NFL Nation: Jahri Evans

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ debut as a general manager went smoothly Tuesday night as he helped select his own Pro Bowl roster as a co-captain of “Team Rice,” led by Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. Brees selected Saints guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs to join his team as part of the new format for the annual All-Star game, which chooses sides based on a “schoolyard draft.”

The draft, which began Tuesday night and will conclude on Wednesday night, was broken up by positions. When it came time to select the guards, Team Rice had the first choice, and fellow captains Rice and St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn deferred to Brees to make the pick.

Brees said it was a coin flip for him, but he naturally went with Evans, a five-time Pro Bowler who has been his teammate since 2006. After “Team Sanders” chose Baltimore Ravens guard Marshal Yanda, Brees quickly selected Grubbs, calling it the “quickest [decision] yet.” Grubbs, a two-time Pro Bowler, has been with the Saints since 2012.

On Wednesday night, Brees will have the chance to select two more teammates – tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive end Cameron Jordan. Those choices will be more interesting, since it would be odd for Brees to see his favorite target, Graham, playing for the opposition, and it would be even more unusual to see Jordan lined up across from Brees, trying to hit him – at least half-heartedly. The game will be played in Hawaii on Sunday night.
SEATTLE -- There were no surprises on the New Orleans Saints' official injury report Friday. Running back Pierre Thomas (chest) and defensive end Akiem Hicks (ankle) are listed as questionable after participating in Friday’s walk-through practice on a limited basis.

Cornerback Keenan Lewis (head/neck), guard Jahri Evans (ankle) and offensive tackle Terron Armstead (knee) are listed as probable after practicing fully on Friday.

It’s hard to predict whether Thomas and Hicks will play Saturday against the Seattle Seahawks. Thomas returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis for the first time since he suffered an unspecified chest injury in Week 17. Conventional wisdom would suggest the Saints won't rush him back since they have so much depth at the running back position -- and since running backs Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Khiry Robinson performed so well in Thomas' absence last week at Philadelphia. But when healthy, Thomas is a central part of the Saints' offense as a runner, receiver and pass protector.

Hicks was new to the injury report this week after playing at Philadelphia, so the severity of his injury is unknown. He was limited in practice all week. Hicks is a lot like Thomas, in that he has been an underrated part of the Saints' resurgence in the middle of the defense. But the Saints do have some trusted depth at all their line positions if Hicks is out or limited.

All of the guys listed as probable should play. Lewis and Armstead practiced fully all week. Evans was limited Wednesday before practicing fully Thursday and Friday.

Graham named first-team All-Pro

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New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was named a first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press on Friday in a nearly-unanimous vote. He received 49 of 50 votes. Guard Jahri Evans was named to the second team.

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There was no second-team quarterback since first-teamer Peyton Manning received all 50 votes. Otherwise, Saints quarterback Drew Brees would have had a great shot at that honor.

I don’t have any real quibbles with the Saints’ representation on the team. Defensive end Cameron Jordan would have been a worthy top-four choice, but there is a ton of talent at his position (J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn, Mario Williams and Greg Hardy).

Graham was an obvious selection, leading all NFL players with 16 touchdown receptions this year and leading all tight ends with 86 receptions and 1,215 receiving yards.

Evans’ name recognition probably helped him secure a spot on the second team, after he was a first-teamer in each of the past four years. But he also earned his spot with a strong second half of the season after battling injuries early in the year. Although the Saints’ line had some overall pass protection issues, Evans continued to be solid in that area, as well as versatile in his run blocking and getting out in front of screen passes.
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Just like it played out in the NFC South standings this season, it was a neck-and-neck battle for supremacy between the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers when it came to ESPN.com’s All-NFC South team. Ultimately, the Panthers edged the Saints with 10 representatives, compared to New Orleans’ nine.

I don’t have many arguments with the list. The two Saints I would add are safety Kenny Vaccaro and guard Ben Grubbs, but I understand why it was a close call with both players. I think the safety position was the hardest to judge by far, with four candidates in a virtual deadlock for two spots (Vaccaro, Tampa Bay’s Mark Barron, Carolina’s Mike Mitchell and Atlanta’s William Moore). The outside linebacker position was also ridiculously stacked, with the Saints’ Junior Galette missing out only because Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David and Carolina’s Thomas Davis were so sensational. Galette was easily a top-10 defensive player in the division, but he played the wrong position.

I was glad to see that Saints end Cameron Jordan, cornerback Keenan Lewis and inside linebacker Curtis Lofton received proper recognition for the Saints’ remarkable defensive performance this year -- especially since the defense overall was much more stacked than the offense in the NFC South this year (with a total of 12 players to account for various fronts).

I was pretty stunned at the lack of dominant skill-position players this season. Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams was the division’s leading rusher with just 843 rushing yards. The Saints who made the list on offense -- quarterback Drew Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham, receiver Marques Colston, right tackle Zach Strief and guard Jahri Evans -- were all worthy selections. The same for punter Thomas Morstead.

METAIRIE, La. – The New Orleans Saints were well represented with five Pro Bowl selections: quarterback Drew Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham, guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs and defensive end Cameron Jordan.

Jordan is the only first-timer of the bunch, and his selection was well-deserved during a breakout season. The third-year pro has 12.5 sacks, which ranks fourth in the NFL. And he has arguably been the MVP of the defense, which has undergone a remarkable makeover this year.

Earlier Friday, Jordan admitted he was excited about the idea of being selected to his first Pro Bowl – but said he’d rather skip it in favor of a trip to his first Super Bowl.

“To make it would be a pretty good thing -- I can't lie. It'd be a nice thing to say I popped into Hawaii,” Jordan said. “But the ideal situation is I'd rather be freezing in New York than being lei'd in Hawaii."

The biggest snub on the list, in my opinion, is cornerback Keenan Lewis, who has been every bit as important to the defensive resurgence as Jordan. Lewis, who arrived as a free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers, has been a true No. 1 corner, being matched up weekly against the opponent’s top receiver in man coverage. And he’s a huge reason why the Saints have gone from 31st in the NFL in pass defense last year to second this year.

As I wrote earlier, however, it wasn’t a huge surprise to see Lewis left out since he hasn’t gotten much national recognition this year, and since there are so many big names at the position. The same goes for outside linebacker Junior Galette, who also missed the cut despite 10 sacks this year.

Brees and Graham are no-brainer selections, putting up monster numbers as usual this season.

Evans and Grubbs were bigger question marks heading into Friday’s announcement, since they both battled some inconsistency during the first half of the season for an offensive line that is having a down year overall. But they are both well-established veterans and former Pro Bowlers who get to flash a lot of versatility for one of the NFL’s top offenses. They’re excellent in pass protection, athletic enough to get out in front of screen passes and solid as run blockers.

This year’s Pro Bowl was the first under a new format where players are selected regardless of their conference. And teams will be picked via a “schoolyard” draft by team captains in January. That means Jordan might be trying to get past Evans and Grubbs to sack Brees in the game -- assuming they’re not all in New York together that week.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.
METAIRIE, La. – Everybody on the New Orleans Saints’ roster participated fully in Thursday’s practice – including starters Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Jahri Evans and Terron Armstead, who were limited on Wednesday.

Saints coach Sean Payton explained that the team decided to limit Brees’ snaps on Wednesday on account of his bruised right knee because “we just felt like we had a day to do that.”

Apparently the team took the same approach with a handful of players following a physical 17-13 loss at Carolina last week. Brees, Colston (back), Evans (knee) and Armstead (shoulder) all played through the entire game at Carolina.

Also upgraded from limited to full participation on Thursday were backup safety Rafael Bush (ankle) and backup linebackers Keyunta Dawson (calf) and Kevin Reddick (shoulder).

Of that group, Bush is the most important since he could see several snaps in nickel packages now that starting safety Kenny Vaccaro is out for the season with an ankle injury. Bush has been sidelined for the past three games, but he said he is optimistic about his progress.
METAIRIE, La. -- Only two New Orleans Saints players are listed as questionable heading into Monday night's game at the Seattle Seahawks -- defensive end Glenn Foster (knee) and outside linebacker Keyunta Dawson (calf).

Everyone else practiced fully on Friday, including running back Darren Sproles (ankle), guard Jahri Evans (ankle) and cornerback Chris Carr (hip/hamstring) -- all three of whom are listed as probable.

I don't think there's any doubt that Sproles and Evans will play after practicing fully all week. Both players were held out of last Thursday's 17-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, but the extra rest appeared to do them good.

Foster seems like a long shot to play Monday after missing practice all week with the injury he suffered against the Falcons. Dawson was new to the injury report on Friday, and the severity of his injury is unknown.

No changes to Saints' injury report

November, 29, 2013
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METAIRIE, La. -- There were no changes to the New Orleans Saints’ injury report on Friday. Running back Darren Sproles (ankle) and guard Jahri Evans (ankle) fully participated. Backup defensive end Glenn Foster (knee) was held out. And cornerback Chris Carr (hip, hamstring) was limited.

Sproles and Evans were both held out of last week’s Thursday night game against the Atlanta Falcons after suffering injuries two weeks ago. But obviously the Saints’ decision to rest them paid off. The Saints beat Atlanta 17-13. And now both Sproles and Evans have had extra time to heal up for Monday night’s critical NFC showdown on the road against the Seattle Seahawks.

“It’s hard to (sit out). But that’s what they thought would be best,” Sproles said. “Knowing that we’ve got a big game coming up this week. And they thought it would’ve been too early for me to go back out there and play Thursday night, and then I mess around and hurt it worse than it was.”

Sproles could be a key weapon Monday for the Saints, who might want to rely on a short-range passing attack considering the possible weather conditions and the opponent. Seattle has one of the league’s top defenses when it comes to both rushing the passer and covering receivers down the field.

Saints' Sproles, Evans practice fully

November, 28, 2013
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METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints had an injury report to be thankful for on Thursday. Running back Darren Sproles (ankle) and guard Jahri Evans (ankle) practiced fully after missing last Thursday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons. The Saints' offense should be as healthy as it has been all season for Monday's critical NFC showdown at the Seattle Seahawks.

Obviously the extra time following a Thursday night game did the Saints some good. The only player who missed practice Thursday was backup defensive end Glenn Foster (knee). Backup cornerback Chris Carr was limited with hip and hamstring injuries. Everyone else practiced fully.

Foster has been one of the most pleasant surprises on the Saints this year, having a standout season with three sacks as an undrafted rookie out of Illinois. But the Saints will have plenty of depth on the defensive line even if Foster can’t play against the Seahawks. Starters Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks are having terrific seasons, and backup ends Tom Johnson and Tyrunn Walker have both been solid in small doses. Walker has been a healthy inactive the past couple weeks since recovering from his own knee injury.
METAIRIE, La. – New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles (knee/ankle) and guard Jahri Evans (ankle) were held out of practice again Wednesday. Both players are listed as questionable for Thursday night’s game at the Atlanta Falcons.

It’s difficult to predict whether either player will play. Both were able to return and finish the game after suffering injuries during last Sunday’s victory over the San Francisco 49ers. But the quick turnaround between games could affect their ability to recover.

Seven other Saints players were listed as questionable after practicing on a limited basis this week: guard Ben Grubbs (neck), tight end Benjamin Watson (concussion), safety Kenny Vaccaro (concussion), defensive linemen Akiem Hicks (back) and Tyrunn Walker (knee) and cornerbacks Chris Carr (hip/back/hamstring) and Rod Sweeting (hip).

Vaccaro and Watson were held out of last week’s game with their concussions. It’s unclear if they’ll be ready to return, though their limited participation in practice this week has been a good sign.

Tight end Jimmy Graham (foot/ankle), defensive end Cameron Jordan (ankle) and linebacker Curtis Lofton (hamstring/ankle) were listed as probable after practicing on a limited basis this week. All three players should be good to go Thursday night. They all played a high volume of snaps last week while recovering from the nagging injuries.

Guard Tim Lelito missed practice Wednesday for non-football reasons. He is listed as probable.

Sproles, Evans sit out Saints practice

November, 19, 2013
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METAIRIE, La. – Running back Darren Sproles (knee/ankle) and guard Jahri Evans (ankle) were held out of practice Tuesday for the New Orleans Saints as they quickly got back to work ahead of their Thursday night game at the Atlanta Falcons.

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Ten other players were limited in practice: tight ends Jimmy Graham (elbow/foot) and Benjamin Watson (concussion); guard Ben Grubbs (neck); defensive linemen Cameron Jordan (ankle), Akiem Hicks (back) and Tyrunn Walker (knee); linebacker Curtis Lofton (hamstring/ankle); safety Kenny Vaccaro (concussion); and cornerbacks Chris Carr (hip/back/hamstring) and Rod Sweeting (hip).

It’s tough to project whether any of those players are in jeopardy of missing the game, as the Saints are trying to take it easy on all of their ailments. Normally nobody practices on Tuesdays.

Sproles suffered the knee and ankle injuries during the first half of last Sunday’s 23-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. But he returned to the game in a slightly limited role after being stretched out and taped up by trainers. Evans also left the field briefly to have his ankle taped during Sunday’s game but missed only four total snaps.

The Saints will hold another light practice on Wednesday before releasing the official injury statuses for Thursday’s game. Expect a handful of “questionables.”
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NEW ORLEANS -- You thought the New Orleans Saints proved how dangerous they were last week, when they played a nearly perfect game in a blowout victory over the Dallas Cowboys?

Well, the Saints took it up another notch on Sunday with a scrappy, sometimes-ugly 23-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

This was the performance that truly showed the Saints' mettle as Super Bowl contenders.

San Francisco was the team that had given the Saints fits in each of the past two years. This was the style of game New Orleans hadn't been able to win consistently enough, including two weeks ago in a sloppy loss to the New York Jets. And it's the style of game they'll have to face again, with looming dates on the road against the NFC-leading Seattle Seahawks in Week 13 and two games against the NFC South rival Carolina Panthers.

"This is the biggest win up to date, I think, at the start of my career," said fourth-year Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette, who highlighted another outstanding performance by New Orleans' defense with a sack with 2:01 remaining.

The Saints stood toe to toe with the physical 49ers on Sunday. They absorbed a few big shots (most of them self-inflicted). And they rallied from a six-point deficit in the fourth quarter for their biggest win of the season to date.

"This game means more, the way that we won it," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said when asked which of the past two victories was more rewarding. "These are the ones that just sharpen you, just build confidence."

Not that the Saints needed a confidence boost.

It was especially clear from talking to players after Sunday's game that they had expected to win this game. That belief never wavered, even after three ugly turnovers in the first 33 minutes. The attitude was reminiscent, on a slightly smaller scale, of the confident approach the Saints took into Super Bowl XLIV, and the way they didn't waver after trailing 10-0 in that game.

"We were ready for this team," Saints running back Pierre Thomas said Sunday. "Nobody on this team was scared, none of the coaches, nobody on that sideline was scared."

"We knew we had to just keep chipping away, chipping away, chipping away at it, and eventually things would go our way," guard Jahri Evans said.

"That game had a little bit of an odd feeling to it, in that I felt like the offense was working efficiently, the defense was playing great, and yet we're losing," Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said. "But Coach [Sean] Payton talked all week about kind of pounding away at the rock, kind of wearing someone down."

Players said Payton remained encouraging on the sideline, saying things like, "Let's stay in this," "Let's deal with this adversity" and "Body language."

The Saints' offense and defense both played well, especially in the areas they had preached about all week: stopping the run, staying balanced with their own rushing game and protecting Brees against a punishing defense.

[+] EnlargeAhmad Brooks and Drew Brees
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsThis one wasn't easy. Just ask Drew Brees, who was leveled by an Ahmad Brooks clothesline.
The defense was downright dominant, holding San Francisco to 196 yards and notching three sacks. Payton even credited his trust in the defense for an ill-fated decision to go for it on fourth-and-4 early in the third quarter.

"The defense has been playing unbelievable. Each week we gain more and more respect for them," Saints fullback Jed Collins said. "They just keep proving they're not only here to benefit the offense, but they're here to win games."

The Saints, however, dug themselves into a hole with three turnovers: a muffed punt return by Lance Moore that set the 49ers up for an easy touchdown; an interception return that was fumbled through the back of the end zone by cornerback Corey White; and an interception from Brees that set up another easy score for San Francisco.

Eventually, the Saints came up with a game-tying 42-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley with 2:06 remaining, a three-and-out by the defense and a game-winning 31-yard field goal by Hartley as time expired.

The rally included a lucky break, when Brees' fumble with 3:18 remaining was nullified by a personal-foul penalty against linebacker Ahmad Brooks for clotheslining him on the sack. But there were enough twists and turns and close calls that could have gone either way in this game that the Saints certainly didn't feel like they stole one.

Payton didn't even bother harping on the little things the team did wrong that "could get them beat down the road," as he did in previous games against lesser opponents.

"I just finished telling the guys I'm proud of them, and I thought we fought through some tough breaks," Payton said. "I thought we did all the things we talked about to win this game. … And I just thought they hung in there and deserved to win that game."

Speaking of overcoming adversity, Hartley entered the game on the hot seat after having missed four of his previous six field-goal attempts. But true to his history, he came through in the clutch.

Hartley could have been speaking on behalf of the entire team in his postgame comments when he said, "I would definitely say it tested me. But it was a time to show everyone how thick my skin is."

"We're just on a great level right now," Thomas added. "We have a great attitude. And we're seeing what type of team we can be. And as long as we keep fighting and keep doing what we're doing in practice, we're gonna be a tough out."

Much stiffer test for Saints' run game

November, 14, 2013
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METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' offensive line was dominant last week in a 49-17 rout of the Dallas Cowboys, and their 242 rushing yards was their highest total in 23 years.

So, problems solved, right?

Not necessarily.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsMark Ingram had a breakout performance against the Cowboys, whose injury situation may have made it difficult to gauge the Saints' run game.
It was impossible to tell how much of that performance had to do with the Saints' own improvement and renewed commitment to the run game -- and how much had to do with the lousy performance of an injured Cowboys defense.

In truth, it was probably a little of both. But the Saints don't have to wait long to test themselves. This Sunday they'll face one of the NFL's most physical defensive fronts when the San Francisco 49ers come into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"You know, those guys were banged up, we knew that. But the biggest thing is that we took advantage of that, and that's a positive,” Saints guard Jahri Evans said. "So, you know, this team's a different team [the 49ers]. A completely different team. So it's gonna be some tough sledding here and there, there's gonna be some adversity. And we've just got to respond.

"Right now we're going in there to execute every play that's called. But we know that they're gonna throw a few punches too.”

The Saints' run game -- and their overall play along the offensive line -- stood out before last Sunday night as two areas of concern. The Saints had shown signs of progress in both areas, but they weren't consistent enough.

Coach Sean Payton insisted last week that it was his responsibility to make more of a commitment to the run game, especially when it was working well. And he lived up to his word, running on the first snap against the Cowboys and consistently throughout the game.

However, everyone both inside and outside the organization is waiting to see if that will continue this week and beyond. After San Francisco, the Saints have a few more physical defenses on the schedule, including the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers (twice).

"Here's the thing: Every game, every opponent is different. It's a new scheme, it's a new game plan,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "But I think the balance element, the success we had running the football is something that we would like to be able to continue to be able to repeat. That doesn't mean you're going to go out and rush for 240 yards per game. But I think the commitment to it, the emphasis on it, and the buy-in from everybody is important.”

The jury is especially out on Saints running back Mark Ingram, who had the breakout performance of his career against the Cowboys with 145 yards and a touchdown. Although Ingram's performance was impressive because of the amount of burst and aggression he displayed, he did pile up 130 of those yards in the second half -- when the Cowboys defense was especially worn down.

Regardless, Evans said he's confident that game will serve as a "confidence builder" for Ingram and the offensive line. Ingram agreed.

"I just want to keep it going, man,” said Ingram, who again praised the offensive line for blazing his trail. "Coach did a great job of calling the runs, giving us the right looks against the right defenses, and that's what made us have success [against Dallas]. So we just have to keep building on that, keep getting better. And hopefully we can prove it against this San Francisco defense.

"Any football player especially loves a game that's going to be physical. You look forward to those types of games, because as a runner you just want to set the tone. You want to wear them down. You want to hit them in the mouth, wear them down and do whatever you can to help the team have success.

"We're confident going into Sunday and know what we've got to do.”

Saints owe 49ers 'a couple knockdowns'

November, 14, 2013
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METAIRIE, La. -- Over the past eight years, few offenses in the NFL have attacked and overwhelmed their opponents quite like the New Orleans Saints.

And during that span, few defenses have attacked and overwhelmed the Saints quite like the San Francisco 49ers.

When they meet this Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the 49ers (6-3) will try to knock off the Saints (7-2) for the third consecutive year.

[+] EnlargePierre Thomas
Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty ImagesThe 49ers knocked out Pierre Thomas early in a divisional round playoff game in 2012.
The 49ers’ physical, attacking defense has forced a combined seven turnovers and eight sacks in those two games (a 36-32 playoff victory after the 2011 season at San Francisco and a 31-21 regular-season victory last year in the Superdome).

“Yeah, we kinda owe them a couple knockdowns, you know what I’m saying?” said Saints guard Jahri Evans – a four-time first-team All-Pro, who isn’t used to seeing many defenses push the Saints around like that. “That’s how we feel as a team. And we know it’s gonna be physical. They know it’s gonna be physical. It’s been physical every time we play these guys. And those guys winning the last couple, we definitely feel like we gotta go out there and get the job done.”

Players like Evans and quarterback Drew Brees readily admit that the 49ers defense in the past two or three years has been as challenging as any opponent they’ve faced during the Brees/Sean Payton era.

No surprise there. The 49ers defense has been that way for the entire league in recent years as they’ve continued to add to their arsenal.

Last year, six of their defensive players were selected to the Pro Bowl (inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, outside linebacker Aldon Smith, defensive lineman Justin Smith and safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson). And that list doesn’t include outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who finished strong last season to earn second-team All-Pro honors.

Goldson left in free agency this offseason, but the rest of the group is still wreaking as much havoc as usual.

“As good as they’ve ever been,” Brees said. “There’s an expectation level every time you play those guys. They’re extremely disciplined and very talented. A lot of individually great players. Obviously when you put them in there as a unit, they play very, very well together. There’s a definite style, a definite scheme that they just execute to perfection.

“I think the biggest areas, things that they kind of pride themselves on, is stopping the run and being physical [and] getting the ball out. They’re still [among the] tops in the league in turnovers. You’ve got a lot of ball hawks on that team.”

The Saints have still been able to put up some yards against the 49ers in their previous two matchups -- especially in that playoff game, when Brees nearly led the Saints to a classic rally with a total of 462 passing yards.

But the 49ers have destroyed the Saints with game-changing plays.

Whitner’s huge hit and forced fumble against running back Pierre Thomas on the Saints’ opening drive in that playoff game may have been the single most important play that prevented the Saints from reaching another Super Bowl that year (both because it prevented a touchdown and knocked Thomas out of the game with a concussion).

And last year, both Brooks and Whitner returned interceptions for touchdowns to pull away for a victory.

“Over the last couple years, they’ve been a defense that’s kind of had our number a little bit, whether it be big hits, just getting to the quarterback, stops here and there,” Evans said. “At the same time, we’ve kind of rallied against those guys a couple times too. But they were just making more plays, more plays, more plays. And if you get into a pass situation (trying to come from behind late), you’re playing into their hands a little bit.”

Brees said he isn’t motivated by revenge this week -- because the Saints don’t need any added motivation in such a critical matchup in this year’s NFC playoff race.

“It’s nothing about owing. It’s nothing about revenge. This is our next game,” Brees said. “It gets us to 8-2 [if we win], and it allows us the opportunity to beat a very, very good opponent. One that you have to sit here and say that there’s a great chance that they’re going to be in the postseason. I know that’s their expectation level. I’d be extremely shocked if they weren’t.

“When you have mirroring expectation levels, you just know the type of game it’s going to be.”

Saints injuries: Graham, Evans return

November, 7, 2013
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METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints offense should be fully intact for Sunday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys. Tight end Jimmy Graham (elbow/foot) and guard Jahri Evans (hip) returned to practice on a limited basis for the Saints on Thursday. Receiver Marques Colston (knee) practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day.

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The defense has more uncertainty, however. End Cameron Jordan (ankle), linebacker David Hawthorne (toe) and safety Malcolm Jenkins (knee) were held out of team drills for the second straight day.

Jordan has been able to play through the ankle injury during the past two games, despite being limited in practice. So it’s tough to predict his status. The same goes for Hawthorne, who played the entire game last week.

Jenkins seems like more of a long shot since he’s been sidelined for nearly two weeks now. But he was suited up for practice Thursday and did a little individual work for the first time since suffering his injury.

“I’m getting there. Taking it day by day. I got out there and ran around a little bit,” Jenkins said. “So we’ll see what happens.”

It will help the Saints’ depth at safety if veteran Roman Harper is able to return from his own lingering knee injury that has kept him out since Week 2. Harper has practiced fully this week after returning on a limited basis last week. Coach Sean Payton, however, stressed that Harper was facing a longer rehab period than most because he missed so much time.

Graham and Evans should both be OK to play Sunday since they played through the same injuries last week -- though it will increase their odds if they’re able to come back out and practice again on Friday. The same goes for Colston. He was held out of last Sunday’s game with the knee injury after he was only able to practice once last week.

Everyone else on the Saints’ roster practiced fully Thursday.

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