NFC South: Michael Vick

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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Atlanta Falcons history. In the next two days, we'll feature Alfred Jackson's tipped-ball catch of a pass from Steve Bartkowski for a touchdown and Morten Anderson's 38-yard field goal to beat the Minnesota Vikings and send the Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII.

Score: Falcons 30, Vikings 24
Date: Dec. 1, 2002 Site: Metrodome

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Which is the most memorable play in Falcons' history?

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Discuss (Total votes: 28,413)

Although Michael Vick's time with Atlanta ended in controversy and a messy divorce, Vick still left behind plenty of lasting memories through six seasons.

One of those most memorable incorporated his most dangerous weapon: his legs. He made a statement with his running through four quarters of this Week 13 matchup in 2002, but Vick had one last point to prove as the Falcons faced second-and-8 from the Vikings' 46-yard line in overtime.

The crafty left-handed quarterback made a play-action fake, then sprinted left with the ball while loosely holding it in his left hand. As he turned the corner and blew by two linebackers, Vick cut back inside, tucked the ball and squeezed through another pair of defenders as they collided. He outraced two defensive backs down the middle for the game-winning score.

As his teammates surrounded him in celebration, Vick fired the ball in the air to punctuate the game-winning moment. He kept running, straight to the locker room. Then-Vikings head coach Mike Tice, now the Falcons offensive line coach, walked to midfield obviously distraught over what just hit him. It was a play Falcons fans won't soon forget, which is why it's on the list of top plays in team history.

Vick finished with 173 rushing yards on just 10 carries. His yardage, at the time, was the most by a quarterback since the 1970 merger. The previous mark was 127 yards by Bobby Douglas of the Chicago Bears. In the overtime win, Vick accounted for 346 of the Falcons' 379 total yards.

Free-agency review: Eagles

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
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Jenkins
Most significant signing: Considering the struggles at safety the past couple of seasons, Malcolm Jenkins has to be the most significant signing. Jenkins is coming off a strong season, but has been inconsistent in the past. He might not be a Pro Bowler, but he's a definite upgrade over what Philadelphia has had of late. His versatility -- he's a former college corner -- is a big plus.

Most significant loss: The Eagles haven't had a significant loss. One free agent who left was backup defensive end Clifton Geathers, who signed with Washington. But that's hardly significant -- for either team. Quarterback Michael Vick hasn't drawn a lot of attention in free agency, which suggests many teams agree with the Eagles that his career is at, or very near, the end.

Sproles
Biggest surprise: The trade for running back Darren Sproles. Had New Orleans just cut Sproles, it's possible the Eagles would have lost out on him. And it's not as if he was a strong need. But Sproles was a terrific weapon to add for this offense because of his versatility -- he can line up anywhere and catch passes. His presence also means the Eagles could be creative in how they deal with other players -- a trade to recoup some draft picks perhaps? Or it could just mean they have another player defenses must worry about. He might not be the same as he was three years ago, but the Eagles don't need Sproles to be that dynamic given who else they have on the roster.

What's next? The Eagles still need more help on defense, even after also signing cornerback Nolan Carroll. The secondary in particular could be strengthened more -- perhaps with strong safety Calvin Pryor in the draft? The Eagles have added depth and key special teams players. They need to find a few players to develop into starters in the draft.
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: LB Adam Hayward, FB Erik Lorig, LB Jonathan Casillas and WR Tiquan Underwood.

Where they stand: The Buccaneers don't have any huge names among their own free agents, but they'd like to keep some of them as role players. Hayward is a key special-teams player and Lorig is important as the lead blocker for Doug Martin in the running game. If Casillas returns, he's a candidate to start at strongside linebacker. The major need on defense is for a pass-rusher. On offense, the team may look to overhaul its offensive line. Tight end and depth at wide receiver also are big needs.

What to expect: The Bucs were 4-12 last season and they have a new coaching staff and general manager. That means there will be significant changes. The Bucs have $18 million in cap room, so they’re going to be active in free agency, even though they've stated their goal is to build through the draft. Look for connections to the new regime to play into free-agent signings. Return man Devin Hester and cornerback Charles Tillman played for coach Lovie Smith in Chicago and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier worked with defensive end Jared Allen in Minnesota. All of those players could be prime targets. A veteran quarterback also could be added to the mix, with Josh McCown and Michael Vick as possibilities.

Vick would not be long-term answer

February, 3, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- It’s just one day after the Super Bowl and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may already be facing a quarterback controversy.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Bucs are one of two teams (the Jets are the other) to potentially have interest in Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick, who is expected to become a free agent in March. That report is likely to cause a stir because it involves a big-name quarterback.

But I’m not convinced bringing in Vick would be the right move for the Buccaneers. My main reason for skepticism is that I don’t believe Vick is a long-term answer and this franchise needs one. Vick is 33 and has a history of injuries.

If the Bucs brought in Vick, it could be taken as a sign that they’re giving up on Mike Glennon. I don’t think the Bucs are ready to give up on Glennon, who did some good things as a rookie.

The new coaching staff still is evaluating what it has in Glennon. Although bringing in some competition may be a possibility, I’m getting indications the Bucs are starting to think Glennon can be their quarterback.

Rapid Reaction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
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TAMPA, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 31-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at Raymond James Stadium:

What it means: The Bucs are 0-5 and going nowhere fast. They couldn’t even beat a mediocre team at home. Coach Greg Schiano has lost 10 of his past 11 games, dating back to last season. Schiano is officially on the hot seat and the Bucs are officially in contention for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft. By late in the fourth quarter, much of the rare sellout crowd that remained in the stands was wearing Philadelphia green jerseys. The Bucs have looked to be in disarray all season and things aren't getting any better.

Still a rookie: Making his second start, quarterback Mike Glennon looked good at times. But his third-quarter interception, which came on an apparent miscommunication with wide receiver Tiquan Underwood, helped set up a touchdown that put the Eagles ahead for good.

Stock Watch, rising: Tight end Tim Wright quietly had a nice game. For the first time this season, the tight end was a factor in the passing game. Wright had seven catches for 91 yards.

Stock Watch, falling: The zone defense. The Bucs need to scrap it because it’s not working. Cornerback Darrelle Revis never should be asked to play zone defense.

History repeats itself: Nick Foles started at quarterback in place of an injured Michael Vick, for the second straight game, and led the Eagles to victory in Tampa.

What’s next: The Bucs play the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome next Sunday.
DeSean Jackson and Mike GlennonGetty ImagesDeSean Jackson is on pace for over 1,600 yards, while Mike Glennon is looking for his first win as an NFL starter.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Sunday's meeting between the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers represents a culture clash of offensive styles.

The Eagles have been making headlines with their fast-paced offense, while the Bucs have been plodding along with a passing offense that ranks No. 32.

ESPN.com Eagles team reporter Phil Sheridan and Bucs team reporter Pat Yasinskas discuss the matchup.

Phil Sheridan: Eagles fans are familiar with Bucs coach Greg Schiano through his Rutgers and Penn State connections. Has he been able to hold the locker room together through this Josh Freeman episode?

Pat Yasinskas: It has been a challenge and I guess you could say it remains a work in progress. There have been some reports that some veteran players aren't sold on Schiano's old-school ways. He might be a little overboard with his thoughts on order and discipline. But this was a team that was in disarray when he arrived. The Freeman episode was a major distraction, but it's over now. Schiano needs to take this team and move forward from all the Freeman stuff.

Speaking of coaches who have come from college backgrounds, Chip Kelly fits that profile and his offense has generated a lot of headlines. From a distance, it seems as though Kelly's offense has been up and down. What are your thoughts on whether this offense can be successful in the NFL over the long term?

Sheridan: Talk about a work in progress. We all saw the Eagles burst out of the blocks in that Monday night opener in Washington. We really haven't seen much of the Kelly offense -- uptempo, innovative, aggressive -- since then. The Eagles have the NFL's top rushing offense, but that seems inflated by quarterback Michael Vick's rushing yards as well as defenses' willingness to let the Eagles amass yardage as long as it doesn't translate to a lot of points. Meanwhile, it does seem as though the offense wears down in games after trying to push the tempo early. I'm not sure that means Kelly's scheme won't work in the NFL or if he just doesn't have the personnel to run it.

On that note, it's especially tough on a team when one side of the ball is playing at a high level and the other is struggling. How has the Bucs' defense been able to hold opponents to such low-scoring totals?

Yasinskas: Pitting the defense against the offense is another concern for the Bucs. Their defense has played well, overall, while the offense has struggled mightily. Although no one has griped publicly, I sense that the defensive players are frustrated with the lack of production from the offense. The secondary, the defensive line and the linebackers all have had some very bright moments. But the offense has been dismal. If things continue like they are, it's only a matter of time before there are some ill feelings from the defensive players.

Speaking of the defense, how has Philadelphia's been so far? It seems like all the talk has been about the offense, but we really don't know much about the defense.

Sheridan: Talk about a work in progress -- oops, did I already say that? Kelly hired Bill Davis to install a 3-4 defense with a bunch of new starters (three quarters of the secondary, plus Connor Barwin), or old starters at new positions (Trent Cole, especially). The defense was OK in the opener, terrible for long stretches against San Diego, Kansas City and especially Denver, then OK again against the Giants on Sunday. There are no real playmakers, the kind who keep offensive coordinators up at night, but overall, this group seems to be jelling a bit better. The equation this year always had the offense producing enough points to carry a developing defense. So far, the offense has let down the defense.

Other than he's tall, Mike Glennon is an unknown to people around here. Can he play on this level or do you sense the bigger plan is to get through this season and find a quarterback in the draft?

Yasinskas: The jury is very much out on Glennon. But Schiano has liked Glennon since he tried to recruit him out of high school and would like to make things work. Glennon is the kind of quarterback Schiano likes -- he's a rah-rah, fiery leader (something Freeman was not). Perhaps more importantly, Glennon has the big arm that Schiano covets. Schiano's core offensive philosophy is to run the ball well and take some deep shots with the passing game, so Glennon fits the profile of what Schiano is looking for in a quarterback.

Speaking of quarterbacks fitting in, how much different should we expect Philadelphia's offense to be with Nick Foles playing in place of Vick?

Sheridan: I won't use the work-in-progress joke again because I'm better than that. Kelly swears it is the same offense regardless of who is playing quarterback. That is what we football insiders technically call balderdash. Kelly went with Vick because the veteran still represents a serious threat to run the ball, which in turn gives Kelly's read-option the edge it needs. Foles can move in the pocket and elude a pass rush, but his mobility doesn't translate to 20-yard read-option runs. But he does get the ball out more quickly in a rhythm passing game, so it will be interesting to see if the receivers who haven't been open for Vick -- talking Riley Cooper, Jason Avant and the tight ends -- are more involved if Foles plays.
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- After making Matt Ryan one of the NFL’s best-paid players, Arthur Blank got a little nostalgic.

[+] EnlargeArthur Blank
Josh D. Weiss/US PresswireMatt Ryan helped lift Arthur Blank's team out of the mess left by Bobby Petrino and Michael Vick.
I had a chance to sit down with Blank for a one-on-one chat Thursday evening and the owner of the Atlanta Falcons reflected on just how far his quarterback has helped his franchise come after it hit rock bottom in 2007, following the Bobby Petrino and Michael Vick fiascos.

“Matt was a great choice for us in 2008,’’ Blank said. “People forget that there was a lot of pressure on the organization from a lot of different directions. I really give general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith a tremendous amount of credit for seeing Matt for what he was and what he is. And seeing his maturity on and off the field for the last five years and seeing him get the franchise to where he is today, along with a lot of players and coaches, is very rewarding to me.’’

Petrino abruptly quit during the 2007 season, his first coaching the club. At the same time, Vick, the former franchise quarterback, was facing charges for running a dog-fighting ring and eventually went to prison.

“It was a very difficult time for the franchise,’’ Blank said. “A very difficult time for the fans. It’s not about me. It’s really about our fans. When I bought the team in 2001, I had aspirations and we went through some trials and tribulations. The focus on hiring Thomas and Smitty was really on values and building the organization around people with values, not for the quick fix but for a long, sustainable run. Obviously, we needed a franchise quarterback and I think we were able to make a great choice. He’s a fine young man, who really has played beautifully for the last five years.’’
Matt RyanKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMatt Ryan's new contract with the Falcons brings big money and huge expectations.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- There’s an unwritten clause that comes along with Matt Ryan's five-year contract extension for more than $100 million, which was finalized Thursday afternoon.

He’s getting paid in a manner similar to Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco, so he’d better start playing like them for more than a 16-game regular season. There’s one thing those five quarterbacks have done that Ryan hasn’t: win a Super Bowl.

All five of those guys won a Super Bowl before fully cashing in. The Falcons, who once got burned by giving Michael Vick a huge contract, didn’t wait to lock up Ryan, who was headed into the final year of his contract.

But that’s where the caveat comes in. The Falcons have put up the money, and the expectation is that Ryan will reward them with a Super Bowl, or Super Bowls.

The contract extension is a very strong sign that the Falcons believe Ryan has what it takes to win the big one, just like Flacco (who came in the same 2008 draft class) did last season for Baltimore before collecting his bounty. It’s also a sign that the Falcons want Ryan to remain the face of their franchise as they move into a new stadium in 2017.

But the contract is also a leap of faith.

The facts are that Ryan has been about as good as any quarterback in the league over the past five regular seasons, but that hasn’t led to much postseason success. In Ryan’s tenure, the Falcons have won just one postseason game. That came last season against Seattle, and that win could have been viewed as a sign that Ryan has what it takes to win in January and February.

But that was wiped out by what happened the following week. Ryan and the Falcons jumped out to a 17-point lead against San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game. But they ended up losing that game and, in the process, squandering all the benefits of a No. 1 seed for the second time in three seasons.

There’s a growing perception out there that coach Mike Smith and Ryan don’t have what it takes to win it all.

Is that fair?

Maybe not, but that view isn’t going to change until, or unless, the Falcons win a Super Bowl.

Is that perception accurate?

I don’t think so. I think Ryan has what it takes to win a Super Bowl. He’s talented, poised and respected as a leader by his teammates. The past postseason woes haven’t been all his fault. The defense and the lack of a running game played big roles in the San Francisco loss.

The Falcons went out and revamped their defense by adding defensive end Osi Umenyiora and drafting Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. They spiced up the running game by replacing Michael Turner with Steven Jackson.

Add Jackson to wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez, and Ryan might have the best skill-position supporting cast of any quarterback in the league.

The Falcons have done their part by surrounding Ryan with talent and paying him like an elite quarterback. Now it’s time for Ryan to live up to his part of the deal.

Now it’s time for Ryan to win a Super Bowl.

Matt RyanAP Photo/Dave MartinMatt Ryan quieted his critics after winning a playoff game, but there's still more left to accomplish.
It’s time for the Atlanta Falcons' Class of 2008 to move on past graduate school and get the most advanced of degrees.

Almost a year ago, I wrote a column about how the members of that draft class were headed for a crucial season that could define them individually and collectively. They passed the test with flying colors, winning a playoff game for the first time and coming within 10 yards of a Super Bowl appearance.

This draft class now seems destined to be one of the best in NFC South history. Let’s check in on Atlanta’s Class of 2008 to see where its members are and where they might be going.

Quarterback Matt Ryan is the face of this class. He was selected with the third pick overall, and he was good right from the start. Ryan was calm and poised as a rookie and did lots of nice things in the following years.

But entering last season, Ryan’s career had hit a bit of a lull. The critics who said that Ryan couldn’t win the big one were getting louder. That theory was supported by the fact Ryan never had won a playoff game, despite leading the Falcons to winning records in each of his first four seasons.

So Ryan went out and set career highs in passing yards (4,719), completion percentage (68.6) and touchdown passes (32) as the Falcons cruised to a 13-3 season in 2012. Then he got the biggest win of his career, leading the Falcons to a playoff victory against Seattle.

If you didn’t think Ryan was paying attention to the talk about his previous playoff frustrations, his uncharacteristic emotional reaction at the end of the Seattle game told you something about the quarterback’s intensity.

I was stunned as I stood in the tunnel near the Falcons’ locker room that day and saw and heard Ryan running off the field repeatedly pumping his fist. I was even more stunned as Ryan, who normally is very soft-spoken, got closer and I could hear him repeatedly yelling in happiness.

The joy ended a week later with a close loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. That brought back some of the critics, but I see nothing but a bright future for Ryan. The victory against Seattle took a lot of weight off his shoulders. He’s likely to get a contract extension later this offseason, and I expect his next five years to be even better than his first five.

“It takes so much more than just Matt Ryan to finish plays, especially down the stretch," Atlanta receiver Roddy White said in a "First Take" interview Wednesday. "You can’t just put it on the quarterback and say, 'You have to make this one play to get over the hump.' It has to be me. It has to be Julio [Jones]. It has to be Tony [Gonzalez]. We have to go out there and make those plays to make it easier on Matt Ryan."

White’s right. But it’s not just White, Jones and Gonzalez who have to help Ryan take the next step. He needs help from the guys from his own draft class, and they all seem to be on the upswing.

[+] EnlargeThomas DeCoud
AP Photo/John BazemoreThomas DeCoud, a '12 Pro Bowler, has solidified Atlanta's secondary as a much-improved group.
Take left tackle Sam Baker, who also was chosen in the first round in 2008. Through much of his first four years, Baker dealt with injuries and was maligned by fans for his inconsistent play. In 2011, he lost his starting job.

But the Falcons stood by Baker. He got healthy and turned in a stellar 2012 season that earned him a new contract. Some people might say it was a one-season wonder, but I think Baker can play like that every year if he stays healthy.

Then there’s wide receiver Harry Douglas, a third-round pick in 2008. He’s carved a nice niche as Atlanta’s slot receiver and could deliver even more big plays in the future with defenses focused on White, Gonzalez and Jones. But Douglas wasn’t even the gem of the third round for the Falcons.

That turned out to be safety Thomas DeCoud. He made the Pro Bowl last season, and he and William Moore are starting to get recognition as one of the league’s best safety tandems.

And let’s not forget defensive end Kroy Biermann, a fifth-round pick in 2008. Biermann once was best known for being married to one of the stars of "The Real Housewives of Atlanta." But he made his presence felt on the field last season.

Biermann beat out free-agent bust Ray Edwards, produced four sacks, showed the ability to drop into zone coverage and had a big impact on special teams.

We also have to mention linebacker Curtis Lofton, a second-round pick in 2008. He gave the Falcons four very nice years before bolting to New Orleans as a free agent last offseason.

The Class of 2008 validated itself last season. But there’s still a little more this class can do.

The unquestioned best draft class in NFC South history came in 1995, when Tampa Bay landed Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks. They helped turn around a downtrodden franchise and led the Bucs to a Super Bowl championship in the 2002 season.

Sapp will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, and Brooks almost certainly will follow him next year. In hindsight, that was a magical draft for Tampa Bay.

But maybe Atlanta’s Class of 2008 will be viewed in a similar manner someday. When Ryan and company arrived in Atlanta, the Falcons were coming off the Bobby Petrino and Michael Vick fiascos. The class quickly helped turn a franchise around.

The next step is to win a Super Bowl, maybe even more than one. If the Falcons can do that, their Class of 2008 has a chance to enter the argument with Sapp and Brooks as the best in NFC South history.

NFC South afternoon update

March, 5, 2013
3/05/13
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Time for a run through some odds and ends from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that a contract extension for quarterback Matt Ryan could end up costing the Falcons nearly $140 million. That’s a huge sum, but I have no doubt the Falcons will make this deal happen. Owner Arthur Blank once gave Michael Vick a 10-year contract worth $130 million. Ryan’s value is even higher, due to inflation and the fact the Falcons have more confidence in him than they ever did in Vick.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

An Elon University poll found that 88 percent of those sampled are opposed to North Carolina using state money to help fund renovations at Bank of America Stadium. This comes after Gov. Pat McCrory said state money wouldn’t be available for the Panthers. Get ready for another round of Los Angeles rumors.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Mike Triplett lays out what may be a dream draft scenario for the Saints. He writes about how the stock of Georgia’s Jarvis Jones seems to be all over the board. There are some medical questions about Jones and he didn’t work out at the scouting combine. But, if medical questions are answered in a positive way, Jones could be exactly the kind of edge rusher the Saints need.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Roy Cummings reports the Bucs met with the agent for quarterback Josh Freeman during the scouting combine. I wouldn’t read too much into this. The Bucs already have given indications they’ll let Freeman head into the final year of his contract without an extension. The meeting likely was more of a get-acquainted session because Freeman’s former agent has retired.

Statistical superlatives on the Saints

November, 6, 2012
11/06/12
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Let’s turn to ESPN Stats & Information for some statistical superlatives on the New Orleans Saints after their 28-13 victory against Philadelphia on Monday night.
  • The Saints extended their winning streak on “Monday Night Football’’ to eight consecutive games. That’s the longest active streak and the third longest in history.
  • The Saints won for the 12th consecutive time in games played in the month of November.
  • Drew Brees extended his league record to 51 consecutive games in which he has had a touchdown pass.
  • Brees completed 21 of 27 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns. It was Brees’ 93rd career game with two or more touchdown passes. That ranks him third among active players.
  • After starting the season 0-4, the Saints have won three of their last four games. Since 1990, seven teams have started 3-5 or worse, but made the playoffs.
  • Patrick Robinson’s 99-yard interception return for a touchdown tied him for the longest interception return in franchise history. Darren Sharper had a 99-yard return against the Jets in 2009.
  • For the first time since Week 6 of the 2002 season, the Saints had a game in which they recorded seven sacks and produced two turnovers.
  • The seven sacks against Michael Vick matched the most times he’s ever been sacked in one game.
  • The Saints got their running game going by mixing in Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory. That had a big impact on Brees, who had struggled with play-action passing early in the season. But, against the Eagles, Brees completed 10 of 12 play-action passes (83.3 percent) and threw for two touchdowns. Brees has completed 78.1 percent of his play-action passes in the last three games, after completing just 42.1 percent in the first five games.
  • The Eagles had four first-and-goal situations on Monday and failed to come away with a touchdown on any of them. The New Orleans defense produced two turnovers and forced two field goals in those situations.

Rapid Reaction: Saints 28, Eagles 13

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
11:48
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NEW ORLEANS -- Some quick thoughts on New Orleans Saints' 28-13 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on "Monday Night Football."

What it means: After starting 0-4, the Saints have won three of their past four games and sit at 3-5 and in third place in the NFC South, well behind the 8-0 Atlanta Falcons. The season isn’t over for New Orleans, but with the way its defense is playing, it will be hard-pressed to go on a run.

For the reeling Eagles, this was their fourth straight loss and fifth in their past six games after starting the season 2-0. They now sit at 3-5, tied with the Dallas Cowboys for second place in the NFC East behind the 6-3 New York Giants. This certainly isn’t what Philadelphia owner Jeffrey Lurie had in mind. He said before the season started that a second consecutive 8-8 finish would be grounds to fire Andy Reid after his 14th season. The Eagles will have to finish at worst 6-2 to avoid a .500 record, and even that might not be good enough.

So what becomes of Reid? NFL owners don’t like to get embarrassed on national television, and that’s what happened to the Eagles, who got behind early -- again -- and couldn’t keep up with a Saints offense that can put points on the board. The Eagles trailed 21-3 at halftime. They showed signs of life in the third quarter with a strip sack that led to a 77-yard touchdown pass from Michael Vick to DeSean Jackson followed by a forced fumble on the ensuing kickoff.

But one of the Eagles' chronic problems continued. They couldn’t score touchdowns in the red zone. Five appearances led to two field goals. Vick also threw a pick-six when a pass bounced off Brent Celek's fingertips and was returned 98 yards by Patrick Robinson for a touchdown that gave New Orleans a 7-0 lead.

As ugly as it’s going to be in Philadelphia this week, where acute apathy has set in, I’d be shocked -- shocked -- if Lurie fired Reid midseason under any circumstances. That’s not how Lurie operates. But it certainly seems like Lurie will be looking for a new coach in January.

Saints defense holds: The Saints had been historically bad coming into the game this season. They had given up consecutive 500-yard games and had allowed at least 400 yards of offense in all seven games. They ranked 30th in scoring, 32nd in total yards allowed, 30th in passing yards allowed and 31st in rushing yards allowed.

While New Orleans allowed LeSean McCoy to gain 119 yards, 101 of those yards came on 13 first-half carries. They held the Eagles to 13 points even though they entered the game giving up 30.9 per game. They sacked Vick seven times and forced three turnovers.

Yes, they ended up giving up 400 yards in garbage time, meaningless yards that only padded losing statistics. The Saints have plenty of work to do on defense, but they made headway on Monday.

Eagles lose another lineman: The Philadelphia offensive line has taken a beating this season, and against New Orleans the Eagles were forced to play the majority of the game without right tackle Todd Herremans, who injured his right ankle/foot late in the first quarter.

Herremans is the fourth starter on the offensive line to miss time with an injury, which is one of the major reasons the Eagles have struggled this season.

Saints' streaks continue: New Orleans has not lost a November game since falling to Tampa Bay on Nov. 30, 2008, a streak of 12 straight games. They’ve now won 14 of their past 15 games in November. They’ve also won eight straight games on Monday night.

What’s next: The Eagles return home to an environment in Philadelphia that will be toxic, and they will host the Cowboys on Sunday. The Saints host the undefeated Falcons.

Halftime thoughts on Saints and Eagles

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
10:10
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There’s a very strange game going on in New Orleans and I’m not just saying that because the Saints, who have struggled most of the season, are leading the Philadelphia Eagles, 21-3, at halftime.

The Saints are doing some things (running the ball and playing a little defense) well. But I’m not so sure the Saints are nearly as good as the Eagles are making them look. Philadelphia has made some terrible mistakes and now I see why coach Andy Reid is on the hot seat and there’s been talk about benching quarterback Michael Vick.

New Orleans cornerback Patrick Robinson, who has struggled all season, intercepted a Vick pass and returned it for a touchdown. The Saints also have gotten running backs Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory, who hadn’t done much of anything prior to this game, involved and they’ve been producing some nice runs.

The Saints haven’t been dominant, but they’ve been opportunistic. The game is in their hands and they have a good chance to get to 3-5. That would be enough to keep their slight playoff hopes alive.

Colleague Ashley Fox is at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and she'll provide a Rapid Reaction soon after the game.

NFC South afternoon update

October, 31, 2012
10/31/12
5:29
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Let's take a run through some of the latest headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon did not practice Wednesday. But, in this radio interview, Weatherspoon said his injured ankle is progressing. That’s encouraging for the Falcons, who will need the guy that’s probably their best defensive player if they’re going to stay undefeated when they play Dallas on Sunday night.

Coach Mike Smith talked about the importance of having a good locker room and players having fun. There’s little doubt Atlanta’s locker room is a happy place with the Falcons undefeated. Ironically, I’ll have a column Thursday that talks about how this hasn’t been a fun season across most of the rest of the NFC South and how chemistry might be playing some role in that.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Running back DeAngelo Williams, who has been at the center of a lot of speculation with the trade deadline coming Thursday, said he’s never thought about leaving the Panthers. Coach Ron Rivera said the team isn’t actively shopping anyone, but didn’t rule out the possibility of trading any player. I still think it’s a long shot that another team will want to take on Williams’ contract, but it would take only one team desperate for help at running back to change that.

Jonathan Jones has an excellent feature on kicker Justin Medlock and his unusual path, which included time in the Canadian Football League, to essentially become a 29-year-old rookie.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said Michael Vick will remain Philadelphia’s starting quarterback when the Eagles play the Saints on Monday night. If going against the New Orleans defense doesn’t make Vick look better than he has in recent games, nothing will.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Coach Greg Schiano said the Bucs are exploring all possibilities as they try to replace left guard Carl Nicks, who went on injured reserve Tuesday. The Bucs have a number of options, including backup guard Ted Larsen and backup tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who opened the season as starters. It’s also possible the Bucs could use Larsen or Cody Wallace at center and slide Jeremy Zuttah back to guard, a position he played earlier in his career.

Schiano also explained why the Bucs reached the decision to end Nicks’ season. Nicks had a toe injury that kept getting worse in recent weeks and Schiano said it reached a point where it became “unsafe." It’s a brutal blow to the Bucs to lose Nicks for the rest of the season, but it’s better for the franchise in the long run if Nicks has surgery now and returns at full strength next season.

NFC South evening update

October, 24, 2012
10/24/12
5:55
PM ET
Time for a look at the day's top headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

There was a time when the matchup between Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick and his former team would have been a huge story. But, as Michael Cunningham writes, it’s more like a footnote now. Vick hasn’t played for the Falcons since 2006. Matt Ryan’s been Atlanta’s quarterback since 2008. The NFL is a league where time moves quickly. Vick never will be forgotten in Atlanta, but Vick, the Falcons and fans have moved on.

A lot of critics have been saying the Falcons haven’t beaten a good team. That’s about to change. It’s not like the Falcons are about to face the four best teams in the league, but Mark Bradley points out that Philadelphia, Dallas, New Orleans and Arizona are better than what the Falcons already have faced.

Coach Mike Smith said defensive tackle Corey Peters is progressing as he works to return from a foot injury. But Smith said Peters isn't in football shape. If he's not in football shape on Wednesday, I don't know that he'll be there Sunday. It might be another week before Peters plays.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

As we told you earlier, it looked like linebacker Jon Beason was headed for injured reserve. That now is official, according to coach Ron Rivera. Rookie Luke Kuechly has played middle linebacker as Beason was banged up in recent weeks and will continue in that role.

Scott Fowler writes that quarterback Cam Newton was more open than usual when meeting with the media Wednesday. Among the topics of conversation, Newton explained why he’s not a fan of Twitter and also said he wished he had done more on the field to keep general manager Marty Hurney from getting fired.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Although the NFL Players Association is asking former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to recuse himself as the hearing officer for next week’s appeals in the player suspensions in the bounty saga, Andrew Brandt writes that Tagliabue might be the best option for the players. Although Goodell and Tagliabue are close, Brandt points out that they are different in some ways. He also points out that Tagliabue no longer is an NFL employee, which basically is another way of saying the former commissioner is his own man and isn’t going to be a puppet.

Sunday will mark Joe Vitt’s first game as the interim coach. It also will be a family reunion. Denver quarterback Adam Case is married to Vitt’s daughter.

There was some good news on the injury front. Tight end Jimmy Graham, who missed Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay, practiced on a limited basis. Vitt said Graham fared well in practice. Fantasy football players: Keep monitoring Graham as the week goes on, but I think there’s a pretty good chance you might want to put him back in your lineup.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Cornerback Brandon McDonald (ankle) is the only player listed as anything worse than probable on the injury report for Thursday night’s game against Minnesota

Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen presents a challenge for any left tackle. But Dory LeBlanc points out that Tampa Bay’s Donald Penn has fared pretty well against Allen in the past.

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NFC SOUTH SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/18
Sunday, 9/21