Archive for December, 2008



No defensive players in the Pro Bowl a trend for the New Orleans Saints

Posted by Jeff Duncan, The Times-Picayune December 18, 2008 12:12PM


Knight was one of the last Saints to make the Pro Bowl, in 2002.

This week’s First-and-10 column

First take ….

To no one’s surprise, the Saints failed to put a defender in the Pro Bowl this year. There was only one player, quarterback Drew Brees.

Unfortunately for the Saints, not having a defensive player on the team has become the norm. It’s the seventh time in the past eight seasons that the league’s annual all-star game will be played without a Saints defender. Will Smith’s appearance in 2006 was the lone exception.

Since 2000, when the Saints sent four defenders to the Pro Bowl – defensive tackle La’Roi Glover, defensive end Joe Johnson and linebackers Mark Fields and Keith Mitchell – only three Saints defenders have made it to Hawaii: Glover and Sammy Knight in 2001; and Smith in 2006.

Heck, Minnesota had more than that named to the Pro Bowl this season alone (four).

I realize the Pro Bowl is as much about popularity and reputation as anything, but still, that’s a remarkable streak of futility, one that surely ranks among the worst in the league.

Speaking of Glover, his remarkable 18-sack season in 2000 helped the Saints to a league-leading total of 66 in 2000, the most by any team this decade.

The Cowboys have generated a lot of hype because of their recent sack attack this season. But they’d have to record 13 in their final two games just to match the Saints’ 2000 total, which is one of the top marks in league annals.

In case you’re wondering, the 1984 Chicago Bears hold the NFL single-season record with 72.
… And 10 (more observations)
1. Casual locker-room observation of the week: Pierre Thomas’s locker was decorated with balloons on Wednesday, one day before his 24th birthday. Several players stopped by to wish him congratulations. Drew Brees even warbled a quick version of the Happy Birthday Song as he walked by. It was clear by the response, Thomas is one of the most well-liked players on the roster.

2. Off-the-field note of the week: Ultimate Bliss, a 2-year-old filly trained by Tom Amoss, will make her Louisiana racing debut in the second race at Fair Grounds Race Course on Saturday. Ultimate Bliss is the second horse in the Last Mango Racing Stable, which is managed by Saints vice president of communications Greg Bensel and includes among its ownership coach Sean Payton, quarterback Drew Brees, general manager Mickey Loomis, singer Jimmy Buffett and former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski. Post time is 12:58 p.m. just a couple of hours before the Saints are scheduled to fly to Detroit so the Saints contingent will have to monitor the race from team headquarters.

Detroit coach Rod Marinelli says that Saints quarterback Drew Brees is a similar player to Peyton Manning.

3. Quote of the week: “He’s very similar to the one we just played — (Peyton) Manning. (Brees) gets the ball out, he’s quick, he’s decisive and it’s an up-tempo offense. They play basketball on grass.” — Lions coach Rod Marinelli said on Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

4. Didya notice of the week: The Atlanta Falcons rushed for 175 yards in their overtime victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week. That was one week after Carolina rushed for 299 yards against the Bucs. That’s the same Bucs defense that Saints Coach Sean Payton said the team’s game plan was to pass against in a 23-20 loss on Nov.30, the same Bucs defense that’s ranked No. 3 in the league against the pass and No. 20 against the run. The Saints rushed for 44 yards on 18 carries in the loss to the Bucs. The 18 attempts were the second fewest against the Bucs this season.

Saints players Reggie Bush and Marques Colston dejectedly sit on the bench as the team loses to previously winless St. Louis last season.

5. Fact of the week: Buddy Pat Yasinskas at ESPN.com unearthed a remarkable — and ominous — statistic this week. The Saints have played four winless teams that were 0-7 or worse in their history and have lost every time. The 2007 St. Louis Rams were 0-8 before beating the Saints 37-29 in Week 10. The 1999 Browns were 0-7 before upending the Saints 21-16 on a Hail Mary pass from Tim Couch to Kevin Johnson. It was Cleveland’s first win since Week 16 of the 1995 season. The 1998 Carolina Panthers routed the Saints 31-17 to post their first win of the season after an 0-7 start. And the 1977 Tampa Bay Buccaneers notched the first win in franchise history with a 33-14 rout of the Saints in Week 13. The Bucs were 0-12 that season and had lost 26 consecutive games since joining the league as an expansion team two years earlier.

6. Encouraging stat of the week: With a quietly effective 22-carry, 87-yard night at Chicago, Pierre Thomas now has rushed for at least 80 yards all five times that he’s carried the ball at least 15 times, dating to the 2007 season finale against Chicago.

7. Disturbing stat of the week: The Saints are 1-6 on the road this season and are trying to avoid their worst road record since Mike Ditka’s final season in 1999, when they went 0-8. In fact, since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, the Saints have had only three seasons with road records worse than 2-6: 1-7 in 1980, 1-7 in 1996 and 0-8 in 1999.

Marques Colston rebounded to have a good game last week against Chicago.

8. What I liked from Week 15: Marques Colston rebounded from his nightmare performance (three drops) against Atlanta to post a strong six-catch, 84-yard night. He also scored his second touchdown of the season. Colston has endured a rough year but for the first time in a while he looked like the guy who caught 168 passes during his first two NFL seasons.

9. What I didn’t like from Week 15: Kick coverage units were shaky for the second time in the past three weeks. The Bears outgained the Saints 192 to 63 in kickoff return yardage. The Saints now rank 26th in punt return coverage and 24th in kickoff coverage. Both areas have regressed consistently since Payton’s first season in 2006.

10. Fearless prediction for Week 16: Drew Brees will top the 400-yard passing mark for the third time this season and put him back on pace to break Dan Marino’s season passing mark in the season finale against Carolina. After three consecutive sub-300-yard games, Brees will riddle the Lions’ injury-riddled secondary. Brees has passed for 4,332 yards and needs 753 yards to break Marino’s 24-year-old NFL record of 5,084 yards. Look for the Saints to use multiple-receiver packages to get the Lions in nickel coverage situations. Stuart Schweigert, who joined the Lions a month ago, will replace Kalvin Pearson at safety in those situations, with Pearson moving from safety to nickel back. That’s just the kind of situation Brees relishes.



New Orleans Saints place Reggie Bush on injured reserve

Posted by The Times-Picayune December 17, 2008 11:32AM

Reggie Bush was placed in IR and his season is over.

The New Orleans Saints have placed Reggie Bush on the injured reserve list with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, ending his season with two games to play.

To fill the space on the roster, the Saints signed cornerback Michael Lehan, who had been with the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad. In five games this season, Lehan had 11 tackles and no interceptions.

Bush injured his left knee against the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 19, and had arthroscopic surgery the next day to repair a torn meniscus. He missed four games for rehabilitation.

He returned to action against Tampa Bay on Nov. 30, but struggled and Coach Sean Payton reduced his playing time because of ineffectiveness.

Bush scored a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 7 and appeared to be back on track. But he suffered a setback against the Chicago Bears the next week and was benched in the second half, again because of ineffectiveness.

Renowed orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who has operated on Bush’s knee twice in the past, evaluated the results of Bush’s MRI. Bush will travel to Birmingham, Ala., on Friday to visit with Dr. Andrews personally.

Pierre Thomas will handle the bulk of the rushing load for the remainder of the season. Deuce McAllister has been battling his own knee soreness, though he fully participated in Wednesday’s practice.

– Left tackle Jammal Brown also practiced fully on Wednesday after missing last week’s game with an ankle injury. The only player who did not participate was defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy, who suffered a hamstring injury at Chicago.

– Saints Coach Sean Payton confirmed that Brown and Bush (as a return specialist) were named first alternates to the Pro Bowl. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma was also selected as an alternate to the NFC squad, though he is further down on the list.

Brown will likely be invited to Hawaii since Seattle’s Walter Jones had season-ending knee surgery last week. That would be fitting, since Brown was unable to play when he was selected to the team in 2006 with his own knee injury.

– Payton said Miami (Ohio) University expressed interest in Saints assistant Aaron Kromer for its head coaching vacancy, but Kromer elected to stay in New Orleans. Kromer, who began the year as the Saints’ running backs coach, took over as the Saints’ interim offensive line coach last week when offensive coordinator/line coach Doug Marrone left to become the head coach at Syracuse.

Payton hasn’t announced his long-term plans with his offensive staff, but it’s safe to assume that Kromer will remain the line coach. Kromer was primarily a line coach with Tampa Bay and Oakland before he joined the Saints’ staff this past offseason.

Quarterbacks coach Pete Carmichael will likely take over as the offensive coordinator. Carmichael turned down two opportunities to become a coordinator with the Miami Dolphins under Cam Cameron and Tony Sparano the past two years, choosing to stay with the Saints.



New Orleans Saints officially eliminated from playoffs

Posted by David Gladow, NOLA.com December 14, 2008 9:02PM

The Saints won’t be able to overcome their Thursday night loss to Chicago.

CBS Sports has confirmed what Saints fans have suspected ever since the team’s crushing overtime loss in Chicago Thursday night … the Saints are out of the playoffs.

Remarkably, much of what the Saints needed to transpire Sunday fell into place. The elimination game, as it were, ended up being Atlanta’s overtime win against Tampa Bay.

The Buccaneers, by virtue of their better conference record, have assured themselves a wild-card spot over the Saints. Atlanta’s win assured them of having the next tie-breaker over New Orleans (better record against common opponents), exahausting the Saints’ final possible avenue.

New Orleans (7-7) finishes it season with a road contest against Detroit next week and the home finale against Carolina the following weekend.

Current NFC playoff standings (conference record in parenthesis):

Giants 11-2*
Panthers 11-3
Vikings 9-5 (7-3)
Cardinals 8-6*
Bucs 9-5 (8-4)
Falcons 9-5 (6-4)
Cowboys 8-5 (6-4)
Eagles 7-5-1 (6-4)
Bears 8-6 (6-5)
Redskins 7-7 (6-4)
Saints 7-7 (4-6)

* clinched division/playoff spot

Saints lost tiebreaker to Tampa Bay by virtue of conference record. Entering Sunday, New Orleans needed to win twice and the Falcons to lose twice, the Cowboys to lose twice, the Bears to lose twice, the Eagles to lose twice, and the Redskins to lose once. In addition, the Saints needed to win the following tiebreaker with Atlanta:

“Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.”

If New Orleans were to win out and the Falcons were to lose out, the teams would finish with the following records against common opponents:

Saints 7-5 against TB, DEN, SF, MIN, OAK, CAR, SD, KC, GB, TB, CHI, DET, CAR

Falcons 8-4 against DET, TB, KC, CAR, GB, CHI, OAK, DEN, CAR, SD, TB, MIN

Atlanta would win the tiebreaker.



Reggie Bush needs further evaluation for sprained left knee

Posted by Teddy Kider, The Times-Picayune December 13, 2008 4:29PM

Reggie Bush said he got hurt in the Chicago game.

New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton said Saturday that running back Reggie Bush will need further evaluation — including an MRI, to be examined by Dr. James Andrews — after spraining his left knee during Thursday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

Bush, who was not available for comment Saturday, missed the final four games of the 2007 season and four games this year with injuries in that knee.

He seemed to disagree with Payton’s decision to take him out of the game after Thursday’s injury, and Bush told reporters after the game: “I just work here. I’m just an employee. I don’t call the shots. I definitely don’t call the plays.”

Payton defended his decision Saturday.

“We all just work here, right?” Payton said. “So I don’t pay much attention to those comments that we’re able to capture after a tough game. He’s got to have this thing looked at and evaluated, and he’s got to stay healthy and get healthy. Those are the things he’s got to do, and we’ll help him to do that in any way, shape or form. But those are decisions I’ve got to make during the course of the game, and if I feel like a player’s not healthy and it prohibits us — I think in his absence Pierre (Thomas) did a pretty good job, and I think we probably moved the ball as effective as we had all night. And so that’s a credit to Pierre and the guys blocking and catching and doing all those things.

“But obviously I’m rooting for all those guys. I want to play them. I want them to be successful, and it’s in my best interest that they have success. But I just felt like that was the best decision, and I think, as we examine where he’s at right now, I was correct.”

Payton also said Saturday that defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy pulled a hamstring during Thursday’s game and that left tackle Jammal Brown was “gradually getting strength back” after a sprained ankle kept him from playing Thursday.



New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton wanted the Chicago game in a bad way

Posted by Jeff Duncan, The Times-Picayune December 13, 2008 4:44PM

New Orleans Saints Insider, Saturday film study

It was a frustrating day for the Saints in Chicago.

The significance of the game could be seen in the face of Coach Sean Payton, who prowled the sideline like a caged jaguar, the intensity evident in his expression.

The wind-chill temperatures were in the teens but Payton spent most of the night hot. And with good reason. The Saints opened the game in a stupor and didn’t snap out of it until midway through the third quarter.

It’s been awhile since Payton was as animated on the sidelines as he was in this game. He got in the face of several players for things he didn’t like, among them Reggie Bush, Robert Meachem, Billy Miller, Jason David and Roman Harper.

The only game this season where I remember Payton being so intense was at Denver. And that, too, resulted in a disappointing loss.

On Saturday, Payton downplayed the significance of his animated sideline “dress down” of Bush, saying Bush’s benching in the second half was due to injury rather than poor performance.

Payton said Bush was not effective after he appeared to tweak his surgically repaired left knee late in the second quarter. Bush is expected to have Dr. James Andrews review the results of an MRI on the knee to see if there is any further damage to the joint, Payton said. The results are expected to be known early next week.

Still, Payton’s displeasure with Bush’s effort on his lone carry in the second half, a run around right end that resulted in no gain, was obvious. Cameras caught Payton lecturing Bush for not cutting the play upfield into the teeth of the defense and instead stringing the play outside.

That would be Bush’s last offensive snap of the game. The Saints went the rest of the way with Pierre Thomas exclusively at running back.

Bush was clearly frustrated by the situation and spent most of the rest of the game parked on the bench under a black Saints parka.

Afterward, Bush told reporters, “That’s how it goes. I just work here. I’m just an employee. I don’t call the shots. I definitely don’t call the plays.”

Payton downplayed the comments on Saturday, saying, “Hey, we all just work here, right? So I don’t pay much attention to those comments that we’re able to capture after a tough game.”

Nevertheless, clearly there was friction between the two parties on Thursday night and that’s significant because Payton has always been loyal and quick to defend Bush, who he selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.

And Payton’s explanation that he replace Bush because of his ailing knee doesn’t explain why he inserted Bush to attempt a punt return later in the third quarter.

Stay tuned on this one.

Now, on to the video tape:

CALL OF THE GAME: The Saints have had their share of problems with short-yardage but they dialed up a sweet call to score their first touchdown. After fullback Mike Karney lost a yard on a first-and-goal belly play at the 1, Payton took advantage of a Bears defense that was loaded to stop the run. He faked a dive into the line and tossed a swing pass to Pierre Thomas in the flat, where he easily avoided defensive end Adewale Ogunleye for the score.

PLAY OF THE GAME: Josh Bullocks hasn’t had a great season by any means but he was in the right place at the right time to make his first interception of the season. Patroling the action in a deep zone, he made a nice pick of a Kyle Orton pass that deflected off the shoulder pads of receiver Rashied Davis. Bullocks then showed nice running ability on his 23-yard return to five the Saints’ great field position at the Bears’ 45-yard line. Two plays later, Pierre Thomas scored on a 42-yard run and the Saints had the momentum.

DIDYA NOTICE?: Sean Payton dressed down Robert Meachem for running the wrong route after a first-and-10 play in the third quarter. The Saints were in a “run look” with two tight ends and a fullback in the package, with Meachem isolated in single coverage to the right side. It appeared this was one of the Saints’ “shot plays,” where they try to go deep and indeed Brees was looking Meachem’s way initially but he then was forced to uncork a short incompletion in the direction of Mike Karney. NFL Network cameras caught Payton shaking his head on the sideline and vigorously waving Meachem off the field, saying “Get out!”

UNSUNG HERO: Pierre Thomas officially scored the Saints’ first touchdown, but an assist should have been given to his buddy, Usama Young. Without his spectacular play on special teams, Thomas never would have had the chance. Young tight-roped the goal line to down a 38-yard punt by Glenn Pakulak at the Chicago 1-foot line. On the ensuing play, Jon Vilma recovered a botched snap from center by Olin Kreutz and Thomas did the rest.


–Kickoff returns don’t get much easier than Danieal Manning’s 88-yarder to open the game. He was untouched. The Saints coverage unit looked like it was running in quicksand as it closed in on Manning. No one came within an arm’s length of Manning as he raced through a gaping hole on the right side of the field. The hole was opened by a series of good blocks on Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Leigh Torrence and Usama Young. As Payton said Saturday, “He scores if we’re playing flag football.”

–Bad move by Mike Karney to fair catch the opening kickoff at the 17-yard line. Not sure why he did it because there was plenty of running room as he made the catch. That cost the Saints 11 yards of field position on their first series.

–The Saints dropped three passes in the game, one each by Devery Henderson. Robert Meachem, Jeremy Shockey. An interesting comment by Cris Collinsworth on the telecast, after Henderson dropped the first ball thrown to him: “Devery Henderson is one of the great deep threats, a speed receiver, works down the field, makes big plays, (but) doesn’t really like running those slants. I’m just going to leave it at that.”

–I’m not sure there is a better pair of screen-play blockers in the NFL than right guard Jahri Evans and right tackle Jon Stinchcomb. The tandem on the Saints’ right side is excellent at hitting moving targets and setting up the back, usually Pierre Thomas, for big gains.

–Jon Vilma won’t get an easier chance to make an interception than the ball he dropped in the second quarter. Again, another case of the cold weather having an effect.


The Saints used nine different personnel formations, a higher than normal allotment. Perhaps because of the weather conditions, they relied more than normal on multiple-tight end sets, using two- and three-tight end formations on 32 of 76 snaps. Fullback Mike Karney also had a heavy workload, seeing 28 snaps, including 17 in the second half as the Saints went to a more ground-oriented attack.

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

3WR/1TE/1RB – 20 snaps out of 76 plays
2WR/2TE/1RB – 17 out of 76
2WR/1TE/1RB/1FB – 17 out of 76
1WR/2TE/1RB/1FB – 10 out of 76
1WR/3TE/1RB/ – 5 out of 76
2WR/1TE/2RB – 4 out of 76
4WR/1RB – 1 out of 76
3WR/2RB – 1 out of 76
3WR/1RB/1FB – 1 out of 76



Chicago Bears come back to beat New Orleans Saints in overtime

Posted by Jeff Duncan, The Times-Picayune December 11, 2008 10:16PM

Roman Harper is called for pass interference in overtime that gives the Chicago Bears a first down at the 15-yard line. Two plays later, the Bears hit a field goal to win.

Saints at Bears in-game blog

CHICAGO — In a game that had been pretty hard fought throughout, in the end, it came down to a penalty.

New Orleans Saints safety Roman Harper was hit with a 38-yard pass interference penalty on third-and-7 to give the Chicago Bears the ball at the 15-yard line. Two plays later, Bears placekicker Robbie Gould hit a 35-yard field goal with 12:19 in overtime and Chicago won 27-24.

The Saints (7-7) aren’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but it’s all but over. The Bears (8-6) are still alive to win the NFC North division.
Reggie Bush was asked about why he played only sparingly in the second half. Bush played only on one punt return in the third quarter and did not see any action on offense.

A look at the Saints’ top five offensive players.
What Brees has to do to break Marino’s 1984 record of most passing yards in a season.

“That’s how it goes,” said Bush, who said he sprained his knee on a run in the second quarter. “I just work here. I’m just an employee. I don’t call the shots. I definitely don’t call the plays.”

Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who again didn’t have a great game, finished 24-of-43 for 232 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. His counterpart, Kyle Orton was 24-of-40 for 172 yards and two interceptions.

Orton’s numbers were terrible, except for the last drive in regulation (see below).

Pierre Thomas continues to look good for the Saints. He rushed for 87 yards on 22 carries and scored a touchdown and caught seven passes for 59 more yards and a touchdown. He was better at being Reggie Bush than Reggie Bush. Bush had six carries for 30 yards and two catches for 16 yards. But it was clear Bush wasn’t 100 percent.

Marques Colston had a decent game as well, catching six passes for 84 yards and a touchdown.

Devin Hester had four catches for 46 yards, but it was a big pass interference call against Roman Harper in overtime, who was trying to cover Hester, that proved to be the key play of the game.

The Saints have now lost the past three games they’ve played at Soldier Field.

Here is the compilation of the game updates

Orton, a great one? (0:00 4Q)

With the game on the line, Kyle Orton started to look like Joe Montana. He was 8-of-10 then threw an incomplete pass to tight end Greg Olsen in the end zone that could have been pass interference on Jason David, then was sacked on the next play and the Bears got an immediate time out.

Robbie Gould then hit the tying field goal as time ran out in regulation. Game goes to overtime tied at 24.

Still some life (3:10, 4Q)

The Saints have taken the lead. Drew Brees hit Marques Colston for an 11-yard touchdown and the Saints go up 24-21 in a game that New Orleans desperately needs to keep alive any hopes of making the playoffs.

After not playing that well this season — when he wasn’t hurt, that is — Colston now has six catches for 84 yards.

Ahem, this is where the game turns? (5:17, 4Q)

The Bears followed the Saints gift with one of their own. Kyle Orton threw a bad pass that was intercepted by Scott Fujita and returned to the 36.

After an incomplete pass and a Pierrre Thomas loss of five yards, Drew Brees his Marques Colston for a first down. It was one of the rare times in this game that Brees and his former favorite receiver seemed to be on the same page.

OK, this is where the game turns … (5:35, 4Q)

Is it stubborness or just that the guy never learns? Another Saints short yardage play, another offensive play call that was doomed from the start.

On fourth and inches, the Saints try a pitch wide to Pierre Thomas, who was swallowed up by the Bears defense. The Saints continue to attempt run outside on short yardage situations, and continue to not get the first down.
As the game turns (7:31, 4Q)

This could be where the game turns. A gutsy call by the Bears to run a fake punt and punter Brad Maynard hit Adrian Peterson with the pass that was clearly a first down. But the ruling was that Peterson didn’t have complete control of the ball when he was hit by Lance Moore, the would-be punt returner.

So the Saints get a huge break.

Pierre Thomas scored the Saints only touchdown of the first half.

Saints pull within, 21-17 (9:07, 4Q)

Garrett Hartley’s 30-yard field goal brought the Saints within four points and capped a time-consuming 63-yard drive. Since the Josh Bullocks interception, it’s been all Saints. They have dominated time of possession in the second half, controlling the ball for 14:54 of the first 21 minutes of the second half.

Bears take 21-14 lead to the fourth quarter (15:00, 4Q)

The Saints have maintained the momentum they got after the Bullocks’ interception. They’ve put a couple of first downs together and are at midfield early in the fourth quarter. The Bears have blown fourth-quarter leads against Atlanta, Carolina and Tampa Bay this season. Could the Saints be next?

Saints strike quick, move within 21-14 (3:44, 3Q)

That didn’t take long. Two plays after Bullocks’ interception, Pierre Thomas rambled 42 yards for a touchdown. It’s 21-14 Bears but the Saints have some major momentum.

Saints get another turnover (4:26, 3Q)

Josh Bullocks’ interception on a deflected pass ended a promising Bears drive and has given the Saints new life at the Chicago 45-yard line. Not sure when Bullocks last picked off a pass but it’s been a while. The pass was intended for receiver Rashied Davis but bounced off his shoulder pads and into the arms of Bullocks who ran it back 23 yards into Chicago territory.
Saints waste scoring opportunity (8:31, 3Q)
The Saints squandered a chance to pull within a touchdown when Adewale Ogunleye intercepted a short pass by Drew Brees at the Bears 16-yard line. Before the play, the Saints appered to have momentum, marching from their own 29 to the Bears 9. They had just converted a fourth-and-1 at the 10 and looked to be in prime position to score a touchdown when Ogunleye made a leaping interception in the backfield against Brees as he tried to scramble from pressure.

Halftime stats, leaning in favor of the team trailing

Can it be? Kyle Orton has better numbers than Drew Brees? It’s true, at least in accuracy. Orton is 11-of-17 for 76 yards and Brees is 10-of-23 for 93 yards with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Thomas, and one interception. There were almost a couple other interceptions, but the Bears couldn’t hold on.

Before Reggie Bush went out, and we’re still trying to find out how severely he’s hurt, he had five carries for 30 yards. He looked pretty solid, was hitting the holes and showing good leg drive, with the exception of his final carry, when it appeared something happened to his knee and he turned and just went out of bounds. Thomas has eight carries for 24 yards and has caught four passes for another 32.

Chicago’s Matt Forte, he of Slidell and Tulane, has four carries for eight yards, but hurt his toe on his first carry. He has toughed it out coming back, and could become a force in the second half.

As a team, the Saints have 140 yards to Chicago’s 103.

Bears extend lead (0:49, 2Q)
The Bears added another touchdown just before halftime. Kyle Orton scrambled in from 6 yards out to make it 21-7 Chicago. It’s not looking good for the Saints. Their only score was the result of a gift. Otherwise, they’ve been dominated. The score means the Saints have allowed at least 20 points in eight consecutive games. The Bears made the 21-7 lead hold up until halftime. They’re going to need to make some major adjustments in the second half to pull this one out.

Bush out? (4:39, 2Q)

It looks like Reggie Bush is injured. He missed the last series on offense and did not go back to return a punt. Lance Moore returned instead. Saints trainers were looking at his left knee, as Bush limped off the field. That’s the same knee Bush injured in October and had arthroscopic surgery on to repair cartilage damage. We’re trying to get a report on his condition but there’s been no official work yet. Bush watched the last series while standing on the sideline so at least they didn’t have to take him to the locker room.

Another big return sets up Bears’ score (7:42, 2Q)
Danieal Manning is killing the Saints. He returned the ensuing kickoff after the Thomas touchdown 52 yards to give the Bears great field position, at the Saints 41. Jason David then was whistled for a 39-yard pass interference call, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by former Tulane standout and Slidell native Matt Forte. It’s 14-7 Bears. Forte left the game for awhile with a toe injury, which occurred on the Bear’s first series. He”s back and looks good now.

The one good moment for the Saints was when the Bears fumbled near their goalline.

Saints tie it (9:52, 2Q)

The Saints took advantage of a gift from the Bears to tie the score, 7-7. Jon Vilma recovered a fumbled snap by quarterback Kyle Orton at the Bears’ 1-yard line. Two plays later, Pierre Thomas ccaught a swing pass by Brees and rambled in for the tying score. The play was set up by a tremendous punt by Glenn Pakulak and an even better cover by Usama Young, who tight-roped the goal line to down it at the 1-foot line.

Saints off to cold start (Kickoff)

No sooner had they anounced the wind-chill temperature of 18 degrees then Danieal Manning took the opening kickoff and raced 83 yards for a touchdown. Manning was untouched. As he dodged kicker Garrett Hartley near midfield he thrust his hand over his head and raced the final 45 yards virtually by himself. Twelve seconds into the game and the Saints trail 7-0. Not the way they wanted to start. The crowd at Soldier Field is rockin’, dancing in their seats to “Shout” on the Soldier Field p.a. system.

Reggie Bush warms up on the field before the Saints game at Chicago tonight.

Weather update (6:48 p.m.)

They just announced a weather report in the press box. It’s 29 degrees with winds out of northwest at 15 miles per hour. Gusts are up to 26 miles per hour. That’s pretty stiff. The forecast is for temperatures to drop into the mid-20s. The wind is also expected to drop to about 11 miles per hour. No word on the wind-chill temperature. Will update when we get it.

Setting the scene (6:15 p.m.)

Well, I just completed the half-mile trek from Michigan Avenue to Soldier Field and the weather wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Sure, it’s cold but I really don’t think it’s bad enough to have an effect on the game.

Now the wind is another matter. The flags on the top of Solider Field are whipped horizontal by the winds, but surprisingly the winds are blowing from the northwest, toward Lake Michigan, not from it.

Nevertheless, it’s not going to be easy to pass or catch in the conditions.

If you’re watching on TV, the wind is swirling inside the stadium. It appears to be blowing much stronger from north to south. That means from right to left if you’re viewpoint is from behind the Saints sideline. Kicker Garrett Hartley just went through pre-game warm-ups and was well short on both of his attempts from 48 yards going into the northerly wind. With the wind behind him, he was able to convert from 54 yards. His attempt from 57 yards was well short.

Punter Glenn Pakulak doesn’t seem to be having any problem so far. He’s booming 50 yarders consistently with decent hangtime.

When I first arrived at the stadium, several Saints were on the field going through warm-ups. A few were even in shorts, among them, Reggie Bush and Marques Colston. Bush seemed particularly intent on making a statement. He wore a sleeveless T-shirt and no socks.
Drew Brees just went through his little pre-game hype chant with the team around him in the end zone. The Saints looked fired-up for this one. Their body language looks good.



New Orleans Saints hope to weather Chicago Bears, stay in playoff hunt

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune December 10, 2008 11:18PM

Pierre Thomas, who played collegiately at Illinois and had a standout performance last season against the Bears, likely will be a key for the Saints today. Temperatures are expected to be in the 20s, with the wind coming off the lake at Soldier Field.

CHICAGO – Revenge, it has been said, is a dish best served cold.

That’s a good thing for the Saints, because if they hope to exact some revenge on the Chicago Bears tonight, they’ll have to do so in frigid wintry conditions in Soldier Field, with temperatures expected to dip into the 20s while the wind whips off Lake Michigan.

The Saints’ past two seasons ended here under similar conditions — a 39-14 loss to the Bears in the NFC championship game after the 2006 season, then a 33-25 loss at Chicago in Week 17 last December, when the Saints went into the game with a slim mathematical shot at the playoffs.
Several players said this week that a little revenge would be nice, but mostly they just want to win this critical NFC showdown to avoid the same fate for the third year in a row.

The Saints (7-6) almost certainly need to win their final three games to have any chance at the playoffs.

“I think it really starts with staying alive in postseason contention,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said. “If you said, ‘What’s the motivation?’ or ‘What’s the sense of urgency?’ It’s knowing that the way the NFC is shaping up, these are all must-win games. I think that is most significant, rather than, ‘Well, we haven’t beaten this team the last two years.’

“I think it’s playing to win so you can continue to play when the regular season is over.”

Although the Bears might have earned some level of confidence and bragging rights the past two years, they are in the same boat as the Saints this season. Also 7-6, they are just as desperate to win tonight to keep alive their own flickering playoff hopes.

Although Chicago has a better chance to win its division, trailing NFC North leader Minnesota by one game, the Bears also are behind the Vikings in the tie-breakers.

“I definitely think (the intensity has increased) when you know there’s no room for error,” Chicago Coach Lovie Smith said. “Guys seem to be a little more focused. … Guys seem to watch a little bit more video, ask a few more questions.

“It’s the same thing that happens when a team gets in the playoffs. And that’s how we’re looking at this. We’re looking at it like we’re in the playoffs, and to keep playing, we have to win.”

The Saints and Bears could have made things a lot easier on themselves — and on each other — if they hadn’t blown golden opportunities earlier in the season.

New Orleans had a seven-point lead against the Vikings in the fourth quarter in Week 5 and had a chance to take a three-point lead in the final minutes, but kicker Martin Gramatica missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt.

Chicago, meanwhile, coughed up fourth-quarter leads against all three of the Saints’ rivals in the NFC South.

The Bears led Carolina 17-3 in the third quarter in Week 2 before losing 20-17. They led Tampa Bay 24-14 with 3:11 remaining in Week 3 but wound up losing 27-24 in overtime. And their Week 6 loss to Atlanta was the worst of the bunch.

The Bears took a 20-19 lead with 11 seconds remaining, but after a short squib kickoff and a 26-yard pass from Matt Ryan to Michael Jenkins, the Falcons won on a last-second 48-yard field goal by Jason Elam as time expired.

Were it not for those three losses, Chicago would have started the season 8-0.

“But you can’t really live in the past,” said Smith, whose Bears have been radically inconsistent the past month, mixing in solid wins against Jacksonville and St. Louis with blowout losses to Minnesota and Green Bay. “What we’re excited about now is we’re still in the playoff push. And we still feel like we control what happens to us.”

The Saints have played their best football of the season the past four games, winning three games, including a solid overall performance in last week’s 29-25 victory over Atlanta.

Like Smith, Payton said he believes the team’s sense of urgency has helped to elicit its best performance. And the players agree.

“This is really a trying time right now, and we’re seeing what guys are made of, their character,” Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. “When you’re 10-2 or 10-3, everybody has a great time, but you don’t really know the character of your team. And I mean, it’s been great.

“Coach challenged us last week to see who was going to step up, to see who was going to help the team or let the team down. And everybody did their part to help the team and win a game.”

The challenge becomes even greater this week, considering all of the elements — the short week of rest, the weather conditions and an opponent the Saints have struggled to match up with in recent years.

Chicago is a physical team that runs and stops the run effectively. Saints defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy said the Bears are the best in the league “from guard to guard.” Conventional wisdom suggests that’s what it takes to win in these conditions.

The Saints, meanwhile, are a terrific passing team built more on speed than power — although they proved they can run the ball effectively, with tailbacks Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush combining for 182 yards rushing last week.

No doubt, Payton will be battling his inner play-calling demons throughout the game against a Bears defense that is much more vulnerable against the pass, ranking 28th in the NFL (234.2 yards passing per game).

“It’s going to be a tough game, a hard-nosed tough game,” Thomas said. “A short, quick week. Both teams are going to have guys banged up, but you have to fight through that.”

“There’s a lot on the line,” Thomas said, but he added, “That gives you a big rush.”

BROWN OUT: Left tackle Jammal Brown won’t play tonight because of a sprained left ankle. Brown and Payton said they hope he’ll be back in the lineup next week. Brown said he thinks he would’ve been able to go if the game were Sunday instead of Thursday.

Zach Strief, who is in his third year, will replace Brown in the lineup. Strief has started two games in his career at left tackle — one each in 2006 and 2007 — and he has filled in this year at left and right tackle.

Strief is also familiar with the Chicago weather. He was a four-year starter at Northwestern, although Payton joked that he was used to playing in front of 28,000 fans then instead of 61,000.

“Just like it’s always been, I’m going to try to step up and do my best to replace Jammal and keep our offense moving,” Strief said.

Tailback Deuce McAllister missed practice Wednesday because of his grandfather’s death. It wasn’t clear if McAllister made the trip to Chicago with the team Wednesday evening or if he will join them today.

Defensive end Will Smith was back Wednesday after missing Tuesday’s practice for the birth of his son, Wynter. Smith and McAllister are both eligible to play tonight while their suspensions remain on hold.



New Orleans Saints stars Deuce McAllister, Will Smith can continue to play

Posted by The Times-Picayune December 11, 2008 5:13PM

A judge extended the preliminary injuction that allows Will Smith and teammate Deuce McAllister to conintue to play.

Saints stars Deuce McAllister and Will Smith, both facing four-game suspensions for failing an NFL drug test, will be able to play indefinitely after a U.S. District Court judge in Minnesota on Thursday extended his preliminary injunction against the NFL.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson ruled Thursday that the preliminary injunction has been extended until he can hold a full evidentiary hearing.
The ruling also allows Minnesota Vikings defensive linemen Pat Williams and Kevin Williams to play while under suspension. Saints defensive lineman Charles Grant is also involved in the suit, but he is on season-ending injured reserve.

Magnuson’s ruling Thursday said the NFL Players Association, which sought the injunction, and the NFL shall provide the court with a joint proposed scheduling order on or before Monday, Dec. 22.



Return Specialist Courtney Roby Heads to IR

by Doug Miller, NewOrleansSaints.com
Monday, December 08, 2008 – 3:30 PM

New Orleans – The New Orleans Saints announced today that wide receiver/kick returner Courtney Roby has been placed on the reserve/injured list and the team also announced that CB David Pittman has been waived. The announcements were made by Saints’ Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis.

Roby, 6-0, 189 pounds, is a four-year NFL veteran that has served as the team’s primary kickoff returner the past five weeks. The product of the University of Indiana had 19 kickoff returns for the Saints for 472 yards for a 24.8 average with a long return of 62 yards. The Saints signed Roby earlier this season as a free agent. He injured his ankle on Sunday afternoon against the Atlanta Falcons and becomes the 16th player on the team’s reserve/injured list this season.

Pittman, 5-11, 185 pounds, is a third year pro from Northwestern State. He signed as a free agent with the Saints on November 12 and has been inactive for the past four games of the season.

The Saints’ roster currently stands at the NFL’s maximum allotment of 53 players on the active roster. The Saints return to the field on Thursday night, December 11, in a 7:15 p.m. contest against the Chicago Bears on the NFL Network and in the New Orleans market by WGNO (AB), Ch. 26.



Pierre Thomas helps propel New Orleans Saints to 29-25 victory over Atlanta Falcons

Posted by Teddy Kider, The Times-Picayune December 07, 2008 10:15PM

Running back Pierre Thomas, who had 102 of the Saints’ season-high 184 rushing yards, extends the ball over teammate Carl Nicks and the goal line on a 5-yard run with 5:47 to go that turned out to be the winning touchdown in Sunday’s 29-25 victory over Atlanta at the Super´dome. Thomas set up the score with an 88-yard kickoff return.

After a lackluster rushing performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that came with an enormously disappointing loss, Saints Coach Sean Payton was emphatic in committing to better offensive balance.

His team was mostly mum on the game plan leading up to Sunday’s contest against the Atlanta Falcons, but Payton, behind the scenes, was apparently stirring up a plan for a running game.
It showed Sunday at the Superdome from the very first drive — three consecutive carries for Saints running back Pierre Thomas — and by the end of the day, it paid off. The Saints (7-6) finished with the most rushing yards they have had in a game this season, and their 29-25 win against the Falcons kept alive hopes for a playoff berth.

“Coach Payton told us during the week we needed to run the ball,” Saints center Jonathan Goodwin said. “We didn’t know we were going to start with that many runs, but thankfully we did, and thankfully we delivered.”

The Saints finished with a season-high 184 rushing yards, and Thomas had 102 of them on 16 carries, making him the first player on the team with a 100-yard rushing performance since he did it in Chicago last season. Thomas’ 5-yard run for a touchdown with 5:47 remaining in the game put the Saints ahead to stay. He also had a 7-yard catch for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

His most explosive play of the day, however, came in an area where he was not expected to be a factor. Courtney Roby, the Saints’ usual kickoff return man, was off the field with an ankle injury about midway through the fourth quarter, so Thomas stepped in and returned a kickoff 88 yards to the Falcons’ 16-yard line.

That came just after the Falcons (8-5) had taken a 25-22 lead with a touchdown and a two-point conversion.

“If Roby was in there, it would have been a touchdown,” Thomas joked. “I’m a little too slow.”

But Roby was no longer needed. Thomas capped the drive he set up with the 5-yard touchdown run, and the Falcons’ next drive — which turned out to be their last — ended in a punt with a little more than three minutes to go.

“It’s one of the more complete team wins we’ve had around here in a while,” Payton said.

The Saints had no turnovers, and quarterback Drew Brees completed 18 of 32 passes for 230 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, good for a 99.7 passer rating.

Thomas had help in the running game from Reggie Bush, who had 10 carries for 80 yards, including a career-long 43-yard burst in the first quarter.

After struggling last week against the Buccaneers in his return from knee surgery, Bush looked faster and more effective on the Superdome turf. Two plays after the 43-yard burst, Bush had a 5-yard touchdown catch — part of his three catches for 26 yards — and the Saints led 7-0.

“Our main focus was trying to run the ball on them,” Thomas said. “We wanted to make that a point, that we could run the ball on these guys. And we did a great job. Reggie and myself and the offensive line did a heck of a job of doing that for us.”

The Saints held the Falcons to 99 rushing yards, including 61 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries by running back Michael Turner. But while the Saints’ offense managed 414 total yards on 62 plays, the Falcons had 414 yards on 63 plays.

Falcons rookie quarterback Matt Ryan completed 24 of 33 passes for 315 yards, a touchdown and an interception, and receiver Roddy White had 164 yards on 10 catches.

The big mistake for Ryan on an otherwise impressive day was a poor throw that Saints cornerback Jason David intercepted early in the first quarter to set up the Saints’ first touchdown. After a three-and-out on the Saints’ first possession, Bush caught his touchdown pass on the next, aided by David.

“Jason David, he kind of set the tempo coming in with the big interception in the first quarter,” Saints defensive end Will Smith said. “So I just think, overall, we played together as a team, and like you said, it was probably the most complete game that we’ve had since we’ve been all together.”

Smith, together with running back Deuce McAllister, returned to the team late last week after a federal court judge blocked four-game suspensions that the NFL had handed down for positive drug tests. Both had quiet games, but Smith’s presence was apparent on the Falcons’ final drive.

The Falcons got the ball back with almost six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and Smith set the tone on the first play of the Falcons’ drive by tackling Turner for a 5-yard loss. With about 3 1/2 minutes to go, Ryan threw an incomplete pass on third-and-5 from his own 35-yard-line, and Falcons Coach Mike Smith decided to punt.

Atlanta did not get the ball back.

“We’re one of the better third-down teams in the league, but today, for the most part, we didn’t do really well,” Saints linebacker Scott Fujita said, referencing the Falcons’ 7-for-12 third-down efficiency. “They completed some third-and-real-longs, and that’s unfortunate. But again, when it mattered most, guys stepped up.”

Payton and Brees got their first win together when trailing after three quarters, and the Saints made sure that every NFC South team has still won all of its home games against division opponents.

New Orleans stayed alive in the playoff race, and the Saints then quickly shifted focus to the fastest transition they will have all season — a short week of preparation followed by a Thursday night game at the Chicago Bears.

“We don’t have a whole lot of control over a lot of things right now,” Fujita said. “It’s just a matter of getting ready to play Thursday.”