NFC South: New York Giants

We were prepping for today's "NFL Insiders" show (which re-airs at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2, I think), and I had a note about the New York Giants and Jon Beason. Adam Schefter said he'd heard that Beason, who is representing himself, had been emailing teams to inform them that he's the one to contact but that teams can't reply because it would be tampering.

Beason
So that made me wonder, because there are these new tampering rules that went into place last year that allow teams to negotiate with player agents starting Saturday in advance of the opening of the new league year Tuesday. Those rules prohibit direct contact between teams and players during the Saturday-Tuesday window, and apparently that does apply to Beason. From the league-issued Q&A release:
During this negotiating period, a prospective Unrestricted Free Agent cannot visit a club (other than the player's current club) at its permanent facility or at any other location, and no direct contact is permitted between the player and any employee or representative of a club (other than the player's current club). If a player is self-represented, clubs are prohibited from discussions with the player during the negotiating period.

So what does all of this mean? The Giants want Beason back, but to this point they have not been able to reach agreement on a new contract. The fact that he's emailing other teams certainly seems to indicate that he's not overly thrilled with what they're offering. But it appears as though they'll have a little extra time to convince him. While agents for other free agents spend this weekend and Monday in contact with teams, Beason won't be able to talk to anyone but the Giants until 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

I still think Beason returns to the Giants on a deal that pays him somewhere around $4 million a year, maybe with some incentives. But the longer it goes without getting done, and the closer it gets to Tuesday, the more you wonder.
Monday’s news that Victor Cruz is finalizing a five-year, $43 million contract extension with the New York Giants could have implications for Mike Williams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Factoring in Cruz’s $2.879 million restricted tender for this year, the deal is worth $45.879 million over six years and includes $15.6 million in guaranteed money.

That sets some parameters for the Bucs and Williams because he and Cruz are somewhat similar. They both are young No. 2 receivers. Williams plays opposite Vincent Jackson, and Cruz is New York’s No. 2 receiver after Hakeem Nicks (when Nicks is healthy).

Cruz has had slightly better numbers than Williams the past two years. But the Bucs have made it clear they want to keep Williams, who is headed into the final year of his contract, for the long term.

To make that happen, they likely will have to give him a deal similar to the one Cruz got.
BRADENTON, Fla. -- When you talk to Sheldon Richardson, it’s a waste of time to beat around the bush.

Richardson
You can make subtle implications that he’s "outspoken" or "confident," but Richardson will take you right to the point.

"I’m cocky, to most people," Richardson said Monday after a workout at IMG Academy, where he’s been preparing for the NFL’s scouting combine.

Yes, the Missouri defensive tackle is the person who said Georgia played "old man football." He’s also the one who -- before the Tigers played the Longhorns in 2011 -- went on a rant about how he hates Texas.

"It was just a comment that I made because a lot of my teammates were from Texas and they were reminiscing about guys they played against in high school and how great they are now, and I didn’t like that too much," Richardson said. "It was praising the other team too much. When we’re out on the field, you can’t be friends. It wasn’t Colt McCoy at quarterback. It was his little brother [Case] and we got after him defensively."

Missouri defeated Texas 17-5.

"I'm myself," Richardson said. "I really don’t see why guys sit there and praise other coaches and other teams when it’s totally different in your own locker room. Why sit there and say, 'That’s a great team' when it’s not?' "

Maybe Richardson has earned the right to say what’s on his mind. In his final two college seasons, he recorded 112 tackles, six sacks and had 18.5 tackles for a loss. Most scouts and draft experts list him as one of the top two or three defensive tackles in a class that’s particularly deep at that position. If he lasts until the middle of the first round, Richardson would be an obvious target for the New Orleans Saints or the Carolina Panthers.

"I’ll just say this -- he’s a grown man," IMG Academy director of football operations Chris Weinke said. "In terms of his ability to make every move, he makes it seamlessly. Our defensive line coaches have just been enamored with his explosiveness. He’s going to be a guy that teams are going to look at to be an impact player from the get-go."

He’ll also be a guy with plenty of confidence.

"I’m me," Richardson said. "I’ll just go out and do what I’ve been doing. I’ve got a lot of film and I’ve made a lot of tackles. I like where I stand going into the combine. I feel like my talent, my confidence and work ethic put me ahead of anyone in this draft."

Manti Te'o ready for NFL combine

February, 18, 2013
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o will be the center of attention when the NFL scouting combine opens later this week and most of the NFC South teams are likely to be watching closely.

Te'o
Te’o has been in the headlines since it was revealed that he was the victim of what he said was a hoax that led him to have an online relationship with a woman that did not exist.

The story came to light soon after Te’o arrived at IMG Academy to begin preparing for the combine.

“He missed precisely one day,’’ said former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke, the director of football operations at IMG Academy where Te’o has been preparing for the combine. “He’s gone about his business and been the same guy all along. I really admire that because a lot of guys his age would not be able to handle this as well as he has. I haven’t seen any signs of it being a distraction and I expect him to go up to Indianapolis and have a great combine.’’

Those closest to Te’o said he’s shown no signs of being distracted by the off-field drama.

“Manti has been the same Manti I went to college with,’’ said former Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert, who also has been working out at IMG. “He left to do the Katie Couric interview for one day and I think he was back that same night. He’s been out on the field working just like he’s always worked. I’ve tried to be there for him, but I don’t know that he’s needed all that much help because he’s such a strong person to begin with.’’

Teams are likely to grill Te’o about his situation during his individual interviews at the combine. Most draft gurus have been projecting Te’o as a likely first-round pick.

The Saints, Buccaneers and Panthers all pick in the middle of the first round and the Atlanta Falcons are scheduled to pick No. 30 overall. New Orleans needs some stability in its linebacker corps and Tampa Bay could be looking to add a linebacker because Quincy Black suffered a major injury last season. Carolina doesn’t appear to have much need at linebacker, but it remains to be seen if veteran Jon Beason will be a salary-cap casualty.

It may be a long shot that Te’o is still available when the Falcons pick. But, knowing how thorough the Falcons are, I’m sure they’ll do their homework on Te’o just in case.

Superlatives on the Falcons

December, 17, 2012
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With some help from ESPN Stats & Information and the Atlanta Falcons' media relations department, let’s take a look at some statistical superlatives from Atlanta’s 34-0 victory against the New York Giants on Sunday.
  • Quarterback Matt Ryan had no problem handling the Giants’ blitz. When New York sent five or more pass rushers, Ryan completed six of seven passes and averaged 15.1 yards per attempt.
  • Ryan broke two of his own franchise records. He now has a team-best 4,202 passing yards on the season, breaking the record (4,177 yards he set last year). Ryan also has 369 completions on the season. He set the previous record with 357 in 2010.
  • Ryan completed 23 of 28 passes (82.1 percent) for 270 yards with three touchdowns and a 142.6 passer rating. Ryan’s completion percentage was the second-best total of his career. He completed 85.7 percent of his passes in a 2010 game against Green Bay.
  • Ryan now has posted a passer rating of 100 or better 32 times in his career. The Falcons are 31-1 in those games.
  • Not counting kneel-downs, the Falcons rushed 35 times for 133 yards. Seventy-four of those yards came after contact.
  • The shutout was Atlanta’s first since Nov. 2, 2009 at Oakland and its first in the Georgia Dome since Oct. 20, 2002 against Carolina.
  • The Falcons handed Eli Manning the first regular-season shutout of his career. It also was the first time the Giants have been shut out in the regular season since 1996.
  • Since coach Mike Smith’s arrival in 2008, the Falcons are 20-3 following a loss. The Falcons have won 10 straight games coming off a loss.
  • Cornerback Asante Samuel intercepted Manning in the first quarter. It was Samuel’s 48th career interception, which ranks No. 4 among active players.
  • Michael Turner moved into second place on the team’s all-time rushing list. Turner has 6,022 yards since joining the Falcons in 2008. Gerald Riggs is the franchise leader with 6,630 yards.
  • Julio Jones topped the 1,000-yard receiving mark. Jones and Roddy White became the first pair of Atlanta receivers to reach 1,000 yards in the same season since Terance Mathis and Tony Martin did it in 1998. Jones and White have combined for 148 receptions, 2,227 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.
  • The Falcons have not allowed a passing touchdown in their last three home games.
  • Safety Thomas DeCoud recorded his sixth interception of the season. He and William Moore are the NFL’s only safety tandem in which both players have at least four interceptions.
Eli ManningKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesEli Manning was intercepted twice and sacked once as the Giants were shut out for the first time in the regular season since 1996.
ATLANTA -- This is what a 12-2 team is supposed to look like.

It goes out and dominates every facet of the game against the defending Super Bowl champions. It plays like a machine and erases the ghosts of last season’s playoffs and last week’s ugly loss to Carolina Panthers.

That’s precisely what the Atlanta Falcons did in Sunday’s 34-0 victory over the New York Giants at the Georgia Dome.

“I think this is the best game we’ve put together all season,’’ cornerback Asante Samuel said.

Samuel generally isn’t prone to understatements, but he might have been selling the Falcons short on this one. If the Falcons didn’t play a perfect game Sunday, they at least bordered on it.

They recorded the first regular-season shutout ever in a game that Eli Manning started. They recorded the first regular-season shutout against the Giants since December 1996.

Even the critics, including media members and opposing players, who have been quick to point out the Falcons often have been just getting by against the league’s easiest schedule, have to be impressed by this one. At least for the moment, you can make a case the Falcons are as good as their record.

But don’t let Samuel catch you giving the Falcons their due.

“We love the haters,’’ Samuel said. “The haters keep us going. Keep up the hate.’’

But the season-long theme about a lack of respect wasn’t the lone motivating factor. Last week’s 30-20 loss to Carolina might have played just as big a role.

“Embarrassment,’’ veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez said when asked why the Falcons’ focus was so much better this week. “It was better than it’s been because it had to be.’’

Said head coach Mike Smith, “Our focus this week was heightened, I will say that.’’

To a man, the Falcons talked about how well they practiced and prepared for the Giants, who beat them, 24-2, in last season’s playoffs.

“This week, what we figured out was if you put in the work, you’re going to get the result you want,’’ linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “We know now we need to play playoff ball the rest of the way.’’

For perhaps the first time all season, the Falcons were at the absolute top of their game in every area.

The special teams kept Giants return man David Wilson from doing any damage. The offense had balance and rhythm throughout the game. The maligned running game produced 129 yards. Quarterback Matt Ryan was almost perfect and might have edged his way back into the Most Valuable Player conversation. He completed 23 of 38 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns. Julio Jones caught two touchdown passes and moved past the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the season. The offensive line protected Ryan (one sack) very well against a Giants front four that Smith called the best in the NFL.

But, on a day where every unit shined, the defense might have been the brightest spot.

The Falcons recorded their first shutout since the 2009 season and their first at home since 2002, and they did it against a quarterback that has won two Super Bowls. They set the tone early, as Samuel intercepted Manning on the second play of the game to set up a quick Atlanta touchdown.

Safety Thomas DeCoud also intercepted Manning early in the second quarter to set up a field goal that put the Falcons ahead 17-0. But the interceptions weren’t even the biggest story of the day for the Atlanta defense.

Three times -- twice in the second quarter and once in the third quarter -- the Giants went for it on fourth down instead of settling for a field goal.

“I thought that was a little disrespectful, like, 'We’re better than you,'’’ Weatherspoon said. “But we got it done between the lines.’’

All three times, the Falcons stopped the Giants.

“Gigantic,’’ Smith said. “Absolutely gigantic. Those three fourth-down stops were like turnovers.’’

Said Weatherspoon, “They were turnovers. That’s demoralizing for a team.’’

The loss certainly didn’t help the Giants in their quest to win the NFC East and earn a playoff berth. But the victory might have done wonders for the Falcons' morale.

It also might have opened some eyes that the Falcons truly are a good team.

“I understand why the media doesn’t have the stomach to jump on the bandwagon,’’ Gonzalez said. “They are going to say what they want to say until we go out and win a playoff game. That’s just the reality.’’

But maybe how other people perceive the Falcons shouldn’t really matter. Maybe all that matters is how the Falcons perceive themselves and how they perform when it matters most.

“They don’t remember what you do in September and October,’’ Smith said. “It’s all about December and January. We’ve been saying we haven’t played our best. We haven’t played our best game, and when we watch the [replay] tomorrow, we’ll probably have that same opinion.’’

If Smith and the Falcons can look at the film of this one and find any flaws, that’s a good thing. It would mean that, even after a fantastic performance, there still is room for improvement.

“It was a statement game for this week,’’ Weatherspoon said. “But there’s a lot more to be done.’’

If the Falcons are going to win in the postseason for the first time in the Smith-Ryan era, they’ll need to play like they did against the Giants. If they do that, anything is possible.

“It’s time,’’ Gonzalez said. “It’s that time of year where you have start jelling as a football team. “We’re a good team. We have a lot of talent, but it hasn’t been clicking all the time and I don’t know why. But this shows that, when we focus, we’re very tough to beat.’’

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Rapid Reaction: Falcons 34, Giants 0

December, 16, 2012
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ATLANTA -- Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons34-0 victory against the New York Giants on Sunday at the Georgia Dome:

What it means: This was much more significant than a run-of-the-mill December victory for a team that already has clinched the NFC South title and a spot in the playoffs. This was a statement game for the 12-2 Falcons. A week after playing a horrible game against Carolina, they bounced back with their best outing of the season. They also did it against the team that bounced them from the playoffs last season, and they did it in a very convincing manner.

What I liked: Everything. Critics have ripped the Falcons for not putting together a complete game and, oftentimes, playing just well enough to win. Well, this one was different. The Falcons were pretty much flawless. They ran and passed the ball well on offense. The defense intercepted Eli Manning twice early in the game and came through with some big stops.

Stat of the day: The shutout marked the first time the Giants have been held scoreless in a regular-season game with Manning as their quarterback.

Busting a myth: There are a lot of people out there who say Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan can’t throw the deep ball. I always have disputed that claim. And Ryan gave me some more evidence to work with. If you haven’t seen his 40-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones, please go watch the replay. It should be on all of the highlight shows.

Super omen? Speaking of Jones, he went for more than 1,000 receiving yards for the season on Sunday. Teammate Roddy White already was past the 1,000-yard mark. They are the first Atlanta duo to post 1,000 receiving yards in the same season since Terance Mathis and Tony Martin in the 1998 season. In case you don't remember, that's the season the Falcons made it to the Super Bowl for the only time in franchise history.

Pro Bowl bound? Very quietly, Atlanta free safety Thomas DeCoud has emerged as a force. He intercepted Manning in the first half. That gives DeCoud six interceptions on the season. The fifth-year player should get strong consideration for a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl team.

What’s next: The Falcons face a bit of a short week. They play the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Saturday night.

Halftime thoughts: Falcons-Giants

December, 16, 2012
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ATLANTA -- I don’t know that it will last, but the Atlanta Falcons finally are looking like the team they’re supposed to be.

At halftime, they have a 17-0 lead on the New York Giants. The score doesn’t even illustrate how well the Falcons have played.

They’ve been criticized all season for not being able to put together a complete game. Well, they’re doing it against the Giants.

They’ve had success with the run and the pass on offense. Defensively, they’ve picked off Eli Manning twice and they stopped a New York drive near the end of the first half.

Atlanta’s been dominant so far. We’ll see if it continues. I’ll be back with Rapid Reaction soon after the game ends.

Roddy White active for Falcons

December, 16, 2012
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White
ATLANTA -- Wide receiver Roddy White, who was listed as questionable with a knee injury, will be active for Sunday’s game with the New York Giants.

But starting safety William Moore (hamstring) will not be active. Chris Hope is expected to start in his place.

The other inactives for the Falcons are quarterback Dominique Davis, receiver Tim Toone, guard Phillipkeith Manley, guard Harland Gunn, tight end Chase Coffman and defensive end Lawrence Sidbury.

Waiting for word on Roddy White

December, 16, 2012
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ATLANTA -- I’m in the Georgia Dome press box and am keeping a close eye on the field to see if Roddy White makes an appearance.

The wide receiver is questionable with a knee injury and the Falcons have said he’s a game-time decision. Actually, a decision will come before game time. Inactives have to be turned in 90 minutes before the game.

I’m thinking there is a good possibility the Falcons will bring White, who did not practice all week, out onto the field to test out his knee sometime soon. Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant and a small group of Giants are the only players on the field at the moment. I’ll continue to keep an eye out for White and will let you know as soon as we get the inactives.

NFC South programming notes

December, 15, 2012
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I’m about to begin the trip up to Atlanta to cover Sunday’s game between the Falcons and New York Giants.

Join us Sunday morning when we'll have the list of inactives for the Giants and Falcons, and for the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints.

I’ll have wrap-ups on both games as soon as they end. As I write my column on the game between the Falcons and Giants, I’ll also be watching the late-afternoon game between the Carolina Panthers and San Diego Chargers, and providing a wrap-up on that game soon after it ends.

NFC East blogger Dan Graziano talks with NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas about this weekend's game between the Giants and Falcons.

Wrap-up: Giants 52, Saints 27

December, 9, 2012
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Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints’ 52-27 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday at MetLife Stadium:

What it means: That dream scenario of the Saints making the playoffs after an 0-4 start and all that off-field turmoil probably can be forgotten. The Saints now are 5-8 and only a game ahead of the last-place Carolina Panthers in the NFC South standings.

Point of no return: The Saints had all sorts of problems with kickoff coverage. They allowed a 97-yard return for a touchdown by David Wilson, and Jerrel Jernigan had another return for 60 yards. A lot of people like to talk about how bad New Orleans’ defense is, but that unit wasn’t the real culprit against the Giants. New York’s special teams and a defense that picked off Drew Brees twice and forced two fumbles repeatedly gave the Giants good field position.

One thing that’s obvious: The Saints need a speed receiver. Aside from Joe Morgan, who still is being worked into the offense, the wide receivers weren’t getting any separation against the Giants. That forced Brees to lock in on tight end Jimmy Graham way too often. Both of Brees’ interceptions came on throws for Graham -- one went off the tight end’s hands, and the other was underthrown against good coverage.

What’s next: The Saints host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

Countdown Live: Saints-Giants

December, 9, 2012
12/09/12
1:00
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Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the NFC showdown between the New Orleans Saints and the New York Giants.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET. See you there.

Giants hint Payton talking to Saints

December, 7, 2012
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There’s a story by The New York Times that is causing a bit of a stir. The basic premise of the story is that, due to modern technology, it would be difficult for the NFL to enforce its ban on suspended New Orleans coach Sean Payton from having any contact with his team or anyone else in the league.

The story also said that several New York Giants players said they think Payton might be communicating with his team.

“Of course he will get his message to them somehow,’’ Giants punter Steve Weatherford said. “I’m not saying anything about Sean Payton as a person or anything, but I think any coach would do that. It’s not like he’s just going to sit at home and watch the games and not have any thoughts. His message will be heard.”

It might be important to note that Weatherford used to play for the Saints. In 2008, he played the first seven games for New Orleans. The seventh game was in Charlotte and the Saints were leaving from there to play a game in London. Before they got on the plane, they released Weatherford.

The quotes from Weatherford were the only real suggestion in the story that Payton might be violating the terms of his suspension. There haven’t been any other reports that even suggest Payton has attempted to have contact with anyone from the Saints.

The league even gave him permission to briefly meet with his team before the Hall of Fame Game in August and to attend a home game in which quarterback Drew Brees broke the record for most consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass.

The league also has said Payton has permission to negotiate a new contract with the Saints while he’s suspended.

Understandably, New Orleans fans get worried any time there’s even a hint that there could be more trouble stemming from the bounty saga.

But the Times story didn’t definitively allege Payton has had forbidden contact with the Saints. The real theme of the story was that it would be difficult for the league to determine if Payton was communicating with his team. Unless the league accuses Payton of violating the rule, I don't think there's anything for New Orleans fans to get nervous about.

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