening play from scrimmage. Michael Turner was going to pitch the ball back to Ryan after the handoff but wisely kept the ball when Sedrick Ellis’ penetrated into the backfield. Bobby McCray tackled Turner for a 2-yard loss. The “tell” that something else was up: Both Falcons receivers acted like they were blocking then ran deep routes instead of sticking with their run blocks.

FUTURE STAR: The Saints have seen some impressive performances by opposing players this season – Brandon Marshall, Antoine Winfield, Steve Smith, Antonio Gates – but none by an opposing quarterback better than the one Ryan displayed against them. I was admittedly skeptical about the rookie from Boston College before Sunday. Not any more. He plays like an NFL veteran. Exhibit A: On second-and-5 at the Saints 34, Ryan noticed the Saints aligned in man-to-man press coverage and audibled to a new play, lofting a perfect back-shoulder pass to Jenkins in single coverage against Glenn. Ryan quickly identified the mismatch the 6-4 Jenkins had on the 5-9 Glenn and attacked it. The result was a 32-yard pass to the Saints 2, setting up the Falcons’ second touchdown. The Saints are going to have to contend with Ryan for a long time.

New Saints kickerGarrett Hartley had a good debut.

SILVER LINING: Lost in the disappointing loss was the fact that the Saints might have found a kicking game. Punter Glenn Pakulak and kicker Garrett Hartley. Hartley drilled both of his field-goal attempts and had solid depth and hangtime on his kickoffs. Now he just needs to work on his tackling skills. He took quite a blow from Jerious Norwood on his 55-yard return of the opening kickoff of the second half. Pakulak averaged a solid 48.3-yard net on his three punts. On his first punt, a soaring 56-yarder, he showed his athleticism by making a nice open-field tackle on Harry Douglas to save a touchdown.

• I liked the way Courtney Roby returned kickoffs in his debut as the main return man. Roby adds much-needed speed to the Saints’ return game and looks like a potential game-breaker back there. He averaged 25.4 yards on five returns, including a 41-yarder in the second half.

• Speaking of Roby, his 41-yard “Should I or should I not?” return resulted in a pair of injuries. Aaron Stecker pulled his hamstring while trying to make a lead block for Roby along the Saints sideline. Earlier in the play, Mike Karney strained his left knee when Marvin Mitchell fell into his leg from the side while making a block on Antoine Harris.

Marques Colston had a good day overall against the Falcons.

• Sure, Marques Colston dropped a critical touchdown on the Saints’ third series but he was spectacular the rest of the game. His seven-catch, 140-yard effort signaled to the rest of the league that he is definitely back.

• As can be expected of a second-time starter, center Matt Lehr struggled at times. He had a big holding call that negated a big pass play to Colston and was whistled for a false start in the red zone. He also was overpowered by Jackson on a second-and-1 play, resulting in the aforementioned stuff of Thomas for no gain.

• The Falcons did a nice job against Vilma, limiting him to a season-low three tackles. Vilma was also guilty of taking some poor angles, resulting in some nice gains by Michael Turner. It was not one of his better games.

• Devery Henderson has enjoyed a solid season and made some big plays for the Saints but it could be even better if he would learn to go get the ball instead of waiting on it. On the Saints’ opening play and another deep ball on their second series. Henderson had a chance to make big, momentum-changing plays and allowed the defensive back to out-fight him for the ball. Henderson should watch tape of how teammate Marques Colston goes up and competes for the ball instead of waiting on it to get into his body.

• Brees is not the same quarterback when he gets rattled. Once the Falcons established that they could pressure him early he started to rush throws and miss some reads. Very un-Brees-like. The Falcons had a remarkable 15 pass break-ups but many of them were due to inaccurate or forced throws into coverage by Brees.

• The Falcons used a quick count and hurry-up offense a couple of times to catch the Saints napping on defense.
PERSONNEL GROUPINGS: The Saints said their game plan was to run the ball on the Falcons but once they fell behind that idea went out the window. As a result, the Saints ran almost entirely out of multiple-receiver sets. They ran an incredible 55 plays in their two-minute drill, including the entire 36-play fourth quarter. Fullback Mike Karney left the game early in the third quarter with a knee injury but even before that he was being lightly used. He played a season-low nine snaps before the injury.

Here’s the breakdown of the Saints’ offensive personnel packages on all of their 76 plays from scrimmage:

3WR/1TE/1RB – 55 snaps out of 76 plays
2WR/2TE/1RB – 8 out of 76
2WR/1TE/1RB/1FB – 7 out of 76
4WR/1TE/ – 3 out of 76
1WR/3TE/1RB – 1 out of 76
1WR/2TE/1RB/1FB – 1 out of 76
3WR/1RB/1FB – 1 out of 76



Peter Finney: The numbers don’t add up for New Orleans Saints

Posted by Peter Finney, The Times-Picayune November 09, 2008

Unless I’m mistaken, I think I hear the fat lady singing.

I think the opera is over.

I’ve just been handed an envelope with the magic number.

The number is 6.

That’s right, folks. It says here the 4-and-5 Saints must win 6 of their remaining 7 games to make the playoffs.

Obviously, I’m just guessing.

Is it impossible?

Of course not.

But it’s highly unlikely if you watched Sean Payton’s ballclub lose to the Atlanta Falcons 34-20 at the Georgia Dome.

Here’s the sobering thought. Last year the Falcons finished 4-12, last in the NFC South, and this year, with a new coach, Mike Smith, and a rookie quarterback, Matt Ryan, they were picked to wind up in the cellar again, behind the Saints, Bucs and Panthers.

I have no idea where the 6-3 Falcons will finish this year. But from what I saw Sunday the Falcons are no fluke. They’re a better football team than the Saints, and they’re playing like someone with a legitimate shot to win the division.

Why is this?

Here are three reasons.

Nine games into his first season, Ryan is doing things to suggest he’s a rookie no longer, making decisions and throwing the football in the right places.

At running back you have 237-pound Michael Turner, a longtime backup to LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego, who spent Sunday moving the chains.

And, at defensive end, you have John Abraham, who could be seen Sunday running past Saints left tackle Jammal Brown and winding up at the feet, or in the face, of Drew Brees.

There’s more to the Falcons than these three, but they’re a good start. The Falcons have an aggressive secondary, some sticky-handed receivers and a third-year running back, Jerious Norwood, who turned a catch of a Ryan pass into a long jaunt that seemed to seal the Saints’ doom.

The Falcons carried the fight to the Saints, out-schemed them and were more physical when it counted. And here’s a fact you have to face: The Saints are too thin in some areas to overcome the loss, early in the season and at the moment, of some key players.

Payton got right to the bottom line when he said: “We got beat in every area.”

The funny thing was, as much as the Falcons dominated the trenches, the Saints were knocking at the door in the fourth quarter, with a chance to make it 27-20, when former LSU Tiger Chevis Jackson intercepted a Brees pass and took it back 95 yards.

About the only encouraging thing you could say, though the Falcons were in control from the opening whistle, they did not dominate to the degree the Panthers did in last month’s 30-7 win.

Under little pressure, Ryan was a workmanlike 16-for-23 for 248 yards while an arm-weary Brees was on the run for many of his 58 passes, hitting 31 for 422 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.

For the diehard Who Dats, here’s the good news. The Saints will be seeing the Bucs, Falcons and Panthers again this year. If you’re into magic numbers, you’d have to include these three in the six the Saints would have to win to pull off some kind of miracle.

Do I believe in miracles?


But I also believe in the fat lady.

And I’m afraid she ain’t singing, “When The Saints …”



Mike McKenzie, New Orleans Saints cornerback, likely out for season

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune November 09, 2008 10:19PM

For the second year in a row, Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie suffered a devastating knee injury that likely will end his season.

He fractured his right kneecap while making a diving tackle during the third quarter of Sunday’s 34-20 loss at Atlanta. He will visit Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., this week for the official prognosis, but season-ending surgery is the most likely option.

“It’s a physical game, and you can never take (your health) for granted,” said McKenzie, 32, who plans on rehabbing and returning again.

He admitted to having those negative thoughts about going under the knife again and going through another long rehab process, but he said he didn’t feel sorry for himself.

“It’s not a ‘Why me?'” McKenzie said. “You know, I’m happy, I’m blessed, I play in the NFL. You know, I love the team that I play with, I love my teammates. So I really just plan on .¤.¤. it’s a lot of motivation for me to just get back out there.

“The most positive thing, I’m happy I’m alive. It’s only a broken knee. It could be worse.”

McKenzie made a great tackle on the play. He dived to bring down receiver Michael Jenkins short of the first-down marker on third down, forcing Atlanta to settle for a field goal. But his kneecap hit the hard turf surface, and he instantly felt the bone break.

McKenzie tore the anterior cruciate ligament in the same knee last December, and he worked his way back into the lineup this year, making his regular-season debut in Week 3. He has one interception and 25 tackles in seven games.

The two injuries could be related. The recovery from the ACL tear may have weakened the knee structurally. In 1997, when receiver Jerry Rice returned early from an ACL tear after three months out of the lineup, he broke his kneecap in his first game back.

The good news for McKenzie is that Rice came back at full strength the next season and had another Pro Bowl year.

“It’s hard,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said. “I mean, it’s real disappointing. His rehab process, and what it takes to rehab from a major knee injury is very long and tedious. So I was disappointed for him. And I know the rest of his teammates feel the same way.

“I just saw him in the locker room, and he’s in some pain right now. He’s a pretty tough-minded guy, but it’s certainly a blow to our defense. And we’ve just got to get him healthy and get him fixed.”

If McKenzie is out for the season, he will become the 10th member of the Saints’ injured reserve list. Fellow starting cornerback Tracy Porter suffered a season-ending wrist injury in Week 5 against Minnesota.

It’s not clear who will replace McKenzie in the starting lineup alongside veteran Randall Gay. Aaron Glenn and Usama Young both will play increased roles, with Jason David sliding back onto the active roster.

McKenzie is due $4.45¤million next year in the final year of his contract.

McKenzie was one of several Saints who left Sunday’s game with injuries. Fullback Mike Karney strained a medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Right tackle Jon Stinchcomb strained his right calf. Tight end Jeremy Shockey sprained an ankle, and tailback Aaron Stecker strained a hamstring. The extent of all those injuries is unknown. Glenn hobbled off the field late in the fourth quarter, but he wasn’t listed on the postgame injury report.

KICKERS STEP UP: Among the Saints’ few bright spots Sunday were the solid performances by new kicker Garrett Hartley and punter Glenn Pakulak. Hartley drilled both of his field-goal attempts, from 24 and 44 yards, when the game still was competitive, and his kickoffs were good, though he failed to convert two onside kick attempts. Pakulak averaged 48.3 yards on three punts, with a long of 56 yards.

“Of course, it’s always good to get your first kick in the NFL and make it,” said the rookie Hartley, who said he felt confident during pregame warmups, when he made all his kicks, and throughout the game. “It was unfortunate, though, that it really didn’t come down to (the field goals).”

LINEUP CHANGES: Two other players made their 2008 debuts with the Saints on Sunday — defensive tackle Hollis Thomas and receiver/kickoff returner Courtney Roby. Thomas played a handful of snaps in his first game back from a torn triceps injury, though he finished with no tackles. Roby, a free agent who was signed last month, returned five kickoffs for 127 yards, with a long return of 41 yards in the third quarter.

Receiver David Patten returned after missing the past four games with a groin injury. He replaced receiver Robert Meachem, who was inactive, and caught two passes for 35 yards.

Also inactive for the Saints on Sunday: tailback Reggie Bush, center Jonathan Goodwin, offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod, defensive tackles Antwan Lake and Remi Ayodele, David and quarterback Joey Harrington.

PAYTON’S OFF DAY: It seemed like none of Payton’s gambles worked out Sunday. He dialed up a deep play-action pass to receiver Devery Henderson on the first play from scrimmage, but it was well covered and resulted in an interception by safety Erik Coleman. … He decided to go for it on fourth-and-4 late in the second quarter rather than attempt a 46-yard field goal because he liked his play call, but Brees’ pass to Marques Colston was knocked away by cornerback Chris Houston. … He failed on yet another replay challenge in the third quarter when he challenged the spot on Michael Turner’s first-down run (his eighth rejection in 10 attempts this season). … And he called for back-to-back onside kick attempts in the fourth quarter, sensing he could fool the Falcons with some misdirection, but the second kick scooted out of bounds.



New Orleans Saints’ Jeremy Shockey has Drew Brees throwing fits

Posted by Jeff Duncan, The Times-Picayune November 09, 2008 10:16PM

ATLANTA – As Drew Brees frantically and futilely tried to pass the Saints back into contention against the Falcons on Sunday, Jeremy Shockey, the club’s high-profile offseason acquisition, found himself in a strange and decidedly low-profile place: on the sideline.

In the desperate fourth-quarter finish, Brees completed a remarkable 19 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns.
None of them was to Shockey.

Falcons defenders caught more passes from Brees (three) than Shockey did.

Instead, the two-time Pro Bowl tight end spent most of the wild final period parked in idle, alternating between standing with helmet in hand on the sideline or slumped alone on the bench with his helmet at his feet.

The Saints ran 36 plays in the fourth quarter — the equivalent of a normal half — and Shockey was on the field for three of them.

The official explanation was that Shockey had left the game with an injury, and indeed Shockey’s right ankle was swollen with fluid in the postgame locker room.

But that didn’t explain Shockey’s absence on the drive before the injury, which occurred on
the second drive of the fourth quarter. On the Saints’ first possession of the fourth quarter,
Billy Miller played almost every down at tight end.

“We rotated (Shockey) and Billy because of the nature of what we were doing route-wise,”
Saints Coach Sean Payton said.

If that was the case, the only rotation I saw was Miller rotating in and Shockey rotating to
the sideline.

Afterward, Shockey said anyone who thought he was out of the game for any reason other
than his injury “was wrong.” But clearly he was out of the game for some reason.

Perhaps it was fallout from his foibles on the Saints’ final offensive play of the third quarter.

Facing third-and-10 from the Saints’ 37-yard line and still within two touchdowns, Shockey failed to pick up a rushing Falcons defender, forcing Brees to unload a quick dump-off pass to him in the left flat to avoid a sack.

Not only did Shockey miss the block, he missed the ball, dropping it with a half-hearted
effort that spurred Brees to sprint toward him and emotionally voice his frustration. The
animated discussion continued on the Saints’ sideline.

“It was just a miscommunication on the protection from the play before, so we were just
talking through it,” Brees said. “It was not a big deal other than just trying to get on the
same page.”

Shockey fell on the sword, saying he misidentified the player Brees assigned him to
block at the line of scrimmage.

“I put that on me,” Shockey said. “It’s just one little play, but it should never happen. That
was really about the only miscommunication.”

Shockey said the heated sideline discussion with Brees was healthy.

“It’s very competitive,” he said. “Everyone wants to win; everyone wants to do well.
That’s how this league is. It’s a good thing that Drew wants to play well, and I want to do the same. No one was more disappointed in that play than myself.”

Whether Shockey was injured or just plain benched, it’s becoming clear that the Saints are
losing confidence in him.

Shockey and Brees engaged in a similar heated discussion after an incompletion in the sec´
ond half of the Chargers game two weeks ago.

Since returning from surgery to repair a sports hernia last month, Shockey has caught
eight passes for 72 yards in three games. That includes a two-catch, 16-yard effort against
the Falcons.

In six games, Shockey has caught 24 passes for a quiet 223 yards. He has yet to catch a
touchdown pass.

Clearly, this isn’t what either side envisioned when the trade went down two days before the start of training camp.

Indeed, this was the week we were supposed to see the “real” Shockey and Marques Colston, the players expected to be Brees’ top receiving threats this season.

Fresh off the bye week and a big win against San Diego, Colston and Shockey were expected to be back at full strength for the Falcons and ready to lead the Saints to a strong second-half finish.

Colston did his part, catching seven passes for 140 yards. He looked like the Colston of old.

And Shockey? He was M.I.A. — at least when it counted.

“It’s frustrating, but what can you do?” Shockey said. “I can sit around and mope about it, or I can come back stronger than ever.”

Sounds good.

But before you can come back, you have to arrive.

Saints fans are still waiting to see the real Jeremy Shockey. And with each passing game and frustrating finish, they’re starting to wonder if they ever will.



New Orleans Saints stumble to 4-5 with loss to Atlanta Falcons

Posted by Teddy Kider, The Times-Picayune November 09, 2008 10:27PM

ATLANTA – Technically, Sunday’s game ended with a touchdown by the Saints. But the outcome was complete with a little more than a minute remaining against the Atlanta Falcons, and the final meaningful play of the day was the same as the Saints’ first offensive play of the game: an interception for the Falcons.

The Saints (4-5) continued the same pattern they have followed for most of the season, falling one game worse than .500 for the fourth time this year. They never led in a 34-20 loss to the Falcons (6-3) at the Georgia Dome, and a crowd of 64,826 watched as New Orleans found some more frustration.

“We can only play the whole ‘we had a good week of preparation’ card so long,” Saints linebacker Scott Fujita said. “We can only play the whole ‘we got great character on the team’ card for so long. It’s time for people to start stepping up and make some plays. It’s freaking embarrassing.”

Members of the Saints did, in fact, mention both of those “cards” after the game. Coach Sean Payton said New Orleans had one of its “better weeks” of preparation before heading to Atlanta, and quarterback Drew Brees talked about “a good team with quality players and quality character people and good leaders.”

But the Saints all seemed to agree that the all-too-familiar pattern, which has kept them at the bottom of the NFC South standings, needs to stop.

“We haven’t been over .500 since ’06, and I don’t count us starting off 1-0 this season as being over .500,” said Brees, who threw a season-high three interceptions. “I mean being over .500 with some significance.”

The Saints found themselves trailing 20-6 with 2:06 remaining in the third quarter, and from there, a game that New Orleans never really found its footing in only got worse.

The next drive for the Saints was a quick three-and-out with three incomplete passes, and the Falcons followed that up with another touchdown. Falcons running back Jerious Norwood turned a short pass into a 67-yard score, capping an 80-yard drive that took less than two minutes and gave Atlanta a 27-6 lead with a little less than a quarter remaining.

The Saints, who rushed for 105 yards on 17 carries, were forced to abandon much of their offensive game plan.

“We felt like we wanted to walk away from this game being the ones who had won the rushing battle,” Brees said. “So we came in with an emphasis on running the ball. Unfortunately, we got midway through the third quarter and all of a sudden had to play catch-up.”

Brees threw 58 times, and he completed 31 for 422 yards and two touchdowns. He also had the three interceptions, one on the first offensive play of the game and two in the fourth quarter, on consecutive drives.

The final interception came on first-and-goal from the Falcons’ 8-yard-line with 1:30 remaining. Falcons cornerback Chevis Jackson returned the ball 95 yards for a touchdown — the second-longest interception return for a touchdown in Atlanta history — and the Falcons had a 34-13 lead.

Brees was sacked once but faced pressure almost all day from the Falcons.

“I think they were able to get pressure with the four-man rush, and we weren’t able to do that,” Payton said. “That, I think, is important, obviously a key component of the game if you’re looking at it, when you’re talking about trying to throw the football and trying to convert third downs and trying to operate in the red zone. He was under a lot of duress, I thought.”

The Saints could not match that pressure in dealing with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

Ryan added to his impressive rookie season by completing 16 of 23 passes for 248 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Falcons running back Michael Turner added 96 yards on 27 carries, and Atlanta had a 17-6 lead by halftime.

New Orleans didn’t score its first touchdown until less than 10 minutes remained, and an eventful comeback attempt — Brees completed 19-of-34 passes for 294 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the fourth quarter — was insufficient.

“It’s painful, because we’ve been hovering around that .500 mark for way too long now, trying to make a push, coming into these divisional road games feeling pretty good about ourselves, thinking this is our shot to get over the hump,” Fujita said. “To go on the road twice now and just get hammered the way you did, in all phases of the game, it’s real disappointing.”

The Saints’ last trip — not counting their 37-32 win against the San Diego Chargers on Oct. 26 in London, which counted as a home game — was a 30-7 loss at Carolina on Oct. 19.

With a game coming up at Kansas City on Sunday, the Saints are 0-4 in road games this season. They also seemed to be getting healthier heading into this weekend but now have to deal with a fresh batch of injuries, such as the fractured right kneecap that cornerback Mike McKenzie suffered Sunday.

“I think if we had played today’s game anywhere, I think the result would have been the same,” Payton said. “I don’t think we can point to this being on the road. I don’t think we can point our fingers at injuries. I don’t think we can point to any of those things. I think we got beat today by a team that played better than we did.”



New Orleans Saints welcome back healthy Marques Colston, Jeremy Shockey

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune November 07, 2008 9:35PM

Saints receiver Marques Colston says he is finally healthy and ready to contribute for the final eight games of the season.

Technically, receiver Marques Colston and tight end Jeremy Shockey have been back in the Saints’ lineup since mid-October. But starting with Sunday’s game at Atlanta, the Saints are hoping that they get the “real” Colston and Shockey back for the second half of the season.

Last week’s bye came at a great time for the injury-plagued offensive stars, both of whom are on the verge of making a full recovery.

“I’m to a point now where I feel like I’m pretty much back to where I want to be, ” said Colston, who missed five games after he tore a ligament in his left thumb in Week 1, then struggled to shake off the rust when he returned in Week 7. “I’m used to playing at a high level, and I feel like I’m able to do that again, and hopefully, I’ll just be able to help this team make a push for the playoffs.”

Colston said he had to adjust to wearing a thin plastic splint over his thumb, but he said he now feels “100 percent confident in catching again.”

Saints Coach Sean Payton said Colston’s role will be “expanded” after he was limited in each of the past two games. Colston had zero catches during a frustrating loss at Carolina. Then he caught two passes for 56 yards, including a 49-yarder, in the Week 8 victory over San Diego in London.

Shockey, who missed three games after having sports hernia surgery in late September, also was limited in the past two games because of a setback he suffered when he did the splits on his first play from scrimmage at Carolina.

He said he wouldn’t put himself at 100 percent just yet, but he hopes to get there by the end of the month.

“I just kind of take it one day at a time, and hopefully, it gets better every day, ” said Shockey, who has been battling the injury since the start of training camp, when it originally was diagnosed as a groin injury.

Shockey tried to play through the pain for the first three games before it became apparent that he needed surgery.

“I think (the fans) know they haven’t seen me, ” Shockey said when he was asked if Saints fans haven’t yet seen what he can bring to his new team since he arrive in a trade this summer from the New York Giants. “Obviously, this injury dates back to camp. All the doctors’ decisions, the doctors viewing X-rays, this, that and MRIs, that’s in the past. . . . It’s tough. The toughest part about this game is to stay healthy.

“To the Saints fans, to the organization, to my teammates, hopefully, they still trust and believe in what I can do. I know what I’m capable of, and I think the fans will definitely see it soon.”

That’s a scary thought for opposing defenses. The Saints have the NFL’s top-ranked passing offense this year, even without much contribution from two of their biggest threats. Neither Colston nor Shockey has caught a touchdown pass this year.

The Saints also will have a healthy David Patten at their disposal in the second half of the season after he battled a lingering groin injury in the first half. Patten will play a lesser role now that Lance Moore has emerged as a go-to guy, but he should be active in nickel packages on Sunday. He and receiver Robert Meachem could trade off from week to week, depending on the matchups.

INJURY REPORT: Tailback Reggie Bush (knee) and center Jonathan Goodwin (knee) were both officially ruled out of Sunday’s game on Friday, as expected. Everyone else on the Saints’ roster will be good to go.

Four Falcons players are listed as questionable — left tackle Todd Weiner (knee), center Todd McClure (back), defensive tackle Grady Jackson (knee) and cornerback Brent Grimes (knee).

HALL PASS: Although the Saints were mentioned as possible suitors for cornerback DeAngelo Hall in various reports this week after he was released by the Oakland Raiders, it doesn’t appear as though they showed any real interest before he signed with the Washington Redskins on Friday.

SPECIAL GUEST: The Saints invited a special guest to Friday’s practice, 5-year-old River Lacrouts of Metairie, who was born with spinal muscular atrophy.

Lacrouts got to break the huddle after practice before getting the chance to meet players and coaches, collect autographs and join them for lunch.



John DeShazier: The silver lining to Charles Grant’s injury

Posted by John DeShazier, The Times-Picayune November 04, 2008 9:03AM

Charles Grant has been placed on injured reserved and is out for the season.

The silver lining to Charles Grant being lost for the season – if ever there is a silver lining to a player being placed on injured reserve with eight games remaining in the regular season, and his 4-4 team in desperate need of his services – is that if/when he is suspended four games by the NFL for testing positive for a banned diuretic, he can serve his penalty while on injured reserve.

That’s not great, but it’s something.
Now that the Saints no longer can count on Grant playing defensive end for the rest of this season (the smart alecks among you alleging that he couldn’t be counted on before now, either), they’re able to make long-term plans to be without his services. That, to me, is a little better than sitting around and waiting for the hammer to fall, waiting for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to enforce the penalty that is all but certain to come and then needing to plug the hole that gets bigger the longer Grant and his fellow linemen jell.

Grant remains among the players appealing their pending suspensions, teammates Deuce McAllister and Will Smith being members of that group. They, obviously, are going to fight to the end. That’s their right and as I’ve said before, it’s next to impossible to convince any man to give up the fight when he believes he’s in the right.

Those three players, and others, believe they have a solid case against the company that produces StarCaps, the weight loss pill that contained the banned diuretic but does not list the banned product among the pill’s ingredients. Obviously, they believe the league should consider their extenuating circumstances and adjust a rule that is pretty straight-lined – players unequivocally are responsible for what they take, and will be suspended if they take a substance that falls on the league’s banned substance list.

Goodell and the league office will sort through and rule on the appeal. There’ll be no more meat to chew on that bone until Goodell makes a ruling.

All that’s left now is to attempt to gauge the damage that will be done by their pending absences. The holes will be huge because we’re talking about three significant contributors – both starting defensive ends and a running back who, depending on the gameplan and the team’s injury situation, had worked his way back into the rotation.

But with Grant, at least the disruption caused by his absence begins and ends at the same time. Plans can be made to offset his departure, he can serve his suspension while he’s injured and the Saints don’t have to sit around counting on his return.

The fact that the team can move on is the only good that comes from him being placed on injured reserve. It’s not much but for a team that has nine players on injured reserve and for whom Grant becomes the 14th starter to miss at least one game this season, you take whatever good you can from any situation it can be extracted from.