The coach announced that Saints safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper are alternates for the Pro bowl. Fullback Jed Collins and punter Thomas Morstead also are alternates.
Saints all-purpose player Darren Sproles didn't make the Pro Bowl team but should have. "Darren is a unique player," said Payton. "He's a big part of our success offensively."
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
“LB Jon Vilma (left knee) did not practice, WR
What’s you plan for Sunday’s game with scoreboard watching?
“We talked about it at length. Our approach is going to be much like it has been. We’re going to play all of our guys. There’s still seeding at stake. I know it’s similar to a year ago. I think we’re getting better as a team week to week right now, and there’s a value in that and that progress might be something we need going into this postseason. I’d like to think it’s something we need. We’re getting better defensively, we’re getting better in the kicking game, our return game and offensively the same way. I feel like we’re rested. Our bye came later in the season and we were able to take three days off last week prior to the Atlanta game. We’re going into it full speed ahead. I said that earlier to the Carolina media. I really don’t plan on paying attention to the other game going on. It’s similar to a season ago, but I think our approach in this season with this team is that we are making progress and I think that’s going to be valuable for us before we get into the postseason.”
When you look back at your decision to play the starters last season, do you feel like you made the right decision?
“There was still seeding involved. These are always tough decisions. In ’06 it was an easier decision. In ’09 it was an easier decision because we were really locked into the seed we had, but I go back to the progress we’ve been making. I think we’ve been playing some of our best football here later in the year and I think there’s a value to that. We talked about it as a team today, just the importance of making that progress and making sure we win this week, the week in practice and making sure we get better with today’s work and tomorrow’s work leading up to this game. We’re going to see a real good football team, a team that’s playing well. We’re going to see an explosive offense and a team that is playing with a lot of confidence and we recognize that it’s going to be a real good test for us.”
Do you think there are a lot more interesting things going on in Carolina this time around compared to the first time you played them?
“There’s a lot of improvement statistically. We try to do a PowerPoint every Wednesday on the things we see with the opponent and statistically there are a ton of areas that they’re playing better than they were the last time we played them. The last time we played them I think we were only three or four games into the season. There’s some uniqueness to what they do offensively, certainly it starts with the quarterback and his ability to hurt you with his arm and hurt you with his legs. He’s very talented. The players around him are playing exceptionally well. They’re doing a better job with the football, so there are a lot of areas where they’ve improved in and it showed up when you look at their recent games. I think it’s a big test for us.”
As an offensive coach, do you like what you’ve been seeing from Cam Newton?
“Absolutely. The last time we played them, in pregame I walked up to the 50 yard line and was watching him throw to the wide receivers and you don’t realize how big he is. He has a real good delivery and good arm strength. He’s explosive. What I like is when you watch him play or you see highlights, you see a smile and you see the competitive nature he has and I think that’s very contagious with his teammates. If a play isn’t there, he can create a play and that’s dangerous and it’s hard to simulate at practice. You try to, but it’s hard to simulate some of those things. He’s had a tremendous rookie season, considering the uniqueness of the lockout and the time that rookies didn’t have to develop. When you see a player like Cam or a player at quarterback like Andy Dalton who’s ahead of what’s the norm in our league for a rookie, but specifically with Cam – he’s been everything that was advertised and more and was a great choice for Carolina. Unfortunately he’s in our division and is going to be around a while. You can see that he has that ‘it’ factor that’s necessary to win. Certainly he did in college and he’s doing a great job now in our league. I would say there’s a good chance he’s going to be Rookie of the Year and deservedly so.”
Do you think quarterbacks are coming into the league more prepared?
“I think each year it’s different. It depends on the player. Certainly they’re very well-coached in college. The college game is one in which they’re doing more and throwing more, so I would say in general you see players at the college level often times that are going to be evaluated and drafted in situations that you would be in during a NFL game. I think it’s easier to evaluate the offensive linemen now and maybe a little trickier to find the tight ends or the linebackers than maybe you saw in conventional offenses ten years ago. Specifically with (Cam Newton), he provides a number of different challenges and the trick is trying to simulate a lot of the things you see on film.”
Did you think
“Every year you don’t know. I’m thrilled for him because four or five weeks ago, his name came up in here and we were discussing his progress and I’ve always said that no news is good news for a left tackle. Quietly he’s been a guy that has just done his job and each year has improved. When a player like that can get recognized in a manner of the Pro Bowl, which there are so many people tied to that vote aside from the fan balloting – coaches and players – that’s why I think it’s such a great honor and sense of accomplishment for a player because he knows that his peers and people in the industry and it really speaks volumes. I think as a coach you wait for that day and you’re always curious to see how players will fair. You’re disappointed for some players and you’re excited for others and that’s typically what happens at this time of the year. There were a handful of players I was disappointed for. I think what’s most important is it comes with winning and hopefully none of these guys will have a chance to play in that game.”
Do you think what Jermon Bushrod did against Jared Allen carries a little more weight?
“I think the left tackles in our league have to do it against a lot of good players. I think it’s really a sum total of week-in and week-out evaluation of how he’s playing. I said to Joe Vitt who is from Towson, there has been one other Pro Bowler from Towson and it was Dave Meggett. That’s pretty impressive.”
Do you know if you had any Pro Bowl alternates?
“Both of our safeties (Malcolm Jenkins and
How happy are you with the running game and how much has
“Let’s start with Darren. He’s a unique player and his skill set transitioned well for us because he replaced a player that’s somewhat similar in that there are specific roles in the running game and the receiving game and as a returner. The difference is he’s a kickoff returner as well as a punt returner. He’s very sharp. He picked things up very quickly. I think instinctively one of his great assets is his decision-making that takes place in the first two or three seconds of a football play. He’s someone that has very good football IQ. I think he’s a great teammate. He’s explosive and he’s been a big part of our success offensively. He’s a reliable player and a better runner inside than maybe we would have evaluated in the beginning. He had some big plays for us. Each week depending on the opponent, there have been play that have really changed the course of the game. This past weekend was a great example. At the end of the half, he hits the third down trap play for a first down. He had a kick return that set us up for a field goal. He had an explosive run on the draw play. He can really accelerate and get to top speed in about three or four steps. I think in regards to the running game, we felt that last year it was an area that we needed to improve on starting with the additions of some players with Darren being one of them and then drafting Mark Ingram. We’ve been healthier and Chris (Ivory) has stepped in and done a real good job for us. I think we put a value on that and I think it helps us in a lot of areas. It helps us to control games, it helps us with our play-action, and I think it helps us play better defensive football. I think those things have been part of why we’re at 12 wins right now.”
Do you think Darren Sproles should have been a Pro Bowl selection?
“It’s tough. I think he’s first in all-purpose yards. He has certainly played at a Pro Bowl level. There are a handful of guys.
What are your thoughts on your offense breaking the most yards in a season record and maybe being the most prolific offense in the NFL?
“I’m familiar with it. I’m not really in tuned to yardage or where we’re at. I really think what’s most important is we do our best to put in the best game plan to beat Carolina. I think that the wining aspect still trumps all the things that we’re discussing and I think what made Drew’s record an accomplishment the other night is that happened during a game in which we were securing the NFC South unlike three years ago where we were chasing Carolina late and we knew it was the last game of the season. I would say what’s most important for us with everything that’s at stake is we have a chance still at that two seed and that definite opportunity to improve this week and continue to play well as we have and find ways to get better in some areas that we could all get better in and hopefully the other stuff takes care of itself. That would not be something that I would be aware of or be paying attention to in this game, maybe a little differently in Drew’s case. I think we can do the right things offensively to give ourselves a chance to win in this game and we can do the right things defensively and the kicking game and kind of go from there.”
Is it because you’re getting a chance at the second seed that you’re playing starters in this game compared to what you did in ’09?
“In ’09, the seed was locked at one after Chicago had beaten Minnesota on that Monday night. When that happened, the decision in ’09 was that we had just come off a tough loss to Tampa Bay where we were ahead 17 points and the week before we lost to a real good team in Dallas, so the challenge was either rest or play to try to get some momentum back that we felt like we lost. The difference this year is that I’d hate to make that decision, and our league is one in that each week everyone that lines up to play can win. A perfect example is the team we’re talking about is a team that beat us. I’d hate to think that that scenario exists where all of a sudden you back off and find that you had an opportunity to have a bye. The fact that the seed isn’t locked is one factor that contributes to it, but just as importantly is I do think we’re improving each week and I don’t want a week of that to stop and I think we’re rested. I think the bye week helped and I think last week’s schedule helped, and we also had another period where we had two or three days. I think for the most part, we’re fairly healthy. That’s kind of the approach we’re taking and that was the message to the players. I think they understand it and recognize that we still have some things that we still need to improve on. If that means there’s a play or two that exists in this game that we get better at that helps us a week later or two weeks later, then I think that’s a good thing. If we score another touchdown defensively or we come up with another big play in the kicking game or we find a way to play well on third down again and then carry that into the postseason, I think that can be beneficial. I think in ’09 we needed rest as much mentally as we did physically because there is a little bit of drain in that week-in and week-out. Once we got to 13 wins, I felt like our team at that time needed rest.”
The coach also released an injury report and talked about playing Cam Newton and the Panthers on Sunday.
Drew Brees, this week's NFL Offenisve player of the Week and NFL-record setter, said the Saints still have plenty of goals to reach this season at his Wednesday news conference.
"We're a confident team now, but not over-confident," said the quarterback. Brees also talked about breaking Dan Marino's passing-yardage NFL record, Cam Newton and the Panthers.
What do you remember from that first Carolina game and do you see any differences in their team as well?
“The first time we played these guys it was a hard-fought game all-around. It obviously took 60 minutes to win that game. I remember them hitting some big plays. I remember us offensively doing some good things, but yet they got us a few times, so I don’t know. It’s just one of those hard-fought divisional games back and forth. They’re extremely explosive. They have a ton of playmakers, both offense and defense and I just think they’re a young, talented team, also with some great veteran presence. I remember initially when we played them early on they were a little banged up. They had lost two key starters defensively and so I think maybe they were kind of going through a little of that in trying to find their own with some new personnel. As I look at them now, they’ve won four of five and it seems like they’re playing extremely well. They’re rolling and playing with a lot of confidence, so they seem to be hitting their stride obviously at the end of the season, playing better each week and I like to think we’re in that position too. It should be a heck of a game.”
What do you think of what Cam Newton is doing?
“He’s an extremely impressive athlete. What he can do throwing the ball both in the pocket and outside the pocket on the run. You look at some of the stuff they do offensively with that read option and then he’s in the end zone going over the goal line pile. You’re just going “man this guy is a freak athlete.” He can do some pretty special stuff.”
How glad are you that you had the moment on Monday and now you concentrate on this week?
“The fact that we had that moment in week 15 and not week 16, we still have a game ahead of us, we broke it in about as dramatic fashion as we could and I think that made it extra special for everybody in the building and everybody that was part of that and the 50 million people watching at home, or however many it was. That was a great moment.”
Compartmentalizing it, was it more emotional than you thought it would be?
“I don’t’ know. I tried to prepare myself for it somewhat. I was ready, so I could embrace the moment and move on. We didn’t know at what point that might happen in the game. It might happen in the fourth quarter in a tight game and you have to refocus on that drive coming back and winning, whatever the situation might have been. Mid-fourth quarter we felt like the game was in hand, but the record was still out there. It was obviously important to a lot of people. I know everybody in that stadium that were watching we did it that night and in the fashion we did it, but yes, I guess the moment itself was surreal. You still kind of pinch yourself that it happened, but maybe just because we’re so locked in because of where we’re at and what we still have to accomplish that I don’t know. It’s not necessarily time to reflect. We can do that after the season. We’re thinking about what’s ahead.”
Do you think Julio Jones might be the x-factor in this game?
“He didn’t play certainly the snaps that we’ll see him play this week (in the first game). He stresses the defense because before you might decide to rotate coverage one way to Roddy White, and now that becomes a little more challenging when you add (Anthony) Gonzalez to Julio Jones and Roddy White. They have very good depth at wide receiver as well along with the running backs and have a quarterback that knows how to distribute the football. They present a lot of problems.”
Would Sean Payton have your blessing if he had wanted to rest you this week?
“There’s a lot of records out there we could potentially set, break. I think our mindset above and beyond that is how do we put ourselves in the best position to play and win in the playoffs and when you look at last year, you could say this situation is somewhat similar to last year where going into week 16 if we beat Tampa and Atlanta loses, we win the division and get the one seed. This time around, we’re locked into the three unless we win, San Fran loses then we get the two, so that’s a significant jump. That’s the difference between a first round bye or not. Last year we felt we were a little banged up, should rest up, limited some guys. I think we all found ourselves scoreboard watching a little in regards to that other game, therefore I feel like not that we took a step back in that game. We just didn’t progress and I feel like our mindset is that we want to continue to progress and continue to get better, because I think there are things that serve you well in this game if you can continue to stay in the rise as you head into the playoffs, whether they’re confidence builders or situations that come up that you fight through. You log that away and that’s kind of extra strength for you in the playoffs. So I think we’re taking a little different mindset than we did last year at this time in a very similar situation just feeling like if you look at the situation of what happened after the first round of the playoffs, we obviously didn’t go out and play the way we felt like we should have. This is changing it up a little bit.”
Just reflecting again did you get any phone calls or text messages that stood out?
“Yes, Dan Marino called me yesterday and we talked for a little bit and that was obviously a very classy move on his part to reach out and tell me congratulations. We talked for a while. Obviously I have a ton of respect for him, not only what he accomplished as a player, but the way he’s handled this whole situation. I heard from him last week saying he was rooting for me. To break it and have him call me and congratulate me was obviously a very classy move on his part.”
Could the addition of
“Very. I’m happy for everybody. There’s those stages you go through in your life. I think having Reggie here for those five years, it was great for us, great for him and then it was just time to move on to something different. Reggie’s moved on and you would say it’s been the best for him. He’s had a great year and I think everybody around here has hoped for that and wished him the best. Obviously in his place we got Darren Sproles. Darren Sproles has had arguably one of the better years of his career. Certainly we know the contributions he’s made on this team. All in all I think everyone’s done for the better I think we were better for having been together while we were. We cherish those moments. Reggie was a part of this championship team in ’09 and so we’re linked together forever. Now you move onto the next stage.”
It was predictable
“There’s lot of unsung heroes on this team. Each group, offense, defense, special teams has those guys that don’t maybe get the notoriety maybe because there are other guys that do, that don’t get the notoriety. Certainly the left tackle on any team is considered one of the premier positions, one of the most important positions. Obviously I think when people talk about our o-line they talk about the two guards. I couldn’t be happier for the guy. I know how hard he works. I know I walk by that o-line room to do something and I see a flicker of the film going, peek in and it’s Bushrod, studying his opponent, just being a pro, wanting to be the best, trying to get better. You look at where he started, getting the chance to start in ’09, our championship season. I look at the way that he’s handled the matchups. He’s faced Jared Allen a number of times, Dwight Freeney, you name it, some of the great ones. I feel like he’s always been such a pro, so professional. He’s one of these tough, smart competitive guys that’s consistent. You know what to expect out of him everytime out, love his attitude. He’s just a great teammate, everything you would want in your left tackle.
Can you talk about
“Another unsung hero. Does he get overshadowed? When you talk about the offensive skill positions, Jed Collins’ name does not come up and yet, I look at the road he’s traveled, been on double-digit teams in his NFL career, practice squad here, getting cut. I don’t know how many teams he’s played for or how many times he’s been cut, but it’s been in the double digits, so to land here last year, to get his opportunity throughout camp. You saw it each and every day, this guy is working his tail off. He sees his opportunity. He’s seizing it. To go from that, journeyman to Pro Bowl alternate. Obviously we know the contributions to this team he made in the run game and protection, just a guy I couldn’t be happier for.
After the Rams game, you talked about how the team needed to improve. Where are you now as a team?
“Yes (playing at a higher level). I would say we’re coming off two 40-plus point performances, a lot of yards, a lot of productivity, lot of balance and yet two turnovers each game. We say a lot of good things. The turnovers were something leaving St. Louis where we said we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot. We can’t let that happen. We went on a four or five game stretch with no turnovers. That’s impressive as aggressive as we are and all of the things you do. Not that you take a step back, but at some point it’s going to happen. You have to be able to tighten it up again. We need to be able to tighten it up in that area. I would say all-around as a team I feel we’re playing very complimentary football. I feel like we feed off our defense and I feel like our last few weeks our defense has been doing a great job of keeping teams out of the end zone, coming up with a key turnover like last week obviously. Special teams getting us a big return a couple of weeks in a row, field position. I just feel like we’re taking care of all the little things that maybe you don’t see just from watching the game, when you see offenses, defense, just some little thing we’re doing well we have to continue to do that will serve us well in the playoffs.”
How confident is the team?
“We’re extremely confident. I think though, we’re not overly confident because we understand the challenge that’s in front of us. We understand how good this Carolina team is coming here and how even though we don’t necessarily control our own destiny so to speak…If San Fran wins, we’re locked into the three seed…So, our mindset is we want to go into the playoffs playing our best football. We don’t feel like we did that last year, especially coming off that last game. We’re looking at this opponent saying it’s another momentum-builder, confidence-builder going into the playoffs, a very good team coming in here that we need to execute against. We need to do all the right things, so we can continue this curve that we’re on.”
You guys already have the best home record in franchise history. Is there something you’re doing at home?
“I feel like we’ve taken it to the next level this year. I don’t know the stats off hand, but if you look at it we have to be averaging 40-something a game at home and obviously the homefield advantage that our defense gets to have with the noise level, those are all huge advantages. I think the mindset we have playing at home, there’s a pride level playing in front of our home fans and a feeling. I would say we’ve taken it to the next level. I felt we always had a homefield advantage, but maybe now more so than ever.”
Is it the atmosphere?
“I think that’s a huge part of it, yes. You probably start off by saying, home, home is home, you have to win at home. But then what elements make it a tough place to play. Well, you’re in the dome, crowd noise, kind of reputation, those kinds of things. They all help.”
What’s the biggest benefit for you playing at home?
“Silence. From a communication standpoint, it’s easier to communicate when there is no noise than when there is noise. That’s first and foremost the homefield advantage. I don’t know. It’s not like I’d say we’re just a speed team that loves playing on turf, because we’re a top ten rushing offense. Typically you’d say that’s built for the Midwest, on grass, bad weather. Listen, we feel like we’re a team that can do it all. Offensively, we feel our offense can do it all, so indoors, outdoors whatever, we feel like we have the same results.”
Did you ever play on a team that won all their home games?
“I’m not sure. I think we did at Purdue.”
The Falcons want a rematch with the Saints.
"Most definitely," Falcons safety William Moore told ajc.com. "We'll be prepared much better. Hopefully, we can make a run. If we come to New Orleans, we know what to expect."
The Falcons are 9-6 and are the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs and would face the No. 3-seeded Saints. The seeds could change if the 49ers are upset by the Rams or if the Packers beat the Lions and the Falcons win over the Bucs. The Falcons could move up to No. 5 and play the winner of the Cowboys-Giants NFC East showdown game.
The Falcons tried to downplay the Saints' running up the score late to get Drew Brees the record. Although they said nice things about Brees after the game, there was disgust in the coaches' faces as the Saints were going in for the late score.
Falcons coach Mike Smith said "I'm not going to comment on them running up the score. It's our job to go out there and stop them. It doesn't matter if they are running the ball or throwing it. The job our defense is to go out and stop them."
Before getting another shot at the Saints, the Falcons need to fix their defense, which couldn't stop the run, rush the passer or intercept enough Brees passes in a 45-16 loss to the Saints. The Saints converted on 10 of 13 third-down situations, and that helped them sustain four touchdown drives of 80 yards or more.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera on Carolina tight end Jeremy Shockey: "He has caught a pass in all 134 regular-season games he has played. To play as long as he has, and to be as productive as he has been, that's a heck of a deal. I'm just happy for the kid because he's a heck of a guy and a heck of a teammate and player." On if the Panthers have had contract discussions with Shockey: "That's for the future. He knows how we feel about him. It's not just a matter of time once we get into the offseason. It's been policy here that we don't sign guys in the middle of the year that are playing."...
Henderson: You gotta see the 'Special Man'
By Jim Henderson, WWL sports director and Saints play-by-play announcer: "The hour was late. Deadlines were fast approaching, or recently past. Family and friends were waiting patiently as Monday night became Tuesday morning.
"And yet no one was anxious to leave the euphoria that embraced the Saints locker room and the adjacent interview room too quickly.
"For the players, the local media, and the fans of the former, we all just wanted to linger in the embrace of a special night a little longer -- and to share it with the "special man."
"Drew Brees made that clear on this night as he made it clear with his words and deeds since his arrival. We all share in this -- as his teammates, as his fellow New Orleanians.
"One of the great many things about New Orleans is its intimacy. We don't just watch our quarterback on our TV or from the stands, we get to know him if only fleetingly, as a neighbor on the jogging path at Audubon Park or as a luncheon companion over a po-boy, or as a contributor to yet another civic endeavor.
"We value who he is as much as what he does. And on both fronts, how could we wish for more? What Drew Brees has meant to this franchise can only be equaled by what he has meant to New Orleans.
"How proud he has made us of our team and as the symbol of it and us, of our city and ourselves. The chants of 'MVP, MVP' that echoed in the Dome at the end of the game were for a Most Valuable Person as much as a Most Valuable Player.
"No one was in a hurry to leave the warm cocoon of the evening for the chill of the night. Sport at its very best allows us to escape the reality of every-day cares and concerns, if only for awhile. You savor such moments and last night was one.
"If you were there, you'll never forget it.
"Drew Brees, holding the record-breaking ball aloft, pointing to the crowd in this city that he adopted and that adopted him. There we tears of joy, of relief, of accomplishment, of remembrance for the journey, for those who shared in it and those that fate had left behind, welling in his eyes.
"And we shared those as well.
"The Christmas season is about creating memories -- lasting memories.
"And now we have another courtesy of a man the record books and we will never forget."
MAIL BOX—Melanie of Metairie: "I've heard enough about the scoring being run up by the Saints against the Falcons. What about the 8/16/1973 game when the Falcons scored 62 points and gave the defenseless Saints 7?
Reply: I remember that game well. A new layer of artificial turf had just been installed over asphalt at old Tulane Stadium. It had to be 120 degrees on the playing field that day. Saints guard Jake Kupp said he lost 10 pounds warming up and 20 more playing. I was covering the game on the field and spent a lot of time at the water fountain. I was hosting coach John North's television show on WGNO-TV that season and had to tape the show on Tuesday morning. After the game, North told the media to talk to the players because they played in the game, he hadn't. He said any player on the team was not above being traded or cut. The Saints, with Archie Manning at quarterback, went on to finish 5-9.