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After Keenan Lewis’ Falcons funeral remark, Roddy White says Atlanta will do its talking on the field

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White (84) and former New Orleans Saints cornerback Jabari Greer (33) play in the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White (84) and former New Orleans Saints cornerback Jabari Greer (33) play in the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)

Roddy White heard Keenan Lewis say that New Orleans hoped to put the Falcons in their graves on Sunday, but the veteran Atlanta receiver preferred to wait until after the game’s opening whistle at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to offer his response to the Saints cornerback’s funeral barb.

“May we rest in peace,” White said during a conference call Wednesday when Lewis’ remark was brought up. “May we rest in peace.

“When the ball kicks off and we start … to mix it around and mingle out there, then we’ll see who the better team at the end of the game is. That’s all that’s going to matter.”

In speaking to a reporter after the Saints’ 31-15 win at the Chicago Bears on Monday night, Lewis said the Saints couldn’t permit Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan throw for as many yards as he did when Atlanta beat New Orleans 37-34 in overtime on Sept. 7 at the Georgia Dome.

Ryan passed for 448 yards and three touchdowns in what was a career day.

“Hopefully we come in this week and get to the details and try to figure out what Atlanta’s going to try to beat us with,” Lewis said in the visitor’s locker room at Soldier Field. “We’re definitely going to give them their funeral.”

White, though, took a high road in a manner that could be a surprise to some. After all, it was White in 2010 who published a message on Twitter that it was by the grace of God the Saints were able to win Super Bowl XLIV so that New Orleans wouldn’t fall apart.

Many who were offended interpreted White’s tweet to mean the Saints were given their NFL title to console New Orleans for the devastation the city suffered during Hurricane Katrina some five years earlier. The Saints won in Atlanta 17-14 days after White sent that tweet.

On Wednesday, White avoided saying anything that was anywhere near the universe that the aforementioned tweet was in.

“Anything that comes out of their locker room or comes out of our locker room — there’s no kind of motivation that’s going to make us step up and say, ‘Oh, they said this or we said that,'” said White, who is 6-13 versus the Saints all-time and has caught 76 passes for 1,205 yards and eight touchdowns against New Orleans. “We know what it is. It’s Saints-Falcons.”

Falcons coach Mike Smith said he wasn’t aware of Lewis’ funeral comment. However, Smith said, it’s not like he nor his players need any extra motivation in their preparations for the Saints.

Everyone is well aware that, more often than not, the games between New Orleans and Atlanta aren’t typically decided until the final possession. That’s the case even if the Saints are 13-4 against the Falcons since coach Sean Payton arrived took charge of New Orleans’ franchise in 2006.

“It’s two teams that love to compete against each other,” Smith said. “It’s a great feel for the fans of New Orleans and fans of Atlanta when those two teams play.”

In his chat with local writers, White acknowledged the Saints secondary he’d be operating against was most likely going to be different than the one he clashed against a few months ago.

The Saints’ starting safeties in the September game against the Falcons were Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro, and the cornerback opposite Lewis was Patrick Robinson. But Byrd sustained a season-ending knee injury in October, and Vaccaro was recently moved from his strong safety spot to a role as a nickel defensive back.

In Chicago, the Saints started Terrence Frederick opposite Lewis, and the starting safeties were Pierre Warren and Jamarca Sanford.

Warren had two interceptions in the win over the Bears.

“Those guys have made some plays,” White said. However, White suggested he and fellow Falcons receiver Julio Jones could be more of a handful that the Bears’ receivers were.

Despite missing the Falcons’ loss on Sunday to Pittsburgh (9-5) with a hurt hip, Jones remains second in the NFL in receiving yards (1,428). Jones’ six receiving touchdowns are second on Atlanta only to the seven by White, who is No. 2 on the Falcons in receiving yards (762).

“I don’t think they’ve played a group like ours yet,” said White, who — like Jones — didn’t practice Wednesday. “As far as depth and guys at wide receiver that we could put out there to make plays, it’ll be different in that aspect of it.”

Both Smith and White embraced the fact that the only way this game could carry more meaning for both the Saints (6-8) and the Falcons (5-9) was if it was in the playoffs.

The Saints can eliminate the Falcons and clinch a division title as well as a berth in the playoffs if New Orleans wins and Carolina (5-8-1) loses to Cleveland (7-7).

At the other end of the spectrum, Atlanta could eliminate the Saints with a win in New Orleans and a Carolina victory over Cleveland.

“There’s a lot to be playing for,” Smith said.

White added, “It’s going to be loud and crazy in there. I can’t wait to get down there.”

For emphasis, White repeated, “I can’t wait. I can’t wait to get down there.”

QUOTABLE

“I’m not going to comment on a hash tag or anything. The great thing is this is a popular game — the NFL. We go out and try to do to the best we can. I’ll say this — every week (mostly), there’s 16 of us that are real smart, and there’s 16 of us that aren’t very smart based on the outcome of the game.”

— Smith, on the #SaveSmitty campaign on Twitter started by New Orleans radio personality Gus Kattengell (106.1 FM The Ticket), which expressed mock support for the Falcons coach when his job longevity was in question during a five-game losing streak in the middle of the season.

Garrison Smith, DeMarcus Love cut from Saints’ practice squad; Andrew Miller joins it

The Saints released two players from their 10-man practice squad Tuesday and signed one onto it.

Gone are defensive tackle Garrison Smith and tackle DeMarcus Love. Love had been on the practice squad since Oct. 22, and Smith had been on it since Nov. 27.

Arriving is guard Andrew Miller, an undrafted rookie out of Virginia Tech. Miller tried out for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he was cut at the end of the preseason. Miller was coaches’ second-team All-ACC and honorable mention All-ACC in his final year at Virginia Tech, in which he started all 13 games for an 8-5 squad.

With only one player joining and two leaving, there’s one slot open on the Saints’ practice squad.

The Saints’ practice squad as it stands is quarterback Ryan Griffin, wide receiver Brandon Coleman, running back Edwin Baker, fullback Toben Opurum, linebacker Jerry Franklin, tackle Tavon Rooks, tight end Orson Charles, wide receiver Willie Snead and Miller.

Saints name Thomas Morstead their man of the year, nominate him for league-wide honor

Madison "Madi" Adams, while battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), visits with New Orleans Saints punter and kickoff specialist Thomas Morstead in her hospital room on September 17, 2013.

Madison “Madi” Adams, while battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), visits with New Orleans Saints punter and kickoff specialist Thomas Morstead in her hospital room on September 17, 2013.

For his charity work benefiting children and people battling cancer, punter Thomas Morstead deserves to win this season’s Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, the Saints said Tuesday.

The Saints honored Morstead as their team’s man of the year, and that enters him into consideration for an award presented by Nationwide insurance that recognizes one NFL player for both outstanding community service and success on the gridiron.

Through his “What You Give Will Grow” foundation, which he started in 2012, Morstead raises funds, holds events or makes appearances in hopes of showing anyone he encounters that charity both touches those on the receiving end and inspires others to give similarly. He has said he focuses on children’s charities and cancer initiatives in part because he was raised by his parents in a tight-knit family and because his mother survived a breast cancer diagnosis when he was younger.

An example of the work he does in his spare time away from the Saints is host birthday parties for abused or neglected children he is acquainted with through Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Jefferson. Married and raising a young son with his wife, he recently launched what he dubbed his “Gameday Heroes program,” which gives pediatric cancer patients the opportunity to have a behind-the-scenes experience leading up to and at a Saints game. His foundation purchased new instruments for local elementary school music bands.

However, the Saints also put Morstead up for the Payton award because of what he contributes to the special-teams coverage units. Morstead and the Saints this year have held opponents to 3.3 yards per punt return, the lowest in the NFL. Also, Morstead’s average of 42.6 net yards per punt is fourth in the NFL.

Morstead handles kickoffs for the Saints as well. He’s been on the team since 2009, when he helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV as a rookie fifth-round draft choice.

The winner of the Payton award will be announced during the fourth annual NFL Honors show on Jan. 31. The show will be broadcast on NBC beginning at 9 that night. The NFL’s Man of the Year will receive a $25,000 donation in his name to a charity of his choice from both the NFL Foundation and Nationwide ($50,000 total). Two other finalists will get $5,000 donations in their names. The other 29 nominees will receive $1,000 donations from the NFL Foundation to their selected charities.

The panel of judges evaluating the 32 nominees for the award include NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former league Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Sports Illustrated writer Peter King, Connie Payton, Frank Gifford, Anthony Muñoz and the 2013 Payton Award recipient, Charles Tillman.

David Hawthorne grateful his career night in win over Chicago helped ease some of Saints D’s ‘sour feelings’ this year

New Orleans Saints inside linebacker David Hawthorne (57) tackles Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) during the first half of an NFL football game Monday, Dec. 15, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

New Orleans Saints inside linebacker David Hawthorne (57) tackles Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) during the first half of an NFL football game Monday, Dec. 15, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

CHICAGO – David Hawthorne’s primary duties as a linebacker for the Saints are to defend run plays or cover intermediate pass routes. He isn’t usually a pass rusher.

But, in their 31-15 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field on Monday night, the Saints dialed up more blitzes than perhaps many expected. And no one individual benefitted more from that than Hawthorne did.

Hawthorne registered a career-high three sacks at Chicago (5-9) in three separate drives that all resulted in punts. Not only did that match the number of sacks the seven-year pro had in all of 2013, his second season in New Orleans (6-8). Not only did that increase his career sack total by more than 33 percent, from nine to 12. But it was the first time since he was a Seattle Seahawk in 2009 that Hawthorne had more than one sack in a game.

For Hawthorne personally, Monday was gratifying in the stat-padding department.

“My high before was like two sacks,” Hawthorne said through a chuckle.

But Hawthorne was happier for the part it played for a defense that dropped Bears quarterback Jay Cutler behind the line of scrimmage seven times and picked off three of his passes. Junior Galette (two), Akiem Hicks and John Jenkins had the remaining sacks for the Saints.

“We were … not even close to being an offense that could compete through four quarters,” Bears coach Marc Trestman glumly said afterward.

Nonetheless, the Bears’ lackluster outing resulted in arguably the best performance by a unit that’s given up the second-most yards in the NFL through 14 games and was gashed for almost 500 yards in a 31-point loss at home to Carolina on Dec. 7.

“It’s a good feeling,” said Hawthorne, who also tackled running back Matt Forte for a loss 2 yards in the first quarter. “We’ve had a bunch of sour feelings coming into the locker room when we go out and we didn’t do exactly what we came to do. I feel like tonight we did a better job of executing.”

The Saints can now clinch their division and a playoff berth as long as two things happen: they beat Atlanta (5-9) in New Orleans on Sunday and Carolina (5-8-1) loses to Cleveland (7-7).

Saints QB Drew Brees up for FedEx Air player of week award after win at Chicago

CHICAGO — Saints quarterback Drew Brees earned his third FedEx Air NFL Player of the Week award nomination after his performance in New Orleans’ 31-15 win over the Bears at Soldier Field on Monday night.

Brees was 29-of-36 passing for 375 yards and three touchdowns in the victory for the Saints (6-8). He said he felt his team played as loose as it has all year against the Bears (5-9), whose defense was among the worst in the NFL heading into Monday night.

The Saints can now clinch their division and a berth in the playoffs on Sunday if two things happen: they beat archrival Atlanta (5-9) in New Orleans and Carolina (5-8-1) loses to Cleveland (7-7).

Brees was nominated for the weekly, fan-voted award after the Saints’ 37-31 win at home over Tampa Bay on Oct. 5 and a 24-23 defeat at Detroit on Oct. 19. This time, he is up against Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who was 27-of-35 for 360 yards in a 27-20 win at Atlanta on Sunday; and Kansas City’s Alex Smith, who was 18-of-30 for 297 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-13 win over Oakland.

Fans can vote for Brees, Roethlisberger or Smith at NFL.com/FedEx. If Brees wins, FedEx will donate $2,000 to the American Red Cross’ New Orleans chapter.

Pierre Warren says two-interception outing in Saints win over Bears showed why New Orleans brought him back to team

New Orleans Saints free safety Pierre Warren (42) celebrates after intercepting a pass intended for Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Dec. 15, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

New Orleans Saints free safety Pierre Warren (42) celebrates after intercepting a pass intended for Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Dec. 15, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

CHICAGO — Rookie Saints safety Pierre Warren only has four NFL starts to his name, but that’s been more than enough for him to learn a truth about his chosen profession.

It can seem like the most difficult thing in the world one moment, like when the Saints left him off the 53-man roster at the beginning of the season and later released him from their practice squad.

In the next instant, it can be the most thrilling thing in the world, like when Warren intercepted his first two career regular-season passes during New Orleans’ 31-15 victory over the Bears (5-9) at Soldier Field on Monday night.

“I wasn’t expecting none of this a month ago,” said Warren, who had been on the Saints’ roster 28 days when he spoke with reporters in the visitors’ locker room of Soldier Field on Monday. “They brought me back in here just for takeaways, and I know that; so it felt good … to finally show everybody what they brought me back here for.”

The value of Warren’s contributions against the Bears was obvious. In front of a primetime, national television audience, he picked off a deep pass by Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to the Saints’ 13 on the last play of the second quarter, which allowed New Orleans to preserve a 14-0 lead at halftime.

The Bears kicked off to open the third quarter, and the Saints (6-8) immediately widened that advantage to 21-0. Then, late in the third quarter, Cutler misfired on another deep throw, this one to New Orleans’ 23. Warren hauled in the errant pass and ran it back 21 yards before he was pushed out of bounds. That set up a field goal by Saints kicker Shayne Graham that made it 24-0 in favor of New Orleans.

The Bears and Cutler (who finished with three interceptions) had no prayer to revert that score. They fell to 5-9, and New Orleans improved to 6-8 to take sole possession of first place in the NFC South division by a slim margin with two games left.

Warren stood tall among the many people the Saints could thank for that in the latest chapter of one of the most compelling storylines of New Orleans’ 2014 season.

Out of Alabama’s Jacksonville State, a member of the second-tier Football Championship Subdivision, the undrafted Warren intermittently flashed at training camp, breaking up passes, intercepting throws and knocking the ball out of opponents’ grasps in drills at training camp.

But as camp phased back to New Orleans, the Saints gave a significant look to other safeties such as Marcus Ball, who spent 2012 and 2013 with the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts. Though Ball missed the last two exhibition games with a hamstring injury that sidelined him through the end of September, Warren did not crack the first 53-man roster. New Orleans went with three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd; 2013 first-round draft choice Kenny Vaccaro; fourth-year pro Rafael Bush; Vinnie Sunseri, the rookie out of Alabama; and Ball at safety.

The Saints stashed Warren on their 10-man practice squad. He was there for 17 days before an injury to a linebacker forced them to bring in another player at that position to the practice squad to not compromise depth during mid-week team drills. Warren was unemployed for 19 days before latching onto the Minnesota Vikings practice squad, and he remained there for more than six weeks.

But Byrd tore a meniscus in a practice before an Oct. 5 Saints win in New Orleans. Sunseri broke his left forearm in a defeat at home against San Francisco on Nov. 9. And Bush fractured his right fibula at the Superdome in a loss to Cincinnati on Nov. 16.

Byrd’s, Sunseri’s and Bush’s seasons all were over. At safety, that left Vaccaro, Ball and Jamarca Sanford, who had played with the Vikings from 2009 to 2013 but was acquired by New Orleans as a free agent after Sunseri went down.

The problem was neither Vaccaro, Ball nor Sanford were deep-lying free safeties in the mold of Bush or Byrd. But Warren was, and he had spent the preseason mastering the Saints’ playbook. The Saints’ front office signed him away from the Vikings, and he’s since started in two wins and setbacks each for New Orleans.

Aside from his two interceptions, he recovered a fumble in his first game with the Saints, giving him an eyebrow-raising three takeaways in his brief stint in New Orleans so far.

“He’s got good ball skills,” Saints coach Sean Payton said Monday. “We were in the right spot and then making the play was big.”

Warren said his being initially cut by the Saints wounded him. “It’s always painful not to make the (roster) when you think you should,” Warren said.

But Warren sensed a day like Monday could come sooner than later.

“It’s the ups and downs of this business,” Warren said. “I just kept pushing.”

And the Saints’ playoff outlook is the better for that.

Keenan Lewis: Saints are hoping to give Falcons ‘funeral’ next week

CHICAGO — The New Orleans Saints have their confidence back.

Monday’s 31-15 victory over the Chicago Bears keeps New Orleans in control of its destiny heading into next week’s home game against the Atlanta Falcons, and cornerback Keenan Lewis is confident things will go well for the Saints after the defense recorded seven sacks and three interceptions Monday night.

“Hopefully we come in this week and get to the details and try to figure out what Atlanta’s gonna try to beat us with,” Lewis said. “We can’t let Matt Ryan come out and throw for 500 yards this week. We’re definitely gonna give them their funeral.”

New Orleans (6-8) can eliminate Atlanta (5-9) from the NFC South race with a win next week.

Atlanta beat the Saints in overtime in Week 1 and Ryan threw for 448 yards and three touchdowns in that contest.

Lewis also believes he’s figured out why the Saints are 3-4 at home after going 8-0 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome last season.

“We got a little voodoo curse on that,” Lewis said. “We were 8-0 at home and losing on the road. It seems like we’re switching it around.”

 

This Saints game ball is for Bailey

The pink “B” on the jacket and visor of Saints coach Sean Payton was more than just a fashion statement, it was the symbolization of a promise to a special girl and support for everyone who battles cancer.

Bailey Leon, an 11-year-old girl, has been battling cancer at the Ochsner Hospital in New Orleans and is a huge fan of the black and gold and her team’s coach. Bailey and Payton have talked a few times and have developed a friendship.

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton walks the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago BearsMonday, Dec. 15, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton walks the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago BearsMonday, Dec. 15, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The last time Payton met Bailey was on Saturday when he promised her a game ball from the team’s game at the Chicago Bears on Monday.

Thanks to one of its best games of season, Payton will not only keep his promise with a game ball from a win that put the Saints in sole possession of first place in the NFC South, but he will make a special girl happy.

Welcome to Soldier Field

tarpfield

Welcome to Soldier Field for tonight’s game between the Saints and Bears.

Unlike other weeks, when New Orleans could drop non-division games and remain alive in the NFC South, the Saints might actually have to win this one to keep hope alive. Carolina beat Tampa Bay on Sunday to move into first place. If New Orleans loses, it would forfeit control of its own destiny.

WEATHER: It’s wet and soggy here. The tarp came off the field around 5:45 p.m., so the ground should have sufficient time to get nice and soggy. New Orleans has not played in conditions such as these this season, so it will be interesting to see how this team responds.

ROSTER MOVES: No word yet on how the secondary will look this week. Our best guess is that Jamarca Sanford gets the start and safety and Terrence Frederick will be given the opportunity to hold down the cornerback spot opposite Keenan Lewis. How Kenny Vaccaro figures into the mix remains to be seen.

OFFICIALS: Carl Cheffers’ crew will be officiating the game tonight. His crew averages 16.33 flags per game, which is a bit above the league average of 13.43.