NFC South: Steve Gleason

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints quarterbacks took the ALS ice bucket challenge up a notch by stripping down Wednesday.

Brees then vowed to donate up to $10,000 to former teammate Steve Gleason's Team Gleason foundation for users who retweet the video of the almost-naked ice-bucket challenge.

The video was inspired by Gleason, who true to his bold form, went completely naked for his own ice-bucket dousing before challenging Brees to do the same.

Brees, Luke McCown, Ryan Griffin and Logan Kilgore accepted the challenge by stripping down to their girdles. They turned it into one of their daily competitions by completing a series of six passes and submerging in buckets of ice-cold water for 10 seconds. Griffin was declared the winner.

The Saints' quarterbacks then challenged the quarterbacks from all of their NFC South rivals to follow suit.

The ice-bucket challenges have become a phenomenon, performed by countless celebrities and sports stars while increasing donations to ALS charities by millions, since being started by former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates.

And as The Times-Picayune's Jeff Duncan pointed out, Frates himself was inspired by Gleason, who has become a world-renowned crusader for ALS patients since being diagnosed with the disease in 2011.

Saints coach Sean Payton also promised to complete his own ice-bucket challenge on Wednesday – though he was planning to remain dressed.

"Look, it's close to home for us with Steve," Payton said. "And I think anything to raise awareness … And I would say this, I don't know that any individual has raised more awareness than Steve Gleason with regards to this disease."
Steve GleasonAP Photo/Alex Brandon
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in New Orleans Saints history. In the next two days, we’ll feature two plays that helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV: the “Ambush” onside kick to start the second half and cornerback Tracy Porter’s game-clinching interception return for a touchdown against Peyton Manning in the fourth quarter. Please vote for your choice as the Saints’ most memorable play.

Score: Saints 23, Falcons 3
Date: Sept. 25, 2006 Site: Louisiana Superdome

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Forget Saints history. Steve Gleason’s blocked punt on the night the Superdome reopened following Hurricane Katrina ranks as one of the most exhilarating moments in the history of New Orleans, period.

The building was already at a fever pitch on that incredibly emotional night, when the Saints returned to their home stadium for the first time on a national stage on “Monday Night Football.” The Superdome, which had been a symbol of the devastation the city endured a year earlier, now stood as a symbol of New Orleans’ rebirth after a remarkable effort by NFL, team and city officials to renovate the Superdome in such a short span of time. A spectacular pregame concert featured U2 and Green Day.

The excitement continued to grow when the Saints’ defense forced a quick three-and-out against their most heated divisional rival, the Atlanta Falcons -- highlighted by Scott Fujita’s sack of quarterback Michael Vick. Then the place absolutely exploded when beloved special teamer Steve Gleason flew in to block a punt and teammate Curtis Deloatch scooped up the loose ball for a touchdown and an instant 7-0 Saints lead. One of the NFL’s loudest venues has never been louder than that moment.

To make things even more special, the play helped spark the Saints to an unlikely 3-0 start that year in the first season under new coach Sean Payton and new quarterback Drew Brees after they had gone 3-13 the season before. The Saints went on to the NFC Championship Game that season, officially kicking off the greatest era in franchise history.

A statue of that block was later erected outside of the Superdome, further immortalizing Gleason, who became an adopted son and cult hero in New Orleans long before he was diagnosed with ALS and began an even more remarkable worldwide campaign to fight the disease.

 

Saints morning report: No white flags

November, 27, 2013
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As expected, the NFL Network’s “A Football Life” special on former New Orleans Saints special teamer Steve Gleason was outstanding. If you missed it, it will air again Wednesday at 3 p.m. central time. Or you can see many of the segments here on the Saints’ website.

Whether or not you’re familiar with Gleason’s story, I’d encourage anyone to check it out. Even though this was the fourth time I had seen the footage from Team Gleason’s epic trek to Machu Picchu, I still got that same lump in my throat during the scene where Steve got to meet one of the many people inspired by his mission in the unlikeliest of places.

It’s impossible not to be moved by the way Gleason and those around him have taken his ALS diagnosis and turned it into a mission to inspire and improve the lives of others. It’s a heartbreaking story and an uplifting one. And it has been great to see outlets like the NFL Network, ESPN and Sports Illustrated, among others, shine a spotlight on incredible human beings like Steve, his wife Michel and others close to them.

The Times-Picayune’s Jeff Duncan, who has always done a terrific job of chronicling Gleason’s story, wrote about one of the latest ways Team Gleason’s work has continued to spread across the country.

Schedule reminder: Saints players will be off today as they push everything back a day this week leading up to their “Monday Night Football” game at the Seattle Seahawks. The first media access and injury report will come Thursday.

Schedule rarity: The top two teams in both the NFC and AFC will face off this weekend, with the Seahawks (10-1) hosting the Saints (9-2) and the Kansas City Chiefs (9-2) hosting the Denver Broncos (9-2) on Sunday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is only the third time that has happened at least 10 weeks into the season since the 1970 merger.

In Week 16 of the 2008 season, the Tennessee Titans (12-2) beat the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3), 31-14, in Tennessee; and the New York Giants (11-3) beat the Carolina Panthers (11-3), 34-28, at Giants Stadium. In Week 15 of the 1979 season, the Houston Oilers (10-4) topped the Steelers (11-3) in Houston, 20-17; and the Dallas Cowboys (9-5) beat the Philadelphia Eagles (10-4), 24-17, in Philadelphia.

Worth a click:
  • Saints guard Ben Grubbs’ foundation teamed up with the Boys & Girls Club of Southeast Louisiana to give out 500 turkeys to local families in need.
  • WWLTV.com’s Bradley Handwerger wrote this feature on fullback Jed Collins -- who considers himself more artist than assassin. Collins deserves the pub. He’s stood out repeatedly in my recent film studies. He has definitely been a big part of the Saints’ resurgent run game.
  • The Times-Picyaune’s Larry Holder credited another guy who has done that -- running back Pierre Thomas -- at the top of his weekly film study.

NFC South afternoon update

July, 15, 2013
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Time for an afternoon drive through some odds and ends around the division:

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Gary Shelton writes that quarterback Josh Freeman just isn’t as good as the Buccaneers need him to be, but is better than a lot of his detractors believe. I think that’s a fairly concise and accurate summary of the situation. I think the talent is there for Freeman to be a very good quarterback. But, as he enters the final season of his contract, it’s time for Freeman to put it all together. If not, he’ll be looking for a new place to play next season.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Bradley Handwerger reveals the No. 1 selection on his list of the 10 most impressive wins in the Sean Payton era. It’s not the Super Bowl victory, which came in at No. 2. It’s the 2006 victory against the Falcons in New Orleans. I can’t argue with this choice even though it’s hard to trump a Super Bowl victory. This was the first game back in the Superdome for the Saints after Hurricane Katrina and that was a tremendous emotional lift. Of course, it also helped that Steve Gleason’s punt block became the stuff of legend and that the Saints won.

Larry Holder has the Oct. 6 game against Chicago at No. 5 on the list of most compelling games for the Saints. By that point in the season we should find out if Chicago left tackle Jermon Bushrod really is good or if he was just a product of the system when he was a Pro Bowler in New Orleans.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Max Henson has his overview of the defensive tackle situation. Justifiably, there has been a lot of talk about Carolina’s first two draft picks – Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. But, for the first time in a long time, the Panthers should have some quality depth at defensive tackle. Dwan Edwards could remain a starter in the short term. Sione Fua and Frank Kearse aren’t bad and Colin Cole could be a sleeper if he can stay healthy.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Daniel Cox writes that Atlanta’s Jonathan Massaquoi hopes he’s ready to contribute more as a defensive end after being limited mostly to special teams as a rookie. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Falcons have a bunch of young defensive ends and Massaquoi is the one the coaching staff is most optimistic about.

The Falcons are holding a contest to name a new sandwich that will be sold at their training camp. It looks good, but I think I’ll pass on it when I visit Flowery Branch because I’m trying to maintain my playing weight.

Links: Radio hosts fired for Gleason piece

June, 18, 2013
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Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons' offensive line is developing leadership as it prepares to replace two longtime starters, writes Daniel Cox of the team's website.

Quarterback Matt Ryan is helping with the development of his young backups, writes Jay Adams of the team's website.

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says once Ryan’s contract extension is done and his salary-cap number drops from $12 million into the $6 million to $7 million range, that would free up more space to pursue free agent defensive lineman Richard Seymour, a seven-time Pro Bowler, if they so desired.

Carolina Panthers

Free safety Charles Godfrey has impressed Panthers coach Ron Rivera this offseason, writes Max Henson of the team's website.

New Orleans Saints
Three Atlanta radio hosts associated with "Mayhem in the AM," a sports talk show on WQXI-AM, "790 The Zone," have been fired after running a segment poking fun at former Saints player Steve Gleason, who is battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. 790 AM is the Atlanta Falcons' flagship station. The Falcons weren't involved with the segment, but issued a statement condemning the actions of hosts Nick Cellini, Steak Shapiro and Chris Dimino. The segment came on the heels of Gleason guest writing Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback column. Gleason, who is paralyzed, described his battle with the disease in a column written entirely by a computer that tracked his eye movement.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In this story about the best remaining free agents, Nate Davis of USA TODAY Sports says veteran defensive end Israel Idonije would make sense for the Bucs.

Links: Panthers' Smith dishes on retirement

June, 17, 2013
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Atlanta Falcons

Free-agent defensive tackle Richard Seymour told NFL.com's Steve Wyche that negotiations with the Falcons might be visited again closer to training camp.

A woman who falsely accused Falcons rookie linebacker Brian Banks of rape has been ordered to pay The Long Beach Unified School District $2.6 million.

Robert Alford, Atlanta's second-round pick, has signed a four-year contract with the team. The Atlanta Journal Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter reports the Falcons have now signed six of their eight draft picks.

No surprise here, as some of the biggest offseason questions surrounding the Falcons involve the defensive side of the ball.

Carolina Panthers

When will Steve Smith hang up the cleats? The Pro Bowl wide receiver fills in some dates with the Charlotte Observer's Tom Sorensen, and discusses his post-NFL career plans.

Domenik Hixon and Chase Blackburn went to rival high schools in Ohio, played and lived together at Akron and won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants. Now, the pair is reunited on a Panthers squad that could use a little championship experience, says Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer.

Carolina has scheduled its annual Fan Fest at Bank of America Stadium for Aug. 3.

New Orleans Saints

Former New Orleans Saints special teams star Steve Gleason guest-writes for Peter King and his MMQB column. With humor and wit, Gleason writes on topics including the connection between football and brain disease, and the technology that enables him to write a 4,500-word column. Also, Alex Restrepo of NewOrleansSaints.com writes a column on Gleason and his family. “Every day is an adventure of discovery,” said Steve through email.

It’s 40 days and counting till the Saints take the field again for training camp. The Advocate's Brian Allee-Walsh takes a look at questions including Victor Butler's injury impact, Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense and Drew Brees' backup.

Former Saints defensive end Joe Owens passed away last week at the age of 68.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Quarterbacks coach John McNulty tells the Tampa Bay Times that quarterback Josh Freeman is demonstrating "his urgency, his inflection, his demeanor. Everything has been high energy and positive and going at a fast pace. Guys don't have a choice but to go along with him."

Will the Bucs make the playoffs this season? NFL.com's Marc Sessler gives five reasons Tampa Bay will be playing in January.

The aftermath of losing two Pro Bowl guards to injury last fall helped create what appears to be very good offensive line depth and flexibility heading into 2013, according to the team's website.
We previously told you former New Orleans player Steve Gleason will announce the Saints’ third-round pick in next week’s NFL draft.

We had a separate post on Gleason because the Saints released that information ahead of the rest of the league. But I don’t want to sell the other former players that will announce second-round picks for the other three NFC South teams.

Warren Sapp will announce Tampa Bay’s pick. That’s only fitting since Sapp will be inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame this summer.

Deion Sanders, who already is in the Hall of Fame, will announce Atlanta’s pick. Mike Minter will announce Carolina’s pick.
The last year or so hasn’t been filled with a lot of great news for the New Orleans Saints. But here’s something that’s extremely positive.

Former New Orleans defensive back and special-teams ace Steve Gleason will make the announcement when the Saints make their third-round pick in next week’s draft.

Gleason forever claimed a spot in New Orleans lore when he blocked a punt in the first game in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. But Gleason, who now is dealing with ALS, has become a motivational figure that goes way beyond football.

Here’s a story I did during Super Bowl week on what Gleason is doing to help others with the disease.

Around the NFC South

February, 25, 2013
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Let's take a run through some odds and ends from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

The Falcons top Jeff Schultz’s rankings of the pro and college teams in the Atlanta area. That differs from the usual belief that the Braves and college football are the biggest things in Atlanta. But the Falcons have had five straight winning seasons, which might explain why they finally are being fully embraced in Atlanta.

General manager Thomas Dimitroff said the Falcons are evaluating closely the tight end prospects at the combine. Even if veteran Tony Gonzalez decides to return for another season, I still could see the Falcons taking a tight end in this year’s draft. It wouldn’t hurt to have the eventual successor to Gonzalez spend a year learning from the best tight end ever.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Joseph Person writes that the Panthers plan to keep running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. That will probably mean a restructuring of Williams’ contract. But it would mean the Panthers have two top-notch running backs and another solid one in Mike Tolbert. But, if the Panthers do keep all three, it might be wise for new offensive coordinator Mike Shula to get them all more involved in the offense than they were last season when Rob Chudzinski was calling the plays.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Former Saints safety and special teams ace Steve Gleason continues to inspire. He completed the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Half Marathon on Saturday. Gleason, who is battling ALS, was pushed by his brother-in-law in his customized wheelchair.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Rick Stroud reports that the Bucs have yet to talk to safety Ronde Barber about playing another season. That simply may be because the Bucs want to give Barber plenty of time to decide if he wants to continue playing. It also could be a sign that the Bucs are contemplating moving in a different direction. Whatever the case, the Bucs need to handle this the right way if they don’t want Barber back. The franchise badly mishandled the release of Derrick Brooks back in 2009. Barber is as much of an icon in Tampa Bay as Brooks was and, if he’s going out, he deserves to do it on good terms.

Steve Gleason providing inspiration

January, 30, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS -- They’re having a Super Bowl here Sunday, but the best show of the week came Wednesday afternoon.

Adults cried tears of sorrow and joy, reporters violated the time-honored tradition of not clapping at news conferences and a clear winner emerged.

That was Team Gleason -- and, by extension, someday maybe the whole world.

[+] EnlargeSteve Gleason
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertFormer Saints player Steve Gleason, who is suffering from amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), leads a tour through Team Gleason House.
The setting was the formal announcement that Chase has donated $350,000 to the Team Gleason House for Innovative Living. Team Gleason starts with Steve Gleason, the former New Orleans Saints player who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, but likely added scores of more members with the emotional ceremony.

“This is an effort bigger than me, the blocked punt, the city of New Orleans and the Super Bowl ... bigger than football,’’ Gleason said using voice technology powered by his eyes.

Technology is the key to what Gleason and his team are doing. They’re building a facility for people with ALS that will be stocked with the latest in technology.

“It will allow them to be productive and to live with purpose,’’ Gleason said.

The living with purpose part is central to all this. Gleason and former teammate Scott Fujita, who lost an uncle to the disease 17 years ago, said that too many people have given up after receiving an ALS diagnosis.

“This is a disease that for far too long has been ignored and underfunded,’’ Fujita said. “That’s unacceptable.’’

That pretty much was the attitude Gleason took when he received his diagnosis.

“I did not want to fade away quietly,’’ Gleason said.

There’s no way that’s going to happen. Gleason is a New Orleans icon. That was assured the moment he made a critical punt block in the first game the Saints played in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

“At that moment, we transformed ourselves from losers to winners,’’ New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu said.

But Gleason’s link to the city he called home has become even stronger since the public became aware of his illness. Gleason has become a point of pride for an entire region because of the courage he’s shown. But he wants to be more than that.

“I believe this can be done regionally, nationally and even globally,’’ Gleason said.

After sitting there and listening to Gleason and his team talk about their plans, I have no doubt that’s possible. In fact, I believe Gleason’s work will have a global impact.

Team Gleason’s slogan is “Inspiring Innovation."

The innovation part is impressive. The inspiration part might be even more impressive.

Around the NFC South

January, 18, 2013
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Time for a look at the top Friday morning headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Tight end Tony Gonzalez has been saying for months that he’s 95-percent certain he’ll retire after this season. He admitted that figure went up a couple of percentage points after getting the first playoff victory of his career. The implication is that Gonzalez would walk away if the Falcons win the Super Bowl, because he’d get a chance to go out on top. But Gonzalez still is playing at such a high level that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him return for another year.

San Francisco’s Aldon Smith had a franchise-record 19.5 sacks this season. But he hasn’t produced a sack in the past four games. Still, the Falcons have to be aware of where he is on every play.

Mayor Kasim Reed continues to show his support for a new stadium for the Falcons.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Joseph Person reports the Panthers will choose their new offensive coordinator from a list of three finalists -- Pat Shurmur, Hue Jackson and Mike Shula. Nothing against Jackson or Shurmur, but I think Shula is the logical choice. He’s been the team’s quarterbacks coach the past two seasons. He knows the system installed by Rob Chudzinski, and he has a close relationship with quarterback Cam Newton.

Erik Spangberg has some details on the proposed deal between the Panthers and the City of Charlotte for funding for renovations for Bank of America Stadium. One thing that jumps out is that part of the deal would require the Panthers to make a commitment to stay in Charlotte for 10 years. But it would take the city 15 years to pay off the $125 million the Panthers are looking for.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Mike Triplett writes that there have been no winners and no losers in the Saints’ bounty scandal. He’s right. The latest, and perhaps final, example of that came Thursday when a federal judge dismissed linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s defamation lawsuit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Nobody won there either. Vilma lost his suit, but the judge had some harsh words for Goodell’s handling of the bounty case.

Jeff Duncan has a fine column on former New Orleans player Steve Gleason, who is battling ALS. But Gleason continues to fight to help others with the disease. His latest effort is to open a living facility for those with the disease.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Ira Kaufman has a feature on how cornerback Aqib Talib has fared well since his trade to New England. I know a lot of Tampa Bay fans think it was a mistake to trade away the team’s best cornerback at midseason, and the statistics of Tampa Bay’s pass defense certainly support that argument. But I still think the Bucs made the right move in unloading a player who had given them nothing but trouble and would have walked away as a free agent in March. At least the Bucs got a fourth-round draft pick for Talib.
Drew Brees, Matt RyanUS PresswireRecent history has raised the intensity between Drew Brees' Saints and Matt Ryan's Falcons.
For at least one week, it really doesn’t matter that the New Orleans Saints got off to an 0-4 start or that Bountygate seems to have been airing as long as “As The World Turns."

The Saints host the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and that means only one thing. The NFC South’s best rivalry -- and one of the NFL’s best rivalries in recent seasons -- will take center stage, and everything else will be forgotten.

Yeah, the Saints are 3-5 and have had more turmoil than perhaps any team in NFL history. Yeah, the Falcons are 8-0 and cruising through a sea of tranquility.

But none of that matters. If the Saints are going to step up and be the Saints of old in just one game this season, it will be this one. If the Falcons are going to slide back in just one game this season (and we’ll discuss their past playoff issues when the time comes), it will be this one.

These teams simply don’t like each other. Although they came into the NFL at roughly the same time (in the mid-1960s) and always had a bit of a geographic rivalry, this turned into a full-fledged feud in only recent years. That’s largely because the teams have been good at the same time, egos have gotten out of control and been bruised, and it’s all made for some great entertainment.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and look at some incidents that have come to define this rivalry.

Photo flap: I’ll start with a game in the Georgia Dome late in the 2010 season. In a classic battle, the Saints edged the Falcons 17-14 to clinch a playoff spot. But it wasn’t so much what happened in this game that made it memorable. It was what happened after the game.

A group of New Orleans defensive players went to the locker room and then came back out onto the field to have their pictures taken on the Falcons logo. The Falcons, a team that tries very hard to keep a low profile and stay out of public controversies, were privately offended and irate.

The Saints, a team that’s not shy about anything, displayed the photos like trophies. New Orleans defensive tackle Remi Ayodele used some graphic terms to describe what the Saints were doing, even though I’m certain he was speaking only in the figurative sense.

After Ayodele’s comments went viral, New Orleans assistant head coach Joe Vitt tried to douse the flames by saying how much the Saints respected the Falcons. But, in perhaps breaking an unwritten rule (don’t celebrate on another team’s logo), the damage already was done.

Pouring it on? Then, almost exactly a year removed from the logo fiasco, there was the night in New Orleans when a lot of people (including some in the Falcons' organization) thought coach Sean Payton was running up the score as he let Drew Brees continue throwing as he set an NFL record for passing yards in a season and the Saints defeated the Falcons 45-16. In Atlanta's locker room that night, there were more than a few players who felt disrespected, although they could have prevented it by slowing Brees.

Statue war: Respect -– or a lack of it -– can flow both ways. That became obvious this summer when the Saints unveiled a statue of one of the most popular players in franchise history (Steve Gleason) making perhaps the biggest play in franchise history.

The statue replicates Gleason’s punt block in the first game back in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. But the other figure in the moment, former Atlanta punter Michael Koenen, has no Falcons logos and his name doesn’t appear on the back of his figure.

The Falcons said they realize the significance of Gleason’s play in the history of the Saints and the city of New Orleans but they were advised by the NFL not to allow their trademark to be used in connection with things out of their market. The Falcons could have made an exception to the NFL’s guidelines but elected not to.

That angered a lot of New Orleans fans. Anger is a big part of any rivalry and doesn’t have to be limited just to fans.

Burning bridges: We were reminded of that in the offseason when Atlanta linebacker Curtis Lofton was a free agent. Lofton eventually signed with the Saints and, throughout the offseason, used every opportunity to take subtle -- sometimes not even subtle -- shots at his former team.

Lofton really drew the line in the sand when he said one of the reasons he signed with the Saints was because he wanted to be with a team that had a chance to go to the Super Bowl. That one didn’t go unnoticed in the Falcons’ offices or locker room in Flowery Branch, Ga. But, long before that, lots of lines were crossed both ways in this rivalry.

With the Saints off to a bad start, this game probably has no playoff implications for them, and the Falcons could pretty much put an end to New Orleans' playoff hopes with a victory. But the Saints would love nothing better than to knock the Falcons from the ranks of the unbeaten.

Heck, if the Saints could win and send the Falcons into a tailspin, it might make their crazy season worthwhile.

If the Falcons win, it keeps them marching toward their ultimate goal -- the Super Bowl -- and that could provide further motivation for them Sunday. For those who haven’t thought that far ahead, the Super Bowl is in New Orleans this season.

Sunday might as well be the Super Bowl for the Saints. They want to derail the Falcons somehow, because the last thing anyone in New Orleans wants to see is Atlanta players celebrating in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in February.

Around the NFC South

November, 7, 2012
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First a quick note to let you know that the All-NFC South midseason team will be coming shortly. Keep checking back. Meantime, let's take a stroll through the division's top headlines:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Complete with pictures that show a great block by receiver Roddy White, D. Orlando Ledbetter has a breakdown of the 43-yard run by Michael Turner that was a huge turning point in Sunday night’s victory against Dallas.

Although they haven’t been perfect, Mark Bradley writes the Falcons have become a target for criticism by keeping their heads above water and getting to 8-0. He’s right. It’s easy to pick apart what the Falcons have and haven’t done. But they do deserve plenty of credit for being the league’s only undefeated team.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Scott Fowler has his list of bests and worsts from the first eight games. I think you can tell what kind of season the Panthers are having simply by the fact that the best play was a catch by Armanti Edwards, who has barely played in three seasons.

Tight end Greg Olsen’s infant son, TJ, came home from the hospital Tuesday after having heart surgery.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Nakia Hogan writes that both interim coach Joe Vitt and coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said the attacking style of defense the Saints played Monday night against the Eagles might have been just a temporary thing. It worked nicely against struggling quarterback Michael Vick and a banged-up Philadelphia offensive line. But blitz too many times against the Falcons, the next opponent on the schedule, and the Saints could get burned badly.

Former New Orleans safety Steve Gleason, who was taken from Monday night’s game to the hospital after experiencing flu-like symptoms, was released and is feeling better, according to a spokesman for his charity.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Gary Shelton writes that general manager Mark Dominik, who drew a lot of criticism last year, suddenly is looking like a genius. That’s the nature of the NFL. You lose, you’re going to get criticized. You win, you’re going to draw praise.

NFC South evening update

August, 22, 2012
8/22/12
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Let’s take an afternoon run through the top headlines from around the division:

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Bradley Handwerger reports that the assistant head coach Joe Vitt still hasn’t found out exactly when his six-game suspension will begin. It’s going to come sometime before the regular-season opener (Sept. 9) and likely after rosters are trimmed to 53 players on Aug. 31. The bigger issue is who will step into Vitt’s role as the acting head coach. The Saints still haven’t made that announcement, although it seems a certainty the pool of candidates goes no deeper than offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

Jeffri Chadiha salutes former New Orleans special-teams ace Steve Gleason for speaking out and, no matter how you interpret his comments, at least admitting that he was offended by the way former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams spoke to his group the night before last season’s playoff loss to San Francisco.

Linebacker injuries continue to pile up. Ramon Humber is out with a hamstring injury.

On the positive side of the linebacker situation, Barrett Ruud says he’s happy to be with the Saints.

ATLANTA FALCONS

New coordinators Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan each say they’re happy with what they’ve seen so far in the preseason, but there still is plenty of work to be done.

Justifiably, running back Michael Turner never has been viewed as much of a threat as a pass catcher. But Daniel Cox brings up a good point as he writes that Turner has been getting more receiving opportunities this preseason. I think there could be more chances for Turner as a receiver in Koetter’s offense. I’m not saying Turner suddenly will turn into Darren Sproles, but you might have to account for him as more than a blocker in the passing game.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Receiver Steve Smith missed Wednesday’s practice and was seen on crutches. Team officials said Smith has a foot infection and is not expected to miss significant playing time. With a veteran like Smith, I say shut him down for the final two preseason games and just make sure he’s completely healthy for the regular season. The Panthers have a bunch of young receivers fighting for roster spots. Let them have all the snaps the rest of the preseason.

Joseph Person has a story about how Carolina centers Ryan Kalil and Jeff Byers have undergone a stunning reversal of roles since their college days. Byers once was a blue-chip recruit, but now is fighting for a roster spot. Kalil was supposed to lose his college job to Byers. That didn’t happen and Kalil has gone on to become an All-Pro.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Coach Greg Schiano has had a digital clock installed in the Bucs’ locker room that is counting down the days, minutes and seconds until kickoff of the regular season. Not a bad idea to emphasize the sense of urgency for a young team.

Olympic silver medalist Jeff Demps said he signed with the Patriots instead of the Buccaneers (and others) because several former University of Florida teammates are on the roster and recruited him. I think it also might have helped that New England’s offer included more than $200,000 in guaranteed money, which is unheard of for an undrafted rookie free agent.

Around the NFC South

August, 21, 2012
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A look at the Tuesday morning headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

At first, there were signs that undrafted rookie Dominique Davis could push John Parker Wilson for the third quarterback job. Now, there’s speculation he could move ahead of Chris Redman as the backup. I think that’s a little premature. Davis has a lot of upside and could end up as the backup down the road. But, if something happens to Matt Ryan, I think the Falcons would feel much safer leaving the team in the hands of Redman for the short term.

Jacquizz Rodgers never returned a kickoff in college. But it looks as if he’ll fill that role for the Falcons this season. Makes sense, because Rodgers is one of the team’s fastest players and has the potential to deliver long returns.

The Falcons, who had only one fight throughout training camp, had two scuffles break out Monday.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

After spending the entire offseason working to improve the defense, Carolina coach Ron Rivera said he still is concerned about an inability to get offenses off the field on third downs. He’s got two preseason games left to fix that.

It might not be the flashiest of positions, but the battle for the punting job might be the most intense competition in Carolina’s preseason. Veteran Nick Harris and rookie Brad Nortman are the candidates, and they’ve been even so far. Punting was a problem last season, and the Panthers want to upgrade over Jason Baker, who was let go after last season.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Bradley Handwerger writes that having to make a trade for veteran linebacker Barrett Ruud so late in the preseason was less than ideal, but it was the best move the Saints could make after suffering three significant injuries at linebacker. Ruud is a long way removed from the days when he was a top middle linebacker in Tampa Bay, but he’s smart enough to come in and run the defense in the absence of Curtis Lofton. With Ruud in the middle, the Saints will look to start him along with Scott Shanle and Jonathan Casillas until Lofton and David Hawthorne are healthy enough to return.

Former New Orleans special-teams star Steve Gleason said comments he made to HBO’s “Real Sports’’ have been misinterpreted by the media. Preview material of the episode, which is scheduled to air Tuesday night, have touted Gleason as being surprised that no one reacted to former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ speech the night before last season’s playoff loss to San Francisco. Gleason now says he wasn’t questioning the lack of a reaction by players and coaches. He says he was surprised others in his immediate group, and not with the team, didn’t seem to react when Williams made the comments.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

With the New England Patriots coming to town for joint practices Wednesday and Thursday, the Buccaneers are healthier than they’ve been most of the preseason. Running back LeGarrette Blount, left tackle Donald Penn, cornerback Aqib Talib and tight end Luke Stocker, who all have been banged up, are expected to be ready to practice against the Patriots.

Safety Ahmad Black is making a strong case for a roster spot. Ronde Barber and Mark Barron are set as the starters, so Black will have to climb over the likes of Cody Grimm, Larry Asante, Tramain Thomas and Keith Tandy.

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