NFL Nation: Jabari Greer

Greer: No compassion for Goodell

September, 11, 2014
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METAIRIE, La. -- Former New Orleans Saints cornerback Jabari Greer offered strong opinions on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell while serving as a guest analyst Thursday on ESPN. Greer described Goodell's handling of the Ray Rice investigation as "ignorant," and he said he believes that players around the league have "no compassion at all" for Goodell's plight.

Greer
Greer echoed the sentiment of former teammates Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita and Scott Shanle in saying that Goodell's credibility with players was already tarnished in the past through incidents like the Saints' bounty investigation, the 2011 lockout and the way the commissioner has been "overwhelmingly harsh" in handing out penalties and fines.

Greer recalled when Goodell came to speak to players from each of the 32 teams at the time of the 2011 lockout. Greer said, "The consensus was, 'This guy has nothing to do with us.' He was taking heat from all 32 teams. There was a big rift in players and ownership, and we saw that Roger Goodell was on ownership's side."

"There is no compassion from players for Roger Goodell in this moment. No compassion at all," Greer said.

Goodell's handling of the Rice investigation has received increasing scrutiny, with questions about whether the commissioner had access -- or should have had access -- to a tape showing Rice punching his then-fiancee in an elevator.

Asked later for his thoughts on how Goodell has handled the Rice investigation, Greer said, "It's went from negligent to downright ignorant. I don't want to be harsh with my words, but it seems now that it is becoming a circus. Although we don't know whether he saw the tape or not, just the way the whole situation is developing, I don't agree with."

Greer said he knows from experience how thorough Goodell's investigation was into the Saints' bounty allegations in 2012, when coach Sean Payton was suspended for a full season, among other severe punishments. And Greer said he believes players such as Vilma and Will Smith were unfairly "vilified."

Some in the media have begun to make a similar comparison, saying that Goodell should be held to the same harsh standard to which he held Saints leaders in 2012. At the time, Goodell said of Payton, "Even if you aren't aware of something, you should be aware of something like that in your organization. That is his direct responsibility as the supervisor of players and coaches, and he should have known what was going on in his organization."

Current Saints players have been more measured with their words when asked to make that comparison, though, and Payton reiterated Thursday that he hasn't given it much thought.

"Our focus really has been on Cleveland [New Orleans' Week 2 opponent]," Payton said. "Yesterday I said it, and I'll say it again today: When you look at our work week and our work days, our time and energy from morning 'til evening is on the opponent. I understand the question, but that's what I would say."

Asked if it feels good that people seem to be coming to his defense, in a way, Payton said, "It's immaterial. In other words, we said at the time what we had to say, and we'll leave it at that."
Jabari Greer hasn’t given up on a return to football yet. Not by a long shot. In fact, the former New Orleans Saints cornerback insisted that if the right opportunity comes along for him and his family and he decides to play again, “then I will be the NFL comeback player of the year.”

For now, though, Greer said the chance to focus on being a devoted husband and father has been a “life-changing” experience for him. And in that regard, Greer said the major knee injury he suffered last November has actually been “one of the best things that ever happened to me.”

Greer talked about that among many other subjects while touring ESPN’s various TV, radio and podcast sets in Bristol, Connecticut, on Monday -- when he dabbled in another possible future career path as a guest analyst.

I talked to Greer after a handful of those appearances. He said he felt nervous at first, like on a game day, but he quickly got in the groove.

Greer talked a lot about that focus he’s been able to put on his family – especially during Linda Cohn’s “Listen Closely” podcast, when he said, “Although I always said the game didn’t define me, I realized it was a larger part of me than I actually thought. So I had to relearn how to be a devoted husband, how to be a gracious and devoted father.”

Greer said it was important for him to spread that message because he said so many people feel sorry for you when you suffer an injury like he did. And he wanted to use the platform to let people know that it’s possible to turn such adversity into a positive. Greer said he researched former football star Napoleon Kaufman, whose career was cut short by a devastating injury, and was inspired to read about his life as a pastor.

As for a possible return to football, Greer said he hasn’t decided yet. He’s talked to some teams but wants to make sure he’s 100 percent healthy – and that he gets the OK from his wife.

“I want to let you know that I was ballin’ when I got injured,” Greer told Cohn. “Make no mistake. Even though I’m 32, people think that is an old age, especially for a corner. But, man, I’ve been mentored by Darrell Green, this guy played well into his 40s. I know outside perception is as a corner having this gruesome injury, you can’t overcome that. But they haven’t met me yet.”

Greer was also asked to put on his analyst hat on many topics while appearing on “First Take” and the “Football Today” podcast.

Greer said players love playing for Rob Ryan because he puts them in the best position to play to their strengths.

“He always said, ‘I’m not gonna tell you how to do that, you know how to do that. I’m just gonna put you in the right place,’” Greer explained.

And when asked about defending Jimmy Graham, Greer said Saints defensive players loved Friday practices during the season because coach Sean Payton lets the starters go against each other.

“It was the highlight of our week. When we got an opportunity to go against Jimmy, it was a celebration. We called it ‘Jimmy Graham Fridays,’” Greer said. “We loved going against guys like Jimmy and the offense, because going against guys like Drew [Brees], Marques Colston, Darren Sproles, it’s not only 'pick your poison,' but it prepared you for success on Sundays.”

Across the NFL, Greer quickly chose Tom Brady as the quarterback who drives him nuts the most, based on some painful past experiences. And he chose Darrelle Revis as the cornerback who best raises the level of the defense, though he said the debate between Revis, Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson is like asking, “Which kind of car do you want to drive?”

And when asked about the NFL’s increased focus on calling defensive pass interference and contact penalties this season, Greer said he wants to see if the league will be just as diligent with calling contact penalties against receivers like Roddy White and Julio Jones -- two of his longtime rivals with the Atlanta Falcons.
Jabari Greer said his rehab from last year’s major knee injury is “going really well.” But the former New Orleans Saints cornerback said he’s not actively pursuing any opportunities to return to the NFL right now and acknowledges that it’s probably unlikely that he’ll be able to work out for any teams in time for training camp.

“I think my pride and my body have two different things to say about that,” joked Greer, who was released by the Saints in February. “But we’ll see. I mean, God can do anything, man.”

[+] EnlargeJabari Greer
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesCornerback Jabari Greer wants to be 100 percent before contemplating a return to the NFL.
The injury Greer suffered during a game against the San Francisco 49ers in November was severe. He said he tore his ACL, PCL and total posterior lateral compartment. The good news, Greer said, is that his MCL and meniscus remained “perfect.”

Greer talked openly about the details of his injury for the first time, saying it’s no longer a secret now that he’s not with a team.

Greer also freely admitted that he hasn’t decided whether he will pursue a return to the NFL at some point. Greer said that will depend on what his body and heart tell him.

“It just really depends on what God has for me," Greer said. "I think right now today, I’m very content with where I am. I’m very happy with being able to invest in my wife and children. But in the future, I’m sure that itch is gonna come, because it does for everybody. I guess it just depends if I decide to scratch it or not."

Greer still lives and trains in New Orleans, but he took three weeks off from his rehab this summer to travel to New York and San Francisco.

One thing Greer knows is that he would “definitely make sure that I was 100 percent” before working out for any teams, if that’s what he ultimately decides to do.

“Because in this league, as you know, it’s a production business,” Greer said. “And they don’t care if you’re 85 or 90 percent. If you can’t produce or perform, you just make yourself look bad. In the essence of self-preservation, I would reserve until I got 100 percent.”

For now, Greer said he can do “everything” in his rehab, just not at full speed yet.

“I’m not out there jumping hurdles yet," he said. "But I’m running [in a] straight line, I’m doing some bear crawls ... I’m cutting, I’m doing box jumps, high knees. I’m doing everything that I can do, which is amazing."

Greer also laughed at the notion that he’s 32 but his knee is only 6 months old.

“I often, whenever I get discouraged, I literally go back to the point in which I injured my leg, and I know the feeling of just being incapacitated, not being able to do anything. And now seeing that I can run, even if it’s not my fastest, seeing that I can run and cut, I just think it’s incredible, man,” Greer said. “It truly keeps me grounded.”

I brought up the triumphant return of another former Saints cornerback -- Mike McKenzie -- who re-signed with the Saints during their 2009 Super Bowl season and helped lead them to a huge win over the New England Patriots. Nearly a year after, it appeared that a major injury would end McKenzie’s career. And Greer said he just happened to be talking to McKenzie about that same subject a few days ago.

“And when I brought that up, you should’ve just seen the glow on his face,” Greer said. “He was like, ‘Yeah, I balled, didn’t I?’ and I said, ‘You did, you did.’ And he came out off the street, and he was the player of the game. It was ridiculous.”

Free-agent spotlight: CB Jabari Greer

February, 28, 2014
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The New Orleans Saints have 13 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 11, plus the three players they released this month. Here’s a breakdown on cornerback Jabari Greer:

Position: CB

Age: 32

Height: 5-11

Weight: 180

Greer
Scouting report: Greer is coming off of a major knee injury that ended his season in November -- which is part of the reason he was released in a cap-cutting move this month. Up until the injury, Greer was still playing at a high level as a starting cornerback. And he was a huge part of the Saints’ success over the past five years -- especially their 2009 Super Bowl season. But obviously his age and the injury will lead to some question marks about his future.

Greer is a former track star with great speed. And despite his stature, he has consistently held up well in man coverage against bigger receivers. Including the playoffs, Greer has 16 career interceptions (four returned for touchdowns) and 105 passes defensed in 10 years with the Saints and Buffalo Bills.

Greer began his career in Buffalo as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee in 2004. He signed with the Saints as a free agent in 2009.

Projection: If Greer hadn’t been hurt last season, I’d still consider him an above-average starter -- and he probably would still be on the Saints' roster. But the injury makes his future tough to predict.

Greer likely won’t be ready to pass a physical until later this summer, so teams might want to wait until then to bring him in for a look. But if he shows signs of being fully healthy by the start of the season, I could see him being plugged in as a “Plan B” for a team that needs a savvy veteran with proven cover ability.
METAIRIE, La. – In addition to being one of the NFL's most underrated talents during his time with the New Orleans Saints, cornerback Jabari Greer has also stood out as one of the league's deepest philosophers.

So it should come as no surprise that Greer put his release in a beautiful perspective on Wednesday night -- even though he admitted that he wasn't expecting it.

"It's been a great day, man, surprisingly, with everything going on," said Greer, who said he spent the day having a "daddy and son" day with one of his two young sons since his wife happened to have a previous engagement while everything was going on. "We popped popcorn, watched a movie. And just that whole opportunity, God used that to really refocus my mind. Just realize the truth, live in the moment, and understand that in the midst of this turmoil, that I have peace. And I'm thankful for that."

Greer said he didn't expect to be released, but "me being an older guy in this league, you can't ever be surprised." The longtime starter for the Saints and Buffalo Bills just turned 32 on Tuesday and is still rehabbing from a major knee injury suffered in November.

Greer said the rehab is going well, and he had a target date in mind to try and return to the field. But now that he doesn't know for certain if or when the next opportunity might come, he said he has "the luxury" to take time to rehab and spend more time than usual with his family.

Greer said he also wanted to properly thank the Saints' fans for their support over the past five years. But, not surprisingly, he couldn't find the way to properly express himself in just 140-character snippets on Twitter.

"I've been sitting on Twitter with a blank screen, and I was trying to write something truly from my heart that's not cliché and doesn't seem rehearsed," Greer said. "And my thank you note was playing with passion on Sundays. And I truly believe that the best thank you note I can give to those who supported me is a life well lived."
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints will be just fine. In fact, their defense is arguably in a better place now than it has ever been in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era, with new young leaders emerging during an excellent 2013 season.

However, it seems impossible -- almost disrespectful, in fact -- to suggest such a thing after the Saints released four of the greatest defensive players in franchise history Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeCameron Jordan
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesThe Saints have already relied on young players like Cameron Jordan to step in to play.
The greatest chapters in Saints history couldn't be written without Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper and Jabari Greer. And to some degree, I feel like all four of them were underrated -- especially in recent years -- as supporting actors alongside New Orleans' high-powered offense.

All four of them will almost certainly wind up in the Saints Hall of Fame -- and at least some of them in the newly-formed Ring of Honor. And I could make a strong case that the Saints don't win a Super Bowl without each of them, who were in their absolute primes during that unforgettable 2009 season.

Plus, on a personal note, they've been great guys to work with. I've covered the Saints since 2005 (Smith was the only player left who outdated me). And these were all "go-to" guys in the locker room who gave honest insight into the team -- not to mention passionate rants about their alma maters (or jazz music, in Greer's case). As I'm sure everyone inside the organization would attest, the locker room will feel emptier without them inside.

So I don't want to dismiss any of these moves quickly or quietly. But I guess that's the cold, harsh reality of the NFL's short life span. The Saints now have just nine players left from that Super Bowl roster, and they may wind up parting ways with even more of them in the coming weeks.

These moves are always tough -- but they're usually the right moves. Look at the Saints' recent history. It was also tough for them to let go of former Pro Bowlers and leaders like Deuce McAllister, Jon Stinchcomb, Carl Nicks, Jermon Bushrod, Jonathan Goodwin, Scott Fujita, Tracy Porter and Darren Sharper. But few of those moves ever came back to bite them.

And that will probably be the case again this time.

All four veterans played limited roles last year (Smith missed the entire year with a knee injury, Vilma played in only one game, Greer suffered a season-ending knee injury in November, and Harper played a backup role while missing half the season with a knee injury).

Of the four, I think Greer will be the hardest to replace. He was the only one of the group that was an every-down starter last year, and he was playing very well for the first 10 weeks last season before he suffered the major knee injury. Then after he left, young backup Corey White suffered through some growing pains as his replacement.

But it's not like the Saints had much of a choice. Even if they kept Greer, his injury might have limited him into the summer and beyond.

The bright side for the Saints is that they were actually able to rebuild their defense while the old leaders were still in the building -- something that's hard for most teams to pull off.

The Saints are now led by younger versions of all these guys -- defensive end Cameron Jordan, cornerback Keenan Lewis, safety Kenny Vaccaro and linebackers Junior Galette and Curtis Lofton.

Jordan was a Pro Bowler last year. Lewis should have been a Pro Bowler. ESPN Scouting Insider Matt Williamson recently suggested that Vaccaro could wind up being an eight- to 10-time Pro Bowler. Galette had 12 sacks. And Lofton, a captain and signal-caller, has racked up 248 tackles over the past two years.

Young linemen Akiem Hicks and John Jenkins could soon emerge as standout players, as well. And they all appear to be in great hands under the direction of new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

Last year, the Saints made an astounding turnaround from 32nd to fourth in the NFL in yards allowed. They were also fourth in points allowed and second in pass defense.

So while Wednesday's moves were a bit ground-shaking, they weren't earth-shattering -- at least in a pure football sense.

As for what the future holds for Smith, Vilma, Harper and Greer, it's tough to say.

I think Smith, 32, and Harper, 31, have the best chance of catching on with another team right away. Smith missed all of last season with a torn ACL, but it came in the summer, so he's had ample time to recover. And while his pass rushing production had started to dip in recent years, I always thought he was underrated as a power pass-rusher and standout run defender. I could still see him in a rotational role with a defense that could use that physical presence and veteran leadership.

Harper, too, will have to find the right fit. He's always been better as a blitzer and run defender than in deep pass coverage. But he played well in spurts when healthy last year -- especially in the season-ending playoff loss at Seattle.

Vilma and Greer will probably need to prove they can get back closer to 100 percent health for a team to bring them in. Vilma has said he still wants to play, but he's been battling a nagging knee injury for the last three years now.

All of them could bring that combination of championship experience and veteran leadership that many young locker rooms crave, however -- a combination that will be missed in New Orleans.

'Super' tough cuts looming for Saints

February, 10, 2014
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METAIRIE, La. -- In one sense, the New Orleans Saints have been through this already in recent years -- needing to trim more than $20 million from their salary cap by the start of the league year March 11. However, this next month will likely be the most emotionally challenging yet in the era of general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton.

It’s entirely possible the Saints could part ways with up to nine of the 13 players remaining from their Super Bowl roster.

Four are unrestricted free agents (safety Malcolm Jenkins, linebacker Jonathan Vilma, offensive tackle Zach Strief and receiver Robert Meachem). Five others could become salary-cap casualties (defensive end Will Smith, cornerback Jabari Greer, safety Roman Harper, receiver Lance Moore and running back Pierre Thomas).

[+] EnlargeWill Smith
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsWill Smith has been a Saint for 10 years. An 11th season in New Orleans will be possible only if he takes a pay cut.
The four Super Bowl vets who are most likely to stay on the roster are quarterback Drew Brees, guard Jahri Evans, receiver Marques Colston and punter Thomas Morstead.

It’s not exactly the end of an era. The Saints are still bona fide Super Bowl contenders, led by Payton and Brees, and have done a great job of continually reshaping a talented roster. But it’s awfully close.

Payton made a point to emphasize some of the tough decisions that are looming when he was asked about the pending contract negotiations with free-agent tight end Jimmy Graham on Fox Sports 1 last week.

"The most challenging part of your job as a coach, and I share that with Mickey or anyone that has been with an organization as long as we have been, going on Year 9, is some of the tough decisions that have to be made with regards to your cap with the ability that you possibly can sign Jimmy Graham," Payton said. "It's very easy to say, 'You are certainly going to get this done.' But you have to understand there is a budget here. That's the challenging part.

"You are going to read these names that have already come across the ticker from Atlanta last week [the release of cornerback Asante Samuel and linebacker Stephen Nicholas], and we will be no different."

The Saints are currently projected to be around $13 million to $15 million over the salary cap. If they use the franchise tag on Graham, as expected, they’ll need to carve out about $6.5 million more (a figure that will vault closer to $11 million if Graham is later deemed to be a receiver instead of a tight end). Plus, the Saints will want to clear even more space off the books to sign other free agents and send out restricted-free-agent tenders.

Loomis and the Saints’ front office have proved capable of handling similar circumstances in recent years while remaining fairly aggressive in adding free agents from other teams.

In the process, the Saints have had to let some core players go, such as guard Carl Nicks and offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod. They’ve also restructured several contracts and agreed to pay cuts with some longtime veterans. We’ll certainly see a combination of all three again this offseason.

Smith and Harper are the most obvious cap-casualty candidates. Smith, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, is due to receive $11.55 million in salary and bonuses, and Harper is due $3.15 million. Both players could conceivably come back -- but only if they agree to drastic pay cuts, probably closer to $1 million.

I hate to add Greer’s name to that list, since I think he’s been possibly the Saints’ most underrated core player since 2009. But Greer is due $4.5 million and is rehabbing from a major knee injury suffered in November. So chances are he’ll have to agree to a pay cut to stay in New Orleans.

The next wave of possibilities includes Moore ($3.8 million), Thomas ($2.9 million) and defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley ($4.5 million). Moore and Thomas have been in that same category with Greer over the years -- underrated core players and fan favorites. Thomas, in particular, may have just had his best season to date in 2013. However, all three veterans in this group play part-time roles now, which doesn’t match their lofty salaries.

Then there are the free agents. Again, it’s possible the Saints could bring back longtime starters like Strief and Jenkins -- but only if the price tag is extremely palatable. If any other team wants to outbid the Saints for their services, they probably will let them go. Strief, in particular, could be in high demand elsewhere after one of his strongest seasons. Meachem and Vilma could be back at veteran minimum salaries, but the Saints need to add youth at both positions.

Here’s the full list of Saints scheduled to become free agents next month:

Unrestricted free agent starters: TE Jimmy Graham, RT Zach Strief, C Brian de la Puente, S Malcolm Jenkins, OLB Parys Haralson, K Shayne Graham

Unrestricted free-agent reserves: WR Robert Meachem, OT Charles Brown, QB Luke McCown, LB Jonathan Vilma, LB Will Herring, LB Ramon Humber, LB Keyunta Dawson, DE Kenyon Coleman, S Jordan Pugh

Restricted free agents: FB Jed Collins, WR Joe Morgan, S Rafael Bush, DL Tom Johnson

Locker Room Buzz: New Orleans Saints

November, 17, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS – Observed in the locker room after the New Orleans Saints23-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers:

Brees
Rewarding win: After the Saints beat the 49ers for the first time in three years, some players admitted it mean a lot for them to prove they could win a physical matchup like this. Others insisted they treated it just like any other big game. But everyone agreed that the way this game played out – overcoming adversity to win in the final minutes – was even more rewarding than a game like last week’s 49-17 rout of Dallas, when they were nearly flawless. “This game means more,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “These are the ones that just sharpen you.”

Rewarding kicks: Saints kicker Garrett Hartley certainly admitted that his two field goals in the final 2:06 were more rewarding than most after the personal adversity he faced in recent weeks, missing four of his last six kicks. He said he had just been talking to mentor and former Saints kicker John Carney on the way to the game about blocking everything else out and doing his job.

Colston’s record: Naturally, Saints receiver Marques Colston didn’t overplay the significance of setting the franchise record for receiving yards and yards from scrimmage. He said he’ll probably take time to reflect on it after the season. “Obviously there were more important things going on at the time,” Colston said.

Greer’s injury: Saints coach Sean Payton said cornerback Jabari Greer’s knee injury looks serious, but added that the team was awaiting tests to get the final diagnosis.

Halftime report: Saints 14, 49ers 10

November, 17, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints lead the San Francisco 49ers 14-10 at halftime, thanks to a dominant defensive performance. But there have been a series of big moments that have kept the game close.

Here are a few thoughts on the action so far:

Greer injured: The Saints' defense got off to a great start but suffered a big blow when cornerback Jabari Greer was carted off with a left knee injury in the first quarter. The exact injury has not been reported, but it looked significant. He required an air cast on the field. … Greer has been a solid veteran presence for the Saints' resurgent defense this year, so he'll be missed quite a bit. Second-year pro Corey White is a solid backup, though, and he did intercept a pass in the second quarter (before fumbling it through the end zone).

Big mistakes: White's fumble took seven potential points off the board for the Saints. After a 43-yard interception return, he got greedy and tried to extend the ball over the goal line. Even more costly was Saints receiver Lance Moore's fumbled punt return in the second quarter that gave San Francisco the ball at New Orleans' 11-yard line and led to the 49ers' only touchdown. Moore also dropped a third-down pass in the first quarter -- uncharacteristic mistakes for the veteran.

Big makeup: The Saints' special teams evened things out with an 82-yard kickoff return by Travaris Cadet in the second quarter that led to a touchdown. That's an area where the Saints haven't generated much this year. But it came at the right time.

Saints creative ‘D': Other than the 11-yard TD drive, the Saints' defense was excellent in the first half. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan showed off his creativity more than ever before. He started the game in a 3-5 alignment with only three defensive backs on the field. Later, he had only two true defensive linemen on the field with end Keyunta Dawson and outside linebacker Parys Haralson lining up as defensive tackles. The Saints also had six DBs on the field at times.

Saints' balanced offense: The Saints haven't run the ball a ton, but they've been effective when they have run it (46 yards and a touchdown on nine carries). They aren't lighting up the scoreboard, but they're doing enough to win (and the margin would be greater if not for those miscues).

Midseason Report: New Orleans Saints

November, 6, 2013
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If you're only as good as your last performance, the New Orleans Saints (6-2) are in trouble. They had their sloppiest game of the season in a 26-20 road loss to the New York Jets this past Sunday, with breakdowns on offense, defense and special teams.

Overall, however, there were many more positives than negatives during the first half of the season for New Orleans, which still leads the NFC South by a game over the Carolina Panthers.

If the Saints have any hopes of returning to New York for the Super Bowl in February, they need to prove that their first trip was an anomaly. But the schedule doesn't get any easier in the second half of the season -- including two more outdoor games, at Seattle and Carolina in December.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After 52 straight games with a touchdown pass, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady almost went two straight games without one. But then he found receiver Kenbrell Thompkins open in the back of the end zone for a game-winning 17-yard touchdown pass with five seconds remaining, leading the Patriots to a 30-27 victory over the Saints.

Brady
Brees
That was the 32nd game-winning drive of Brady’s career in the fourth quarter or overtime, according to ESPN Stats & Information, which ranks second among active players behind Peyton Manning (49).

But until that point, it looked like the Saints’ Drew Brees had pulled off the 31st game-winning drive of his own standout career. Brees was poised to tie Brady with No. 31 when he nailed rookie receiver Kenny Stills with a gorgeous 34-yard touchdown pass on third-and-20 with 3:29 remaining.

Brady also won his first head-to-head battle against Brees in their four career regular-season meetings.

Needless to say, the much-hyped showdown between the two future Hall of Famers wound up delivering in a big way.

End zone debuts: All three of the Saints’ touchdowns were career firsts Sunday -- second-year running back Travaris Cadet's 3-yard reception in the second quarter, rookie running back Khiry Robinson's 3-yard run in the third quarter and Stills’ touchdown catch in the fourth.

Missed call? I got a lot of fan feedback about a missed holding call against Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder on Brady’s touchdown pass. I saw several tweets of the still picture of Solder hooking Saints pass rusher Junior Galette that looked pretty egregious. The full-speed TV replay didn’t look quite as bad, though. The hook was brief, and Brady got rid of the ball quickly. It’s possible Galette wouldn’t have hit him in time, regardless. ... I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a holding call there, but I also wasn’t shocked to see the no-call. I’ll have to ask around after the Saints watch the film to see what they think. I know Galette didn’t mention it postgame, though, saying, “They just finished, and we didn’t. ... The end result was we didn’t finish, and we’re in the business of winning.”

I also got a ton of questions about whether the Patriots got four timeouts in the second half. But I think that was a mistake with the television graphic. There was some confusion over which team was charged a timeout early in the third quarter, but that timeout was officially awarded to the Saints according to the stat book.

Worth a click:

If you can stomach the quotes from the victorious locker room, there’s lots of interesting stuff on the ESPN.com Patriots page -- including the Patriots’ take on why they were so successful against tight end Jimmy Graham (zero catches for the first time since 2010). Said cornerback/safety Devin McCourty: “All week we knew, all we kept hearing was ‘Jimmy Graham, Jimmy Graham.’”

It’s no surprise that Saints cornerback Jabari Greer was such a stand-up guy after allowing the game-winning TD pass. He stood in with the media and faced the fire until the questions were done. Here’s a video snippet from NOLA.com.

WWLTV.com’s Bradley Handwerger took Greer’s message that he and the defense won’t be defined by that one play and spun it forward for the rest of the Saints’ season. He wrote that the Saints can take away positives from their effort Sunday -- and quoted fullback Jed Collins as saying that coach Sean Payton’s postgame message was, “Don’t let this loss beat us twice.”

Saints rue the one that got away

October, 14, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For the first time all season, the New Orleans Saints didn't close the deal.

They gave New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady one too many chances. And with five seconds remaining, their defense finally broke down, allowing Brady to throw a 17-yard touchdown pass to receiver Kenbrell Thompkins for a 30-27 Patriots victory.

It's amazing how close this was to being a huge victory for the Saints (5-1). It would have been their grittiest to date, if not their prettiest. Instead, they were left to dwell on all the disturbing reasons why they lost.

The story was almost about how many times the Saints' defense stepped up in the second half. Until it didn't.

The story was almost about how the Saints' offense rallied without Jimmy Graham catching a pass. Until it couldn’t.

The story was almost about how the torch was being passed from Brady and Bill Belichick to Drew Brees and Sean Payton as the savviest quarterback-coach duo in the game today. Until it wasn't.

[+] EnlargeKenny Stills
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesKenny Stills' fourth-quarter touchdown should've been the game winner. Except it wasn't.
"Lord knows we had our chances at the end there," said Brees, who was so stymied by the Patriots' defense that he failed to complete at least 20 passes for the first time in 58 games, snapping his NFL-record streak.

Brees, who was 17-for-36 for the game, almost pulled off his own fourth-quarter comeback. A gorgeous 34-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Kenny Stills gave New Orleans the lead with 3:29 remaining. But the Saints failed to convert any more first downs after that, which allowed Brady to have three final cracks at a comeback.

"I know that you can't give Tom Brady and that offense three chances at a two-minute drill," Brees said. "So for us offensively, you sit there and rack your brain about, 'Man, we need to get one first down.'"

Technically, the Saints' defense is the unit that let the victory slip through its grasp. It's hard to pin much blame on the defense, though, since it delivered time and time again in the second half.

The defense had held the Patriots out of the end zone on eight straight possessions before that final, fateful one. Cornerback Keenan Lewis had even intercepted a poorly thrown floater by Brady with 2:16 remaining that seemed like it might seal the deal.

But the defense couldn't come up with that one last stop. The Saints let Brady march his team down the field quickly with short and mid-range passes. Then they left cornerback Jabari Greer in single coverage in the end zone against Thompkins, and Greer let the ball get over his head.

Greer, a 10-year veteran, faced the fire and took full blame afterward. He said it was the first game-winning touchdown he has allowed in his career and admitted he'll replay it in his mind for a long time. But he insisted he and his teammates will bounce back.

"That doesn't define who I am. That doesn't define my team," Greer said. "We fought hard. We're resilient. It happens like that. ½ I'm a big boy. Just got to make that play next time. I hate it for my teammates. Fought so hard. We deserve better than that."

Ultimately, though, the Saints' troubles on Sunday started hours earlier -- when their prolific offense was completely knocked out of its comfort zone by the Patriots' physical defensive approach. The Saints went three-and-out on three of their first four drives and trailed 17-7 at halftime. Graham, New Orleans' Pro Bowl tight end, went without a catch for the first time since 2010.

Not only did the Patriots do a great job of taking away Graham -- using the rare tactic to match up physical cornerback Aqib Talib against him, as well as frequent double teams -- but they also held receiver Marques Colston to one catch for 11 yards and kept most of the other Saints' weapons in check as well.

Normally, Brees and Payton thrive on finding the open man. But the Patriots did a great job of chipping guys at the line of scrimmage and playing physical bump-and-run coverage to disrupt receivers.

"They were still playing man and everything," Saints running back Darren Sproles said. "But they did a great job of it."

Ultimately, the Saints adjusted and started to succeed with their running game in the second half. And Brees simply let his guy win in the end zone when Stills beat double coverage for that outstanding touchdown catch on a third-and-20 play in the fourth quarter.

But Brees also tried to force a few too many passes into Graham, including an ill-advised ball that went over Graham's head and was intercepted by Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington in the fourth quarter. That set up a field goal that gave New England a 23-17 lead at the time.

"Obviously, in hindsight, I wish I hadn't thrown it. There was no need for it [on third-and-long]," said Brees, who said he otherwise stayed smart about his attempts to get Graham involved. "It's one-on-one and we feel like our guys, no matter who is covering them, can win one-on-one. [But] listen, they've got good players too, and sometimes they are going to get you."

Longtime Patriots observers suggested that New England's defensive plan and performance was reminiscent of the one that put them on the map in Super Bowl XXXVI, when Belichick's physical approach shut down the St. Louis Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf."

"Well, one thing they do a good job with, is they disrupt you at the line of scrimmage better than anyone," Payton said. "They do a really good job of getting hands on receivers and tight ends. They are very well coached, and they are disciplined."

Afterward, Belichick even came up with the perfect one-liner to sum it all up.

"Sorry if you had to rewrite some of those stories there at the end," Belichick said.

Locker Room Buzz: New Orleans Saints

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
9:30
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observed in the locker room after the New Orleans Saints' 30-27 loss to the New England Patriots:

Sproles
Greer faces fire: Saints cornerback Jabari Greer welcomed the media interrogation after he gave up the game-winning touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Kenbrell Thompkins. Greer said it was the first last-second game-winner he'd allowed in his 10-year career and admitted he'll replay it in his mind for a long time. He said his teammates deserved better. But Greer also insisted that neither he nor his teammates will let that play define them, and he knows he's capable of making those plays going forward.

Pats man up: Like many teams, the Patriots made it their top priority to take away Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, using top cornerback Aqib Talib on him as well as frequent double teams. But this time, the Saints' other top weapons weren't able to take advantage.

“They still played man and everything,” Saints running back Darren Sproles said. “But they did a good job of it.”

Wounds still fresh: At some point, the Saints will probably take several positives away from the fact that they overcame an early 17-7 deficit and almost pulled off the comeback. But they weren't quite in that frame of mind yet.

“It sucks,” guard Jahri Evans said. “But we'll digest it, just like we do a W. … We'll be better because of it.”

No word on Graham: Graham left the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent ankle injury. But the team offered no updates postgame, and Graham didn't appear in the locker room, so the severity is unknown. He'll have an extra week to heal with the bye week coming up.
The New Orleans Saints have used six undrafted rookies in their lineup this season after defensive end Glenn Foster and tailback Khiry Robinson made their debuts last Sunday. (The others are guard Tim Lelito, tight end Josh Hill, linebacker Kevin Reddick and cornerback Rod Sweeting.) According to ESPN Stats & Information, that’s tied, with Cleveland, for the most in the NFL.

But that’s nothing new around New Orleans during the Sean Payton era. The Saints have never been shy about throwing undrafted rookies into the mix – including two of their longtime offensive stars, receiver Lance Moore (began with the Browns before joining the Saints in 2006) and tailback Pierre Thomas (signed by the Saints after the draft in 2007). As Payton likes to say, the Saints don’t care where their players came from. They go by what they see on the field.

The Saints currently have 23 players on their 53-man roster who were undrafted when they came into the NFL, including veteran starters such as cornerback Jabari Greer and linebacker David Hawthorne who played for other teams before joining the Saints.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Saints have used a total of 64 undrafted players since 2006, the third most in the NFL. The league average is 47 during that span. And dating back to 2008, the Saints have had undrafted players take 22.3 percent of all offensive or defensive snaps, the fifth most in the NFL.

Here’s the complete list of players on the Saints’ 53-man roster who were not drafted (* denotes a starter):

Offense

*WR Lance Moore, *RB Pierre Thomas, *C Brian de la Puente, *FB Jed Collins, RB Travaris Cadet, RB Khiry Robinson, G Tim Lelito, T Bryce Harris, TE Josh Hill

Defense

*CB Jabari Greer, *LB David Hawthorne, *LB Junior Galette, S Rafael Bush, S Isa Abdul-Quddus, CB Chris Carr, LB Ramon Humber, DE Tom Johnson, DE Tyrunn Walker, DE Glenn Foster, LB Kevin Reddick, CB Rod Sweeting

Special teams

*K Garrett Hartley, *LS Justin Drescher

Saints' surging defense is the truth

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
10:00
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Cameron JordanStacy Revere/Getty ImagesCameron Jordan notched two of the Saints' four sacks Sunday versus Arizona.
NEW ORLEANS -- At some point, we've got to stop asking whether or not what we're seeing from the New Orleans Saints' defense is for real.

The defense has been the driving force behind all three victories by the unbeaten Saints, including a dominant 31-7 win against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. New Orleans has already blown open a two-game lead in the NFC South.

How much more real does it have to get?

"It's nothing to get super excited about, other than the fact that we show a lot of promise, and that's what we've got to keep doing," cautioned defensive end Cameron Jordan, who has been the breakout individual player of the bunch with a team-high three sacks so far, including two on Sunday.

"You always want to have that hungry attitude of just straight grinding and building on each game," Jordan added. "I don't ever want to be like, 'This is the defense that we are.' I just want to keep going and keep getting better."

After a disastrous defensive performance last season, in which they set the NFL record for yards allowed in a season (7,042), the idea was that the Saints could get back to being playoff contenders if they could just find some way to get their defense back to being a "middle-of-the-pack" unit.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer and Junior Galette
AP Photo/Bill FeigJunior Galette and the Saints kept pressure on Carson Palmer all game long.
Consider that goal already surpassed.

Of course, the Saints' defense is still a work in progress after making drastic changes this offseason -- both intended (hiring coordinator Rob Ryan, signing free-agent cornerback Keenan Lewis and drafting safety Kenny Vaccaro) and unintended (losing veterans Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Victor Butler and Kenyon Coleman to summer injuries).

But they've been thriving behind a youth movement, especially on the defensive front. Jordan, 24, and pass-rush specialist Junior Galette, 25, have been terrific on the edges, while Akiem Hicks, Tyrunn Walker, Glenn Foster and John Jenkins -- all first- or second-year pros -- have taken turns doing damage up the middle.

Their performance up front has gone hand in hand with improved play on the back end, where veteran cornerbacks Lewis and Jabari Greer have done an outstanding job against top receivers like Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, Atlanta's Julio Jones and Roddy White and Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.

"I think that's the bright side of our defense is that we really don't have any stars, if you talk about big-name guys. We've just got a lot of young guys with talent who are building confidence not only in themselves, but in each other," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "So we really don't know how good we are or how good we can be. It's just all about going to work every day and getting better.

"Obviously, with each win and each performance, we gain more confidence. But we really don't know where the ceiling is for this defense, so we go to work every week and treat every week like it was Week 1 versus Atlanta."

The Saints had a total of four sacks Sunday (two by Jordan and one each by Galette and Foster). Everyone on the Saints' defensive front took turns abusing a suspect offensive line to hit and hurry Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer throughout the afternoon. They eventually forced interceptions by Vaccaro and Lewis in the fourth quarter.

After the Cardinals opened the game with an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, they punted on their next eight possessions and threw interceptions on the final two.

"They can rush the passer," Palmer said. "There's two very good pass-rushers that people don't know a whole lot about. You hear a lot [about] Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma, but Cameron Jordan is really good. He showed that today. Junior Galette is really good. They're physical guys. They stop the run, and they rush the passer. A really good combination of strength and speed."

Jordan is starting to get that respect around the country. Pro Football Focus highlighted him this past week, pointing out that his 12 quarterback disruptions led all 3-4 ends through two weeks (though, to be fair, the versatile Jordan is lining up as a traditional 4-3 end in many pass-rushing situations).

More importantly, Jordan is making his mom proud. He said she gave him grief after he went sackless in Week 1.

She wasn't the only one, though. The Saints' defensive line is clearly a competitive group.

While Jordan was talking to a group of reporters Sunday, Walker yelled over that he stole one of his sacks. After Week 1, Jordan was beside himself that he didn't have any sacks against the Falcons while Hicks already had one.

And while crediting Galette for having tremendous speed on Sunday, Jordan admitted that he is more of a "power" guy. But he said that makes for an interesting race between the two to get to the quarterback.

"I've been claiming the strength of our D-line is just how much youth and talent is on the D-line. It definitely showed today," Jordan said Sunday. "From the outside to the interior, I was highly pleased. Whether it be Tyrunn Walker or big Akiem or Glenn Foster, it was all just pressure everywhere. You couldn't really locate just one spot where we were getting pressure.

"And when you're part of a D-line like that, it's a party."

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