NFC South: Panthers-Saints 110809

 
 Derick E. Hingle/US Presswire
 Defensive end Anthony Hargrove had a difficult time enjoying the Saints' victory.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

NEW ORLEANS -- There’s something you need to know about Anthony Hargrove’s performance Sunday.

The Saints' defensive tackle scored the first touchdown of his NFL career on a fumble recovery to seal a 30-20 victory against the Carolina Panthers. But you already know that.
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What you didn’t know is that Hargrove was playing in pain. The kind that made his voice crack as he fought back tears in the postgame locker room. The Saints had won, but Hargrove was dealing with loss and struggling.

Hargrove was visibly upset about the death of a close friend Friday. Hargrove said his friend, whom he met while playing for the Buffalo Bills and worked on some musical endeavors with, was shot and killed in Buffalo. Hargrove didn’t want to go into intimate details, but he was extremely somber on what should have been one of the happiest days of his life.

“It’s really just starting to sink in and it’s hitting me hard,’’ Hargrove said. “It’s a rough world out there. It makes you realize life is short and you have to make the most of each day.’’

That’s a lesson Hargrove has learned repeatedly in recent years and all indications are he’s taking it quite seriously. Even before the death of his friend, Hargrove had been dealing with adversity, but he’s the first to tell you all that has made him stronger.

Signed as a long shot back in the offseason, Hargrove has turned into a staple on the New Orleans' defense. With Kendrick Clancy out for the season and Sedrick Ellis temporarily sidelined with an injury, Hargrove suddenly has become a starter and a force on the defensive line.

Sunday’s game was the best of a star-crossed career and it also makes you think there’s potential for more growth from Hargrove, if he can continue to handle adversity well. Hargrove made three solo tackles, forced a fumble and recovered two fumbles.

Not bad for a guy who hadn’t recovered a fumble since 2005 and was out of the league all of last season.

“Never in a million years did I expect it to be like this,’’ Hargrove said.

Truth be told, the Saints probably didn’t expect anything like this from Hargrove when they took a low-risk shot and signed him to a contract. He was viewed as possible depth at defensive end and defensive tackle at a time when it appeared starting defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant each might have to serve a four-game suspension to start the season. As it turned out, Smith and Grant were not suspended, but the Saints had to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

Hargrove came to training camp with no guarantee of making the roster. But now, he’s solidly entrenched in the starting lineup.

“To his credit, he’s been able to take it one day at a time and work hard,’’ New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. “I think the support cast and his decision to seize that opportunity. ... We’re real proud of him.’’

The Saints should be proud of Hargrove. He’s part of the reason the team is undefeated. That’s largely because Hargrove has fought off problems from the past. Once a promising prospect with the St. Louis Rams and Buffalo Bills, Hargrove’s career appeared to be very much in jeopardy -- or maybe even over -- in recent years.

It started on Aug. 11, 2007, when it was reported that Hargrove had violated the league’s substance-abuse policy and would be suspended for the first four games of the season. But Hargrove missed more than those four games. He didn't return to the Bills that season and on Jan. 18, 2008, it was reported that Hargrove had failed another drug test and would be suspended for the entire 2008 season.

Somewhere in that year off is where Hargrove turned his life around.

“I think I’ve grown up a lot in the last year or so,’’ said Hargrove, 26. “I had to grow up. It was past time to grow up. I think the biggest thing I learned was how important each day is and making the most of every opportunity in life.’’

Hargrove’s making the most of this opportunity. He convinced the Saints to give him a chance and that’s a decision that no one regrets. In fact, Hargrove has turned out to be a major cog in a defense that’s thrived since going through some major offseason rebuilding.

“I’m truly having fun out there,’’ Hargrove said. “This is a fun defense to play in. We all play off one another and no one guy is bigger than the team. It’s fun to be a part of something like this.’’

But Hargrove said the death of his friend was putting a big damper on his ability to fully enjoy Sunday’s victory. Hargrove said there’s a lot to sort through with the emotional aspects of his loss.

That will take time. But if Hargrove can once again overcome adversity, he might come out of this even stronger.

“I just have to keep reminding myself every day about the wonderful chance the New Orleans Saints have given me,’’ Hargrove said. “They gave me a chance to play again when nobody else was really doing that. They gave me an opportunity and what’s happened the last couple days has really reinforced that you have to take advantage of every opportunity you get because you never know when opportunities will stop coming.’’
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints just played their worst game of the year. They also won.

Just goes to show you the Saints don’t have to be perfect all the time. They still had enough to beat a Carolina team that played pretty well most of the day. The Saints also showed the ability to come back, again. They did it from a 21-point deficit a few weeks ago and they were down as much as 17-3 against the Panthers.

The Saints weren’t really dominant in any one area and the absence of injured defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis exposed some holes in the running game. But the bottom line is the Saints are good enough to win, even when they’re nowhere near their best.

I’m heading down to the locker room now for post-game interviews. I’ll be back in a bit with more.

Davis carted off to locker room

November, 8, 2009
11/08/09
6:50
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

NEW ORLEANS – Quick update to our last item. Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis is being carted off the field as I type this.

He suffered a knee injury and it doesn’t look good. Saw several teammates come over and hug Davis while he was sitting on cart.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

NEW ORLEANS -- Well, so much for a miracle, last-minute drive. The Saints already have come back once, after trailing 17-3.

They just tied the game (20-20), and the fourth quarter is about to start. You can definitely see the momentum here has swung in favor of the Saints. They held the Panthers to a field goal on their last drive (note to Carolina coach John Fox: Don’t EVER use that fullback dive with Tyrell Sutton again). And the touchdown really has the Superdome hopping.

Perfect season on the line for Saints

November, 8, 2009
11/08/09
5:28
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

NEW ORLEANS -- Well, all that talk about the Saints going 16-0 might have been a little premature.

It’s halftime here at the Superdome and the Panthers are leading the Saints, 17-6. As we all know from a few weeks ago in Miami, the Saints are very capable of overcoming a deficit. We’ll see if they can do it again.

But I think it might be very difficult this time. Say what you want about Carolina’s early-season struggles, but the Panthers are built to protect a lead and, right now, they’ve got a big lead on the best team in the NFL.

Saints honor alumni

November, 8, 2009
11/08/09
3:56
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

NEW ORLEANS -- The Saints just had a very nice pregame ceremony as part of their All Saints Weekend festivities.

The team celebrates the event every year and usually shoots to have it close to the anniversary of New Orleans being awarded a franchise. That happened on Nov. 1, 1966.

As part of the pregame ceremony, the Saints introduced a couple former players. Some of those who got the loudest ovations included Steve Gleason, Dalton Hilliard and Michael Lewis. The Saints also recognized Bobby Hebert, who wasn’t able to be on the field because he’s up here in the press box, performing his broadcasting duties for WWL radio.

New Orleans' inactives

November, 8, 2009
11/08/09
3:27
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

NEW ORLEANS -- As expected, receiver Lance Moore, linebacker Scott Fujita and defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis will not play for the Saints today.

They’re joined on the inactive list by kicker Garrett Hartley, cornerback Leigh Torrence, running back Lynell Hamilton and center Nick Leckey.

The Saints have announced that Anthony Hargrove will start in Ellis’ place. Jo-Lonn Dunbar will start for Fujita.

Carolina's inactives

November, 8, 2009
11/08/09
3:17
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

NEW ORLEANS -- No surprises on Carolina’s list of inactives.

As expected, receiver Muhsin Muhammad, fullback Brad Hoover and Charles Godfrey are out with injuries. Also inactive are fullback Tony Fiammetta, guard Duke Robinson, tight end Dante Rosario and defensive tackle Nick Hayden. A.J. Feeley will be the third quarterback.

Kicker John Kasay, who was dealing with an injury this week, is active, so he presumably will handle his regular duties on kickoffs and field goals.

The Panthers said Dwayne Jarrett will start in Muhammad’s place and Sherrod Martin will fill in for Godfrey. The Panthers, however, have not announced a starting fullback.

We’ll find out who it is when the game starts, but I think you’re going to be surprised.

Live from the Superdome

November, 8, 2009
11/08/09
1:33
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

NEW ORLEANS -- I’ve arrived at the Superdome, where it’s very quiet right now.

The only people on the field are the SaintSations (cheerleaders) warming up and four members of the Panthers. They’re not in uniform yet, but I can pick out reserve quarterback Matt Moore playing catch, and long-snapper J.J. Jansen also is out there.

I’ve got the Atlanta-Washington game on the television by my spot in the press box and will keep a close eye on that one. I’ll also try to check out Tampa Bay’s game.

I’ll be back with a lot more on the Saints and Panthers as we get closer to game time. I’ve got some radio duties and a few housekeeping things to take care of in the next little bit. But I’ll also be jumping in on NFL Nation Live from time to time.

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