Saints sign 10 players to futures contracts

METAIRIE — The Saints announced Wednesday the signing of 10 players to futures contracts for the 2012 season.

Seven of the 10 were on the Saints’ practice squad at one time or another in 2011. Six of them were members of the practice squad when the season ended with a 36-32 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Saturday’s NFC Divisional Playoff game.

The six who finished the season with the team are defensive tackle Mitch King, cornerback Kamaal McIlwain, wide receiver Andy Tanner, running back Chris Taylor, tackle Phil Trautwein and tackle Fenuki Tupou.

Quarterback Sean Canfield, a 2010 seventh-round draft pick who’s been on and off the practice squad and on the active roster for one game in each of the past two seasons, was also signed.

Also signing with the Saints were guard Nick Howell and defensive backs Cord Parks and Josh Victorian.

Victorian, who spent two months on the New England Patriots’ practice squad this season, is a Destrehan High School graduate who played at Louisiana Tech.

Saints expected to interview Spagnuolo

METAIRIE – The Saints were expected to interview former St. Louis Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo on Wednesday for the team’s vacant defensive coordinator position although team officials did not conform that a meeting took place.

Saints coach Sean Payton is in search of a new defensive coordinator after Gregg Williams left Monday to take the same job with the St. Louis Rams and new coach Jeff Fisher. Williams is a close friend of Fisher and was his defensive coordinator from 1997-2000 with the Tennessee Titans.

ESPN reported Tuesday afternoon that Spagnuolo, who was fired by the Rams earlier this month after going 10-38 in three seasons, would meet with Payton after interviewing with the Indianapolis Colts on Monday.

Before being hired by the Rams, Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants when they upset the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII after the 2007 season.

Spagnuolo was one of three names thrown out Monday after Williams’ departure. The others are former San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan and former Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio. Nolan, however, on Tuesday was named defensive coordinator by the Atlanta Falcons.

EVANS, NICKS HONORED: Saints guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks have been chosen to the All-NFL team selected by Pro Football Weekly and Professional Football Writers of America.

Evans and Nicks, who were also first-team All-Pro picks by The Associated Press, were the only Saints named to the PFW/PFWA team. Joining Evans and Nicks on the All-NFC team are tight end Jimmy Graham and kick returner Darren Sproles.

THOMAS DOING WELL: Payton was asked in his end-of-the-year news conference Tuesday about running back Pierre Thomas, who was knocked out of Saturday’s NFC Divisional Playoff loss at San Francisco with a concussion after taking a violent helmet-to-helmet hit from 49ers safety Donte Whitner on the Saints’ first possession.

Payton said Thomas was doing very well since they returned home.

“At halftime, I saw him and it was a lot better than maybe I expected,” Payton said. “He’s going to be just fine.”

UPDATED DRAFT ORDER: After being eliminated from the playoffs, the Saints know they’ll have the 27th pick in each round of the draft this April.

Barring a trade, however, their first pick will come in the second round — the 59th overall — because of a deal that brought them an extra pick in the first round last spring that was used on running back Mark Ingram.

The New England Patriots will have the 27th overall pick in the first round.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Saints lose Thomas on first series against 49ers

SAN FRANCISCO — With running back Mark Ingram already on injured reserve, the Saints’ offense took a big hit on its first possession of Saturday’s NFC Divisional Playoff game with the San Francisco 49ers.

Saints running back Pierre Thomas suffered a concussion when he caught a pass near the 49ers’ goal line and took a solid helmet-to-helmet hit from strong safety Donte Whitner.

Thomas, who fumbled the ball away for the first of the Saints’ five turnovers in their 36-32 loss, was helped up after a short time but was disoriented as he ran off the field to the sideline. After a brief examination by team doctors, his helmet was taken from him and he went to the locker room.

Thomas returned a little later and high-fived some of his teammates as if he were trying to inspire them before going back to the locker room for good.

His loss was a major one for the Saints because of his versatility as a runner and receiver out of the backfield — especially on screen passes.

“He’s going to be OK, that’s most important,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Pierre does a lot of things well for us and screens are a part of it.”

“It’s tough to lose a player like Pierre, especially on the first series,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “He’s a big part of what we do.”

TRICKLE DOWN EFFECT: With Thomas back in the locker room and done for the day, running backs Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory had to take more of the workload.

That affected the kicking game because Sproles returns punts and kickoffs as well as serving as a valuable weapon in the run and pass games.

As a result, the Saints put Courtney Roby deep for the first time this season after the 49ers’ first touchdown. On his second return, after the 49ers pushed the lead to 14-0 following a Brees’ interception, Roby dropped the ball, then kicked it before picking it up and fumbling again on a hit by Anthony Dixon.

The 49ers recovered and turned the miscue into a 25-yard field goal and a 17-0 lead with 14:12 to play in the second quarter.

STREAK ENDS: Going into the game, Brees had throw 215 consecutive passes without an interception. But that came to a halt after 11 passes on Saturday pushed the total to 226.

His 12th pass of the day late in the first quarter was intercepted by safety Dashon Goldson, who returned the pick 41 yards to the Saints’ 4 to set up the Niners’ second touchdown.

Brees also was intercepted in the second quarter by cornerback Tarell Brown, who made an acrobatic grab on a deep pass intended for Devery Henderson.

INACTIVES: The Saints inactives were wide receiver Lance Moore (hamstring), tight end John Gilmore (toe), cornerback Leigh Torrence, linebacker Nate Bussey, defensive end Turk McBride, tight end Tory Humphrey, and guard Eric Olsen.

INJURIES: Besides Thomas, the Saints reported no injuries although strong safety Roman Harper was shaken up when he collided with 49ers tight end Vernon Davis on Davis’ 14-yard game-winning touchdown catch with nine seconds left.

For the 49ers, center Jonathan Goodwin left the game in the second quarter with an injury to his left ankle, but returned later before halftime and played the entire second half.

BY THE NUMBERS: 35.7 — Conversion rate for the Saints on third-down opportunities (5 of 14) after they led the league at 56.7 percent during the regular season.

LAGNIAPPE: The Saints are now 5-3 under Payton in the postseason and are 6-8 all-time in the playoffs. … Former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita visited with former teammate Steve Gleason, who’s battling Lou Gehrig’s disease, behind the Saints’ bench prior to the game. . … The win was the first in the postseason for the 49ers since they defeated the New York Giants in an NFC wild-card game after the 2002 season. The Niners are 27-18 all-time in the playoffs, including a 20-9 mark at home. … Huey Lewis & The News, a renowned Bay Area band from the 1980s and 90s, performed the national anthem.

LB Casillas back for playoff game with 49ers

SAN FRANCISCO – Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas will be active for Saturday’s NFC Divisional Playoff game with the San Francisco 49ers after missing last week’s wild-card victory against the Detroit Lions.

Casillas missed three games late in the regular season with a knee injury and returned for the season finale with the Carolina Panthers only to re-injure the knee in the first half of that game.

That forced Casillas to miss the game with the Lions, but he was able to practice on a limited basis this week and was listed as questionable for the game by coach Sean Payton on Friday.

Strong safety Roman Harper (ankle) and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee) are active after each missed a practice this week.

INACTIVES: The Saints inactives are wide receiver Lance Moore (hamstring), tight end John Gilmore (toe), cornerback Leigh Torrence, linebacker Nate Bussey, defensive end Turk McBride, tight end Tory Humphrey, and guard Eric Olsen.

Not suiting up for the 49ers are tight end Delanie Walker (jaw), cornerback Shawntae Spencer, guards Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person, nose tackle Ian Williams, wide receiver Joe Hastings, and quarterback Scott Tolzien.

Saints-49ers: Three Things to Know

THREE THINGS TO KNOW

1. DIVISIONAL SUCCESS: The Saints are 2-0 in the divisional round since Sean Payton took over in 2006. They defeated Philadelphia in 2006 and Arizona in 2009 to advance to the NFC title game.

2. BACK IN BUSINESS: Candlestick Park, the site of 17 postseason games between 1987 and 2002, will host its first playoff game in nearly a decade after the 49ers had eight non-winning seasons from 2002-10.

3. LUCKY NUMBER: The Saints and 49ers each won 13 games in the regular season and combined to go 26-6 (.813), which is tied for the second-highest combined winning percentage for two teams in a divisional playoff.

WHO HAS THE EDGE

Offense — Saints

Defense – 49ers

Special teams — 49ers

Intangibles – Saints

PREDICTION

After scoring 40 or more points in their last four games, the Saints may be slowed a little by the 49ers’ stingy defense. But they should find a way to get it done in the end.

SAINTS 24, 49ERS 19

Sheldon Mickles

Harper misses practice with ankle injury

Saints strong safety Roman Harper did not participate in Wednesday’s practice with an ankle injury as they continued preparing for Saturday’s NFC Divisional Playoff game with the San Francisco 49ers.

Saints coach Sean Payton did not elaborate on the severity of the injury, but acknowledged it happened in Saturday night’s 45-28 wild-card playoff win over the Detroit Lions.

“It was from the game,” Payton said. “We just kept him off it today and we’ll see where he’s at (Thursday).”

Wide receiver Lance Moore (hamstring) and tight end John Gilmore (toe) also did not practice, while middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee) and linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee) were limited. Wide receiver Robert Meachem (knee) had full participation.

Casillas, who missed three games late in the season and the game with the Lions, was able to work for the first time since re-injuring his knee in the regular-season finale.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS: Payton took his team outside for Wednesday’s practice on the natural grass fields, which he normally does when they’re preparing for a game that will be played outdoors.

The practice allows the Saints, who will play Saturday in Candlestick Park, to get used to the sunlight and feel of the turf.

The Saints were 3-2 in outdoor games in the regular season. They won at Jacksonville, Carolina and Tennessee and lost at Green Bay and Tampa Bay.

GINN LIMITED: Like the Saints, the 49ers also had a short injury list as backup tight end Delanie Walker (jaw) was the only player on the 53-man active roster who did not participate in practice.

Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (ankle) and defensive tackle Ray McDonald (hamstring), both starters, were limited as were wide receiver Kyle Williams (concussion) and cornerback Chris Culliver (knee).

BREES ON TARGET: In last week’s win over the Lions, Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw 43 passes with no interceptions, extending his postseason streak without a pick to 215 attempts.

Brees’ last miscue through the air came in the fourth period of his team’s 39-14 loss to the Chicago Bears in the 2006 NFC Championship game when Bears cornerback Nathan Vasher got him.

Brees finished the Lions’ game with three touchdowns and no interceptions and now has 16 TDs and only one pick in seven playoff games since joining the Saints.

KROMER TO TALK: Saints offensive line coach Aaron Kromer is expected to be interviewed by the St. Louis Rams for their vacant coaching position, according to a report Wednesday by Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer.

The report indicated that Rams officials may interview Kromer while the Saints, who leave for the West Coast on Thursday evening, are in San Francisco.

Kromer, who coached the Saints’ running backs in 2008, became offensive line coach a year later after Doug Marrone left to take the head coaching job at Syracuse University.

‘GREATEST MOMENTS’: As one can imagine, the Saints are featured prominently in “Greatest Super Bowl Moments,’ a new DVD released by NFL Films last week.

The highlight disc chronologically depicts the greatest moments of each of the NFL’s first 45 Super Bowls and the Saints, obviously, are featured in their 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.

A bonus segment on the surprise onside kick ordered by Payton to start the second half, which was called “Ambush,” is also included on the DVD.

Payton refutes report about tiff with 49ers’ Harbaugh

METAIRIE — Saints coach Sean Payton on Tuesday squashed a report that his defense repeatedly blitzed the San Francisco 49ers in their preseason opener because he was angry at Niners coach Jim Harbaugh.

The issue apparently made the rounds in the Bay Area during the preseason and it popped up again this week with the Saints preparing for Saturday’s NFC Divisional Playoff game against the 49ers in Candlestick Park.

On Monday, Harbaugh said it wasn’t an issue with him, while Payton said the report that he instructed defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to “let the dogs out” because Harbaugh didn’t call him before the Aug. 12 game to talk about how they were going to play the game was completely false.

Payton said after the game his defense brought pressure 18 times in the first 22 plays of the Saints’ 24-3 win. As a result, the Saints sacked quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick a total of six times — all in the first half.

“There would have never been any expectations on my part as to a phone call being made,” Payton said during his daily news conference. “That normally might happen in week four of the preseason.

“First off, if you look at our defense and you did a little homework and watched our preseason in years prior, we would always pick a game where we were going to get a lot of our blitz packages in,” he said, “especially without any offseason.”

Payton said he’s close with Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, Jim’s brother, and has known Jim Harbaugh for awhile.

“It was just a bogus report, so what do you say to that?” Payton asked. “All of a sudden now, it’s three months in and we’re still talking about it or being asked questions about it the week before an important playoff game. It is what it is.”

SAINTS BACK AT WORK: After running and lifting on Sunday and a day off Monday, the Saints were back at work Tuesday preparing for the playoff game with the 49ers.

Payton did not have to issue a practice report because Tuesday is normally a day off when a game is scheduled for Sunday, so it wasn’t known if wide receiver Lance Moore, linebacker Jonathan Casillas and tight end John Gilmore were able to participate.

Moore (hamstring), Casillas (knee) and Gilmore (toe) all missed Saturday’s wild-card win over the Detroit Lions.

NO ADVANTAGE: Payton said 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin, who played for the Saints from 2006-10 before leaving in free agency this summer, doesn’t necessarily give the Niners an edge over his old team because of what he knows.

“I think it’s overrated,” Payton said. “Having played in the preseason, you get a feel for their personnel and we just played them in the regular season last year.

“Jonathan is a real smart player so how we identify (the middle linebacker) and protections, there might be (a familiarity), but generally all of that is on film. There’s not really that dark secret that’s fun to write about, but really doesn’t exist. All of it is on tape time and time again.”

ROAF TO BE CONSIDERED: Former Saints tackle William Roaf is one of 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012, which will be selected Feb. 4 in Indianapolis.

Roaf, who was voted to a club-record seven Pro Bowls as a member of the Saints from 1993-2001, was a finalist last year in his first year of eligibility.

Other finalists with local ties are former Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams defensive back Aeneas Williams, who starred at Southern University, and former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, a Saints consultant.

BREES A FINALIST: Six finalists have been named for the FedEx NFL Air & Ground Players of the Year awards, which will be handed out during Super Bowl week.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who won the weekly air award three times this season, is a finalist along with New England’s Tom Brady and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.

The ground award candidates are Baltimore’s Ray Rice, Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy and Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew.

Fans can vote online for one player in each category until 8 p.m. on Jan. 27 at www.NFL.com/FedEx.

MADDEN PROTECTORS: The Saints’ offensive line is one of five finalists for the third annual Madden Protectors Award presented by Prilosec OTC. The Saints were the recipients of the first award in 2009.

Fans can vote online through Jan. 23 at www.NFL.com/prilosecotc with the winner being announced on Feb. 1.

Saints extend home playoff win streak to five games

NEW ORLEANS — After losing the first three home playoff games in franchise history, the Saints have won five consecutive games in the noisy confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Saints, who won all eight of their home games in the regular season for the first time in the 45-year history of the organization, extended the streak with a 45-28 victory Saturday night over the Detroit Lions in an NFC wild-card playoff game — pushing Sean Payton’s record to 4-0 in the building.

After losing wild-card games in 1987, ’91 and ’92 under former coach Jim Mora, the Saints finally broke through in 2000 under Jim Haslett and beat the St. Louis Rams in a wild-card game.

Payton won one playoff game at home in 2006 and two in ’09.

RARE MISTAKES: Saints wide receiver Marques Colston lost the football when he was stripped by Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch after making a catch on the first possession of the game, a rarity this season.

The miscue, which was costly because it ended a promising drive, came less than a week after the Saints set an NFL record for fewest fumbles in a season — six — in 16 games.

Brees also fumbled in the second quarter when he had the ball knocked loose by Lions defensive end Willie Young as he tried to throw. Linebacker Justin Durant recovered both fumbles for Detroit.

INACTIVES: The Saints’ inactives were wide receiver Lance Moore (hamstring), linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee), tight ends John Gilmore (toe) and Tory Humphrey, guard Eric Olsen, defensive end Turk McBride, and cornerback Leigh Torrence.

Inactives of note for the Lions were safety Chris Harris (back), guard Leonard Davis and running back Joique Bell, who was a member of the Saints practice squad before being signed by the Lions on Dec. 27.

DRAWING A BLANK: When the Saints were shut out in the first period Saturday night, it marked only the sixth time this season they failed to score in a quarter.

In the regular season, they scored in 59 of a possible 64 quarters.

TIGER TUNE-UP: LSU’s Golden Band from Tigerland warmed up for Monday night’s BCS National Championship Game against Alabama by providing the pregame and halftime entertainment Saturday night.

When the band assembled in the South end zone about 25 minutes before kickoff, the chant “L-S-U, L-S-U, L-S-U” went up around the stadium.

TIGERS IN THE HOUSE: Speaking of the BCS championship game, three former LSU players who won titles were on the field Saturday night where the victories came.

Lions guard Stephen Peterman and Saints wide receiver Devery Henderson were on the 2003 team that beat Oklahoma 21-14, while Lions running back Keiland Williams helped defeat Ohio State, 38-24, in 2007.

THE PAYOFF: Because they won the NFC South title and had to play in the wild-card round, each member of the Saints earned $22,000 Saturday night.

As a true wild-card, the Lions each received a check for $20,000.

LAGNIAPPE: Counting the postseason, Brees has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 48 consecutive games in a streak that began in an Oct. 18, 2009 game with the New York Giants. … Saints rookie linebacker Martez Wilson, a third-round draft pick who started just one game during the regular season, was on the field for the first snap in place of Jo-Lonn Dunbar on the strong side. … Lions assistant special teams coach Bradford Banta, who played 11 NFL seasons as a tight end and long snapper, is a Baton Rouge native and former University High star.

Saints-Lions: Three Things to Know

THREE THINGS TO KNOW

1. POSTSEASON SUCCESS: The Saints are 4-2 in the playoffs since Sean Payton arrived in 2006 with a win in Super Bowl XLIV. Prior to that, they were 1-5 in their first 39 years of existence.

2. LONG DROUGHT: The Lions, who qualified for the postseason for the first time since 1999, have only one playoff win since claiming the 1957 NFL title. They’re 1-9 since with the only win coming in 1991.

3. NOT SO SUPER: Detroit is the only franchise in existence when the first Super Bowl was played that’s never been there. The only others that haven’t are Jacksonville, Houston and the new Cleveland Browns.

WHO HAS THE EDGE

Offense — Saints

Defense – Saints

Special teams — Saints

Intangibles – Saints

PREDICTION

The Saints are on quite a roll with eight consecutive wins and an offense that isn’t showing signs of slowing down. The Lions are thrilled to be here, however, and won’t go down without a fight.

SAINTS 38, LIONS 28

Sheldon Mickles

Moore, Casillas to sit out Saints’ wild-card game

There were no surprises Friday when Saints coach Sean Payton issued his final injury report for Saturday night’s NFC wild-card playoff game with the Detroit Lions in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

As expected, wide receiver Lance Moore (hamstring), linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee) and tight end John Gilmore (toe) were ruled out of the game after each were sidelined for all of the team’s three big practices this week.

After Moore injured his hamstring in a Dec. 26 game with the Atlanta Falcons, Payton characterized the injury as “significant.” His loss leaves quarterback Drew Brees with one less weapon, although second-year pro Adrian Arrington was added to the mix last week along with Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem.

The absence of Casillas, who reinjured his knee in the regular-season finale, could be a problem for the Saints as they’ll have just six healthy linebackers with two of them — Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey — being rookies.

Meachem (knee), middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee), free safety Malcolm Jenkins (neck) and safety Jonathon Amaya (shoulder) are probable.

LIONS’ HARRIS DOUBTFUL: Backup safety Chris Harris, a former University of Louisiana at Monroe standout, is doubtful for the Lions after missing the last two practices with a back injury.

The Lions have 10 players listed as probable for the game.

The list includes six starters — All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson (Achilles’), free safety Louis Delmas (knee), cornerback Chris Houston (hand/knee), defensive end Cliff Avril (back), running back Kevin Smith (ankle/knee) and defensive tackle Corey Williams (hip).

THE WILD CARD: Over the years, the Saints haven’t been so wild about the wild-card round.

Even though they’re 5-7 all-time in the postseason, the Saints are just 1-5 in first-round games. Four of the losses came under Jim Mora (1987 and 1990-92) and the other came a year ago when Payton’s team dropped a 41-36 decision to the Seattle Seahawks.

Their only wild-card win came under coach Jim Haslett in 2000, a 31-28 victory over the St. Louis Rams in the Superdome.

EXPERIENCE COUNTS: Thirty-seven of the 53 players on the Saints’ active roster that will go against the Lions on Saturday night has NFL postseason experience.

A total of 31 players on the roster have been to the playoffs with the Saints, including seven who have been around for the six postseason games that Payton has coached since he was hired in 2006.

That group includes Brees, Colston, Henderson, guard Jahri Evans, tackle Zach Strief, linebacker Scott Shanle, and defensive end Will Smith.

PRIMETIME PLAYERS: The Saints are 3-0 in night playoff games under Payton.

They beat the Philadelphia Eagles in an NFC Divisional Playoff game in 2006 (27-24), Minnesota Vikings in the 2009 NFC Championship game (31-28 in overtime) and Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV (31-17).

LAGNIAPPE: Counting the playoffs, Brees has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games. The last time he didn’t was on Oct. 4, 2009 against the New York Jets and he has 114 TDs in that stretch. … LSU’s Golden Band from Tigerland will provide pregame and halftime entertainment for Saturday night’s game. … NBC’s top announcing team of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will call the game with Michelle Tafoya serving as sideline reporter.