NFC South: Martin Gramatica
- Cornerback Ronde Barber made his 200th consecutive start, the longest active streak in the NFL and the most starts ever by a cornerback.
- Barber recorded the 28th sack of his career. He also had his 44th career interception. He is the only player in NFL history to record 25 or more sacks and 40 or more interceptions.
- This marked only the second time in his career that Barber has recorded both a sack and an interception in the same game. The other time he did it was also against Carolina, on Dec. 11, 2005.
- The Bucs held the Panthers to 10 yards rushing. That ties the franchise record for fewest rushing yards allowed. On Dec. 4, 1994, the Bucs held Washington to 10 rushing yards.
- Connor Barth made all three of his field-goal attempts. He now has made 18 consecutive attempts, a franchise record. Martin Gramatica and Michael Husted shared the previous team record of 16 consecutive successful field goals.
- Aqib Talib recorded the first blocked punt of his career. It also was the first blocked punt by the Bucs since Nov. 29, 2009.
- Greg Schiano became the fourth coach in franchise history to win his first game. Sam Wyche, Richard Williamson and Ray Perkins were the others.
- The Bucs did not have a turnover against the Panthers. Since 2002, the Bucs are 25-5 in games in which they did not have a turnover.
- The Bucs started three rookies -- safety Mark Barron, running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David.
Perhaps the best indicator of how big Sunday’s game is between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons is Roddy White’s verified Twitter account.
For nearly a week now, it’s gone almost silent. White, who never has been one to hold back what’s on his mind, has weighed in a few times on the Joe Paterno controversy, but he hasn’t written a word about the Saints.
That says a lot about what this NFC South rivalry has become. If White’s staying quiet and the Saints aren’t getting their cameras ready for postgame pictures, you know players from both teams are taking this game very seriously. There also is a very good chance they’re following orders from New Orleans coach Sean Payton and Atlanta coach Mike Smith, who realize you don’t need to throw gas on a fire that’s been burning for about four years, and still may not have reached its peak.
It might not have the historic significance of, let’s say, Green Bay-Chicago or Washington-Dallas, but it’s hard to find a rivalry that’s been more heated the past few years.
"This is one of the most overlooked rivalries in football right now,’’ Atlanta running back Michael Turner said. “We've been playing some great games. We know we don't like each other. We've been fighting each other since 2008 for this division. It's a rivalry game."
The part about not liking each other is about as close as any Saint or Falcon has come to fanning the flames. But that part is pretty well known if you’ve spent any time around either team. It extends even to the fans.
"If you're just kind of walking around town, fans say, 'If you do one thing this year, just beat Atlanta,' " New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said. "I think that's probably the sentiment of fans that have been longtime Saints fans, I'm sure. Maybe longtime Falcons fans say the same thing to them about beating the Saints, I don't know.’’
It’s pretty safe to say that Atlanta fans -- longtime or not -- do feel the same way about the Saints.
Two incidents from last season demonstrate just how strong this rivalry has become.
That caused outrage by New Orleans fans and probably didn’t score much goodwill with the Saints. But this rivalry flows both ways. After New Orleans defeated Atlanta in the Georgia Dome last season, some of the Saints were seen dancing and having their pictures taken on the Falcons’ logo. Former New Orleans defensive tackle Remi Ayodele made a comment that indicated the Saints were intentionally showing the ultimate disrespect to the Falcons.
That caused a stir, but the Saints insisted they had the utmost respect for the Falcons and the pictures were taken to commemorate an important victory.
As word of that scene spread through the Atlanta locker room, defensive end John Abraham, generally one of the more subdued Falcons, grew visibly angry.
“We can never let that happen again,’’ Abraham said.
The Saints and the Falcons weren’t biting this week when the media asked them about that incident. Not even White.
"They came down here and got a W,’’ White said. “They can kind of do whatever they want to do. That's kind of what happens. When we won down there, we kind of went on the field. It happens. We kind of did our thing when we went down there and won the game. They won, so congratulations to them.’’
But don’t let the diplomacy fool you.
"I'm not too familiar with that. I heard about it,’’ said Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who tried to be coy when first asked about the incident.
That didn’t last.
“But at the same time, I don't forget a lot of stuff,’’ Weatherspoon said. “Sometimes you have to have the memory of an elephant."
Although the Saints and Falcons are the oldest of the four NFC South franchises and played together in the NFC West before realignment in 2002, the rivalry hasn’t been this volatile for long. Both teams struggled through much of their early existence. When one team was good, the other wasn’t.
When Carolina entered the league in 1995, the NFL tried to make the Falcons and Panthers a natural rivalry because the cities are less than a four-hour drive apart. But that never really took off because the Panthers and Falcons were seldom good at the same time.
Without any encouragement by the NFL, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers became the NFC South’s only real rivalry, soon after the division came into existence. In those days, Carolina’s Brentson Buckner and Kris Jenkins and Tampa Bay’s Warren Sapp and Kenyatta Walker, lobbed verbal shots back and forth. Even Carolina punter Todd Sauerbrun and Tampa Bay kicker Martin Gramatica got into the rift and the teams played a series of brutally physical games through the middle of the past decade.
That rivalry has faded. But it’s been replaced by the Falcons and the Saints.
"If you look at the past four years, ever since Mike Smith has been there and Sean has been here, both teams have been up there as far as first or second in the division quite a few times,’’ Brees said. “So I'd say that's part of the reason why it's even more competitive now than maybe it ever has been."
There’s no doubt. When two good teams are going at each other, it makes things more interesting. The Saints are 6-3 and the Falcons are 5-3 and they’ll be playing for first place when they meet Sunday in the Georgia Dome.
Things tend to get heated between the Falcons and Saints these days. But that’s a good thing. It’s the sign of a healthy rivalry. The best rivalry the NFC South has ever had.
Mark’s basic suggestion was to pick the most disliked person for every NFC South team.
We’ve kicked around parameters for this and you have been phenomenal about providing input to make this work. While on the basketball court, which is where I do some of my best thinking, Sunday afternoon, I thought of a whole other layer for this project. I thought of also including a vote to see who is the most beloved figure for each NFC South franchise and we’re going to do that.
I’ve also settled on the parameters and here they are:
- Send votes for the figure you dislike most from your team and the most beloved figure from your team to my mailbag. Some of you have already voted, but that was before we set the rules or added the beloved category. So those votes won’t count. Fire away with your new ones and specify the team and the disliked and beloved figures clearly.
- By “figure,’’ I mean anyone associated with your favorite team. That means players, coaches, general managers and owners. For the beloved category, I’d even nominate Carolina equipment manager Jackie Miles, a legend in his own right, and Jill Hobbs, who started working as a secretary for the Buccaneers back in 1976 when she was something like 4 years old.
- After a lot of debate, we’re going to open the time frame up on this to the entire history of each franchise. There was some debate about limiting it to current figures or starting the clock when the NFC South officially became a division in 2002. But the narrow consensus was to make it for the entire history of each franchise. In other words, figures such as Hugh Culverhouse, Doug Williams, Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, Kerry Collins, Sam Mills, George Seifert, Archie Manning, Mike Ditka, Jeff George and Tommy Nobis are as eligible as figures like Drew Brees, the Glazer family, Matt Ryan and Sean Payton are. I’m not implying disliked or beloved for any of those figures. I’m just using their names to illustrate the time frame. Let’s please avoid the votes for guys who only had a cup of coffee in the NFC South – Reggie White, Brett Favre, etc.
- I can’t ask this one strongly enough: Please limit your votes only for your favorite team. If we let Atlanta fans list Brees as a disliked figure or allowed former Carolina punter Todd Sauerbrun to vote for Martin Gramatica, we’d turn this thing into a shouting match and that’s not the goal of this project.
- If you only want to vote for a beloved figure or only want to vote for a disliked figure from your team, that’s fine. Your vote will still count.
- With each of your votes, feel free to include a little of your reasoning. We’ll use some samples when we post the results, so keep them clean and at least try to make the grammar reasonable.
- Carolina fans, I’m going to impose one special rule on you. Do not vote for Rae Carruth. He’s ineligible and any votes for him will not be counted. I understand the venom for Carruth. What he was convicted of was beyond terrible, but it went way beyond the scope of football. So let’s just leave that one alone.
- Other guys who have had off-field troubles for any of the four teams are eligible.
- To ensure the integrity and the accuracy of the voting results, I’ve gone out and hired a prestigious accounting firm to tabulate the votes. Well, wait, I wasn’t able to afford that. But I’ve done something even better. I’ve turned to my alma mater, Saint Leo University, and enlisted the help of Kevin Little, who I’ve been doing some career mentoring with. Kevin is a Sports Business major with a keen interest in the NFL and numbers. Kevin’s agreed to help me tabulate the results.
- I haven’t set an official date for the closing of the polls or when we’ll run separate posts on the winners in both categories for each franchise. We’ll just kind of play that by ear, but I’m hoping to have it ready for sometime right around the start of the regular season.
Posted by ESPN.com staff
- Are the Falcons destined for the NFC title game this season?
- Does former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick deserve a second chance at playing in the NFL?
- A lot has been said/written about the offseason acquisitions made by the Falcons. But the Panthers filled some holes, too.
- Long-snapper J.J. Jansen talks about his opportunity to land a roster spot.
- Former Saints kicker Martin Gramatica is working at bringing affordable housing to the 9th and 7th wards and Gert Town.
- Saints fans are beaming with excitement, and dreaming of a playoff run in 2009.
I'm not sure if I made the comment in a chat or in a post on this blog. But, somewhere, I recently said I thought the best rivalry in the NFC South was between the Panthers and Buccaneers.
Several readers wrote to disagree and here's a sample:
Ross in NYC writes: Hey Pat, You wrote a little while back that you thought the panthers and bucs had the best rivalry in the division. I respect your opinion but I disagree. I think it is the falcons and the saints. First of all it is the oldest rivalry in the division and has been THE southern rivalry in this league. Also throw in the fact that when they play each other it is usually a very close and exciting game. I also think the fans of these two teams get more riled up when they play each other than any other fans or teams in the division. Just giving my opinion on the matter and I think most falcon and saints fans would agree, love your work.
That made me think we should open this up for discussion. I'll stick with Carolina and Tampa Bay and give you my logic behind it. This rivalry really heated up a few years back when there was a war of words between Warren Sapp and Carolina's defensive line. It spilled over to the punters and kickers with Todd ("The Boom," as he prefers to be called) ripping Martin Gramatica (and his family) at every opportunity. I also remember the most physical game I've ever seen when the Panthers went down to Tampa Bay in 2003 and blocked three kicks.
Yeah, the best days of this rivalry might have been a few years ago and most of the central characters are gone. I still go with it as the best in the NFC South.
But we're all entitled to our opinions. So hash it out in the comments section below or send a note to my mailbag in the right corner of this page.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Kickers and punters pretty much have been ignored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Although some guys who kicked and played other positions have been inducted, Jan Stenerud is the only true kicker to ever make it.
That's not likely to change any time soon, but there finally is a place for kickers and punters to be honored. Rick Sang founded the American Football Kicking Hall of Fame last year and it probably won't be long before the NFC South has some strong representation.
With that in mind, I've decided to pick the best kicker and punter in the history of each NFC South franchise.
Kicker: Morten Andersen. This one's incredibly easy. Andersen spent 13 seasons with the Saints and some would make a case he's the best kicker ever.
Punter: Tommy Barnhardt. Mark Royals had a couple of great seasons with the Saints, but Barnhardt gets the nod because of longevity.
Kicker: Morten Andersen. Yes, he gets the award for the Falcons, too. Andersen did two stints with the Falcons and spent eight seasons with them.
Punter: John James. The Falcons have a great punter right now in Michael Koenen. But James a three-time Pro Bowler back in the 1970s.
Kicker: John Kasay. This one's as easy as picking Anderson for the Saints and Falcons. Kasay has been with the Panthers since their start in 1995 and has been their kicker throughout their existence, except for a little time off because of injuries. He's been as steady as they come and could kick well into his 40s.
Punter: Todd Sauerbrun. This guy is the best punter to ever walk the planet. But he's a tragic story. In a league that's willing to overlook a lot, Sauerbrun can't even get a job because of his repeated off-field problems.
Punter: Josh Bidwell. Again, I'm going with the incumbent. After looking at the history of Tampa Bay's punters, that's really the only choice.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Vince Masi, of ESPN Stats & Information, just sent an e-mail in which he pretty much sums up the New Orleans Saints' ill-fated season.
Vince points out things could have gone a lot differently if their special teams had been a little bit better. And their defense, too. Quite easily, the Saints could be 10-4 right now, if things had gone a little differently. In fact, they could be even better than that because five of their seven losses have been by five or fewer points.
Here's a look at Vince's synopsis:
The Saints obviously don't agree with Schoolhouse Rock's thought that "3 Is A Magic Number." Three times this season, the Saints have either had game-winning field goal either miss or be the victims of a field goal that ended the game. It's these three games that will most likely prevent the Saints from making the playoffs and, most likely, put them in last place in the NFC South.
Week 3 at Broncos
The Saints were down 21-3 early in the second quarter but rallied to get within two points and had a chance to win. However, a 43-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica which would have given the Saints the lead went wide right. Saints lose 34-32.
Week 5 vs Vikings
Reggie Bush's two punt return touchdowns gave the Saints a seven-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Bernard Berrian's touchdown reception tied the game but the Saints went right down the field. Again, Gramatica missed a late field goal, this time from 46 yards with 2:04 left. Minnesota gets the ball back and kicks its own game winning field goal with 13 seconds left for a 30-27 win.
Week 15 at Bears
The Saints rally from a 14-point deficit to take a three-point lead with just over three minutes remaining. The Bears go right down the field and end up tying the game on a field goal by Robbie Gould with no time left in regulation. Then after a questionable pass interference penalty, Gould kicks the Bears to a 27-24 OT win with a 35-yard field goal.
In total, five of the Saints seven losses this season have been by five points or fewer.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
First, a plea to Falcons fans: Send some questions. I know you're probably still celebrating the victory at Lambeau Field, but I need you to come through so we can have a full Falcons mailbag this afternoon. You're falling behind your NFC South counterparts.
Particularly, New Orleans fans, who have a lot on their mind after Monday's brutal loss to Minnesota. I'm running a lot of questions here because you had a lot of questions. In many cases, the questions were similar, so I chose one representative to present the question.
Kevin in Kansas City writes: Thank you Pat, thank you for being the first of a bunch of "experts" to aknowledge what has been the truth to this matter for the last 2-3 years. Drew Brees has been quietly putting up major stats and keeping the Saints in a bunch of games that had Aaron Brooks been at QB, we would have been condemned to lose. Regardless if the Saints win today, if Brees keeps it up, this article is going to make you look like one of those Ivy-league boys.
Pat Yasinskas: Thank you and I still think Brees is a phenomenal quarterback. But the Saints did lose to the Vikings, so I guess that means my decision to go with Saint Leo University, instead of Harvard, was a good one.
Kent in n'awlins writes: Hey Pat - Hope you enjoyed your visit to the Big Easy and enjoyed the game!? The Saints put Gramatica on IR today and signed Mehlhaff. Any chance of the Saints picking up Carney if they release him? What are you hearing? Thanks!! Keep up the good work!
Pat Yasinskas: New Orleans is always a great trip and the game definitely was entertaining. I still can see the Saints keeping an eye out for a veteran kicker. But they'll give Mehlhaff a shot because he did look pretty strong in camp. If he can make a few kicks, he'll have a full-time gig. If he misses a few, they could be looking again.
Todd in Whitehall, PA: I have two serious problems with the Saints. One, please tell me why Jason David still has a job. Whenever I see him on the field i liken it to watching a horror flick when the killer is about to chop the head off of the good looking girl, all the while you are at your house screaming to her to get out of the room because you know what is about to happen is going to be horrible to watch. When David is on the field I know the opposing team is going to go deep on him and then I watch him try and catch up with a receiver that has blown by him. I know Kaesviharn was called for the interference on Monday but if Berrian doesn't blow by David I don't think he makes that, albeit horrible, play. Two, is it too much to ask to get sacks from three players who signed for a combined $150 million? I mean really, all I'm looking for is one in a crucial situation from Smith, Grant, or McCray. And I'm not buying the six sacks against the 49ers as an example. Anyone that watched the game and knows football knows that O'Sullivan held on to the ball way too long on almost all of those occasions. I understand that Smith and Grant are good against the run and do get "hurries," but for $71 mil. and $63 mil. that each of them are making, big plays need to be made and they are not doing it. Please give me good news that these issues will be addressed somehow (namely David cut and that you have seen something that says Smith and Grant and McCray will start getting meaningful sacks in crucial situations).
Pat Yasinskas: You're not alone in your scouting report on Jason David. Had several similar letters and chose yours to represent the rest because you were so descriptive. I was somewhat surprised David made it out of camp still on the roster because he had problems last year. Not sure I can give you the news you want on him. I think you're stuck with him for the rest of this season because of the other injuries. As far as the defensive line, that's a head-scratcher. All three ends you mentioned are talented. Big thing is for them to come through when the Saints have a lead. Perfect time for the rush to step up was Monday after the Saints went up 27-20, but they let Gus Frerotte score 10 points on them.
Someone from Keller TX writes: What makes the "Hail Mary" different then any other play? Last night the final play of the game should have been called pass interference. Saints ball with 2 seconds left. There is nothing in the rule book that allows defensive players to manhandle a receiver while the ball is in the air. Watch the replay.
Pat Yasinskas: I saw it live in the Superdome and wouldn't even think about disputing what you said. I've noticed this for years. NFL officials aren't told to call this any differently, but it obviously happens anyway.
Neil in Richmond writes: As a Saints fan, I was really distressed to see the Vikings game. Of course, some of the problems we had that game rest entirely with us (such as the penalties and weakness in the kicking game), but everyone who watched that game understands that a face mask should have been called on Reggie's Bush fumble (even though Sean Payton is evidently not allowed to say it in public without being fined). Do you think the NFL should allow challenges when flags are not thrown for exactly that sort of situation? And do you think it will happen?
Pat Yasinskas: Well, I'll take one for Sean Payton since the NFL can't fine me. There's no doubt Chad Greenway grabbed Bush's facemask well before the fumble. There should have been a penalty. The way the rules are now, you can't change that. But I'm sure the Saints will remember that play and will bring it up to the Competition Committee in the offseason. It won't change the outcome, but it might do something for similar plays in the future.
SaintsFan - Cornelius, NC writes: Granted, Reggie Buh did some great things last night. But he also did some of the same things that he's done in the past that costs him and the Saints, fumbles. I know he went to USC, and I know he won the Heisman Trophy, but when he gets around defenders, he either need to put two hands on the ball, like Deuce McAllister, or carry the ball the way Tom Coughlin made Tiki Barber. Great running back don't fumble twice in one game. And if they do, they learn from their mistakes and change their habits. Reggie still hasn't done this.
Pat Yasinskas: No doubt. As I wrote the other night, Reggie Bush is not a feature back. I think he's a feature player with all the different things he can do. But, to be a true feature back, he's got to hold onto the ball and run between the tackles, instead of getting out of bounds faster than Franco Harris.
Mark in Homeres writes: Which Team Defense will have a better week 6? New Orleans vs. Oakland or Carolina vs. Tampa Bay? New Orleans or Carolina? NFC South Specialist!
Pat Yasinskas: Generally, I don't give advice on fantasy football. But I'll go out on
a limb here. I know it might not sound practical to ever go with the Saints' defense. But they are playing the Raiders.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The season ended for New Orleans kicker Martin Gramatica with a missed field-goal attempt in Monday night's loss to Minnesota. The Saints placed Gramatica on the injured reserve list Wednesday, citing a groin problem.
They followed that by bringing back a familiar face who was cut just before the season started. Rookie kicker Taylor Mehlhaff, who the Saints drafted in the sixth round, was re-signed. Gramatica and Mehlhaff were in a tight competition throughout the preseason, but the Saints said they went with Gramatica because he had been so accurate.
That didn't continue into the regular season and Gramatica was taking a lot of blame for missing kicks. Mehlhaff is known for having a strong leg.
|Chris Graythen/Getty Images|
|Reggie Bush's record-tying two punt returns for touchdowns could not prevent New Orleans from losing, 30-27, to the Vikings on Monday night.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
NEW ORLEANS -- Five observations from Monday night's game.
1. Even if you've been a Saints fan for years, what happened against the Vikings has to rank near the top of the list of worst moments in franchise history. The Saints have lost a lot of games through the years because they were flat-out bad.
That's no longer the case because the Saints had enough talent to move the ball 729 yards (counting return yardage). They also wasted what could have been one of the most spectacular performances in the history of "Monday Night Football".
Reggie Bush, who never has been able to establish himself as a feature back, nearly established himself as a feature player. He single-handedly put the Saints in position to win. Then, they somehow lost, 30-27.
"We lost this game collectively from top to bottom,'' Bush said.
No, they did not. Bush did more than enough for the Saints to win.
Bush returned two second-half punts for touchdowns and gave the Saints a 27-20 fourth-quarter lead. When you've got that against a team quarterbacked by Gus Frerotte, you should be 3-2 and on your way to certain victory in Sunday's home game against Oakland.
"All for nothing because you didn't win the game, all over stupid stuff,'' quarterback Drew Brees said.
Bush had five punt returns for a franchise-record 176 yards and the Saints had a team-record 354 yards on punt and kickoff returns. But Bush's performance, which had the fans in the Superdome chanting "Reggie,'' is going to be forgotten.
It could have been a turning point in a career and in the Saints' season. It wasn't. Failure just about everywhere else means Bush's performance didn't really matter. What should have been one of the most glorious victories in franchise history will be one of the worst losses.
2. Even though he's young, Sean Payton is known as an old-school coach. I'm starting to wonder if that reputation is deserved. Payton is supposed to be a coach who puts a disciplined team on the field.
However, the Saints were anything but disciplined against the Vikings. They were flagged 11 times for 102 yards. Yes, there were a couple of controversial calls and non-calls, but you should be able to overcome that when you're setting records for return yardage, passing for 320 yards and holding Adrian Peterson in check.
"It starts with me,'' Payton said. "I've got to do a better job.''
Yes, he does. A few weeks back, the Saints gave Payton a new, five-year contract. It looked like a good move at the time. Now you've got to question if the move was premature.
Injuries -- and the Saints have had their share -- can't be an excuse for this one. The Saints had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown, lost two fumbles and had two passes intercepted.
"I felt like we were a better team,'' Brees said. "Without those turnovers, I think we win this game pretty easily.''
3. Give Frerotte a ton of credit. He's old, he took some shots and he got only 32 rushing yards out of Peterson. But, on his last two drives, Frerotte produced 10 points. His 33-yard touchdown pass to Bernard Berrian was a perfect throw. He got some help from a pass-interference penalty on Kevin Kaesviharn to set up the winning field goal.
He kept Minnesota's season from getting out of hand and it's looking more and more like coach Brad Childress made the right call in declaring Frerotte his starter for the rest of the season. The Vikings have too much going for them -- Peterson and a very good defense -- not to be in contention this year.
4. Saints kicker Martin Gramatica, who missed a field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter, spoke with the media after the game. He didn't do that after missing a key kick against Denver.
"I hit it solid, but it went left,'' Gramatica said. "The worst thing about it is that I let the team down.''
Yes, he did. But the Saints have no one to blame but themselves for their kicking problems. The entire league knows Gramatica has a history of being erratic at times. The Saints went out and drafted kicker Taylor Mehlhaff. Then, they decided to go with Gramatica. It's starting to look a lot like they made the wrong choice.
5. I wouldn't read too much into the fact that running back Deuce McAllister got only six carries, a week after getting 20. McAllister did get the call, and produced, in some short-yardage situations.
The Saints came in knowing they probably weren't going to run a lot against a Minnesota defensive front that doesn't give up very much.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
NEW ORLEANS -- The Saints wasted one of the greatest performances in "Monday Night Football" history.
New Orleans managed to lose 30-27 on a night when Reggie Bush returned two punts for touchdowns to give the Saints a fourth-quarter lead. A late pass-interference call on safety Kevin Kaesviharn set up a 30-yard field goal by Minnesota's Ryan Longwelll with 13 seconds left.
The Kaesviharn penalty and a touchdown pass from Gus Frerotte to Bernard Berrian came after Bush had put the Saints up 27-20. Blame a defense that fell apart late, an offense that couldn't hold onto the ball early, a couple of controversial calls by the officials and kicker Martin Gramatica, who had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown and missed another attempt late in the game.
That all helped the Saints squander a franchise-record 354 yards in punt and kickoff return yardage. This was New Orleans' chance to right its season. Instead, the Saints are 2-3 heading into Sunday's home game -- their last in the Superdome for more than a month -- with Oakland. After what happened against the Vikings, the Saints can't even take a game with the Raiders for granted.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
When the Saints decided to keep Martin Gramatica over Taylor Mehlhaff right before the start of the season, they said Gramatica won the job by being automatic in the preseason. They also said they wanted an experienced kicker, who had won some big games.
Now, there's lots of room to question that decision. Sure, Gramatica won some games with Tampa Bay a long time ago, but he also missed some kicks and lost some games. That's why the Bucs didn't hang onto Gramatica.
The Saints invested a sixth-round pick in Mehlhaff and he had plenty of leg and upside. He just wasn't quite as accurate as Gramatica in the preseason. Maybe the Saints should have taken a chance on Mehlhaff's upside because he probably would have kept getting better.
Gramatica could only get worse than he was in the preseason. The Saints probably could have foreseen that if they looked at Gramatica's streaky pass. That came back to bite the Saints on Sunday.
Gramatica missed two field-goal attempts, including a 43-yarder that could have won the game. As long as we're questioning decisions by the Saints, let's wonder aloud about the decision by the coaching staff to go conservative at the end of the game. With Drew Brees and the passing game putting up huge numbers, the Saints elected to run the ball three straight times before Gramatica's missed field goal. Pierre Thomas got stuffed on a third-and-1.
That leads to another question; why not use Deuce McAllister in short-yardage situations?
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Like many coaches, New Orleans' Sean Payton can be a little bland when speaking to the media. But Payton was pretty blunt on a conference call with the Tampa Bay media Wednesday afternoon.
Payton, who hadn't been available to the media since the Saints evacuated New Orleans on Saturday, was asked about his decision to go with Martin Gramatica over sixth-round draft choice Taylor Mehlhaff as the kicker.
"I think there's a lot of confidence in this locker room with his abilities," Payton said. "He's kicked in big games and won games. I think our players understand we're going to try to keep the best 53 regardless of how we acquired them. He won the job."
There's not much need for translation here. Payton and the Saints clearly are in the win-now mode and they weren't going to gamble on a rookie kicker who might cost them some games.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The Saints and Panthers made some moves today in anticipation of tomorrow's deadline for cutting rosters to 75 players, but there weren't any surprises.
The Saints released fullback Kevin Dudley, receiver Todd Blythe, center Rob Hunt, safety Curome Cox and punter Waylon Prather. The Panthers placed receiver Jason Carter on the injured reserve list and released quarterback Lester Ricard, cornerback Curtis DeLoatch, defensive end Casper Brinkley and tight end Chris Conklin.
Not much exciting there, so let's go ahead and take a look at one interesting question for each NFC South team as the cut to 53 players comes this weekend.
Who will be the kicker? The Saints have a big choice to make between veteran Martin Gramatica and rookie Taylor Mehlhaff. Gramatica's made some big kicks in the past and has lots of experience. But he hasn't always been consistent and he doesn't have a big leg. Mehlhaff does have a big leg, but has never kicked in the NFL.
What quarterbacks stay? After going through much of the offseason with six quarterbacks on the roster and making a run at Brett Favre, the Bucs are down to a mere five quarterbacks. Mercifully, that number finally has to dwindle. The question is if they'll carry three or four quarterbacks. Throw Chris Simms out because he'll either be cut or traded. That leaves Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese, Luke McCown and rookie Josh Johnson. Garcia's safe and Griese should be, too. It's tough to carry four quarterbacks and the Bucs may have to decide between McCown and Johnson. Then again, Jon Gruden's love for quarterbacks means it's possible the Bucs could pluck one -- or two -- off the waiver wire.
How many quarterbacks will they keep? Coach John Fox and General Manager Marty Hurney have shown a willingness in the past to go with only two quarterbacks and Jake Delhomme and Matt Moore are automatic. That leaves Brett Basanez on the bubble. But recent history may be on his side. The Panthers had to play musical quarterbacks last season because of injuries and ineptitude and that didn't work out well. Basanez is a guy the Panthers like and they'd be wise to hang onto him because he has some upside. Besides, if they cut Basanez and have another injury at quarterback, who are the going to call? Vinny Testaverde?
Will veteran receiver Brian Finneran stick? He's trying to make a comeback after suffering major knee injuries the last two years and Finneran is making the most of his opportunity. He seems to have moved ahead of Laurent Robinson for the No. 4 receiver spot. Robinson seemed ticketed for a starting job at the start of camp, but has fallen out of favor. Finneran's durability remains a question, but his ability to contribute on special teams could help his stock.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas.
Appreciate you guys filling up the mailbag so quickly. I had been doing mailbag posts once a week, but it didn't take long to realize that's not often enough to keep up with your questions. Keep sending them and I'll keep answering.
Here's the next edition:
Daryl in Alberta, Canada writes: I see nothing wrong with holding Galloway out of camp and exhibition games, especially if he does actually have an injury, even if it's minor. I would play him more than need be even if he wasn't. But should I be worried that this is a sign? Galloway is 36 now and never been the most durable, without him this team is in huge trouble. Garcia's injury really has me worried though. I know he's tough and plays through pain but he hasnt played 16 games since '02 and I have little faith in the players backing him up. This seems like soemthing that has already dragged out and something that could hinder him to start the season. What do you think? Is Garcia going to be 100% in Week 1 and is Galloway something to be concerned about?
Pat Yasinskas: Galloway's back at practice now and I think the Bucs were just being overly cautious with a veteran player who already knows the system. Nothing wrong with that because Galloway is so critical to this offense. He just needs a couple weeks of practice to get his timing down with Garcia. I think they'll both be fine by the start of the regular season. If not, the Bucs have plenty of depth behind Garcia and I really think Antonio Bryant can have a nice season at receiver. Bryant appears headed for the No. 3 spot. But, if something happens to Galloway, I can see him jumping up to No. 1.
Roger in New Jersey writes: Pat, I know you covered the Panthers for a while and that is my favorite NFL team, Do you think with a HEALTHY roster the Panthers can make a push for the Super Bowl and if not are they at least a legit playoff contender?
Pat Yasinskas: Definitely a playoff contender. Take last year's 7-9 team and give it a healthy Jake Delhomme for the entire year and the Panthers would have been in the playoffs. All indications are Delhomme is going to be fine and that's going to make a big difference. Plus, the Panthers improved the rest of the offense -- bringing in receivers Muhsin Muhammad and D.J. Hackett and running back Jonathan Stewart. The defensive line, particularly Julius Peppers, needs to be better than last year, but John Fox can coach and he seems to have the personnel to play his kind of football again.