NFL Nation: John Carney

Quarterback Aaron Brooks and kicker John Carney were elected to the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame on Tuesday. The induction ceremony will take place at an unspecified date during the Saints' 2014 season.

Carney, who spent eight seasons in New Orleans as part of his remarkable 23-year NFL career, was elected in his first year of eligibility by the media selection committee (a group that is independent of the Saints' organization). Brooks' enshrinement, however, took a few years since his career in New Orleans was filled with some highs and lows.

Brooks led the Saints to their first-ever playoff victory in 2000 against the St. Louis Rams after being acquired that summer in a trade with the Green Bay Packers. Brooks left after the 2005 season as the Saints’ all-time leader in touchdown passes (120 -- a mark that has since been surpassed by Drew Brees). And Brooks ranks third in franchise history with 19,156 passing yards.

However, Brooks also threw 84 interceptions in his six seasons, and he was never able to lead the Saints back to the playoffs. And at times, his leadership was called into question, which earned him his share of critics among the fan base and media.

Ultimately, however, Brooks will now be honored among the franchise’s all-time greats because those highs outweighed the lows. And he was emotional while giving his acceptance speech on Tuesday.

"Obviously it's very humbling. It's quite an honor to be inducted, to be a part of New Orleans Saints history. And it's very emotional for me at times," said Brooks, who had to pause briefly to collect himself. "I've been a little nervous at times, just knowing what the team and myself accomplished over the years and what we tried to do individually, what my wife and I tried to accomplish in the community ...

"Although there were some trying times, some challenging times, through it all it feels good to know that we have prevailed, we're still standing tall, but more importantly to know that we are being looked at in a different light. Because we did not do it by ourselves."

Carney, who was with the Saints from 2001-06 and 2009-10, is the Saints' career leader in field goal percentage (.828) and ranks second in franchise history in points (768) and field goals made (168).

Carney was part of the Super Bowl championship team in 2009 as a part-time replacement and mentor for young kicker Garrett Hartley. And he was a key part of the team that reached the NFC Championship Game in 2006. He kicked six game-winning field goals in the final 10 seconds for the Saints.

"It was an exciting time to be a Saints player this past decade," Carney said. "I was just blessed to be part of it, and I'm just blessed to have been recognized here at the Saints Hall of Fame."

Final Word: AFC South

September, 30, 2011
9/30/11
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 4:

Nickel and dime: The Saints fared great when they spread the field and emptied the backfield in their furious comeback against the Texans last week. It really took advantage of Houston’s lack of cornerback depth. Jacksonville will face the same test. Drew Colemanwas signed as a free agent to upgrade the nickel, and he’ll need to play well against a receiving corps that gets Marcus Colston back. Fourth corner William Middleton will be on the field more too, especially if starting corner Derek Cox (doubtful, groin) is out. And linebackers will be tested in coverage against a team with a lot of weapons that likes to throw to running back Darren Sproles.

[+] EnlargeCurtis Painter
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireIn his third season in Indianapolis, QB Curtis Painter is expected to get his first start Sunday.
Curtis Painter time: He will start for the Colts at quarterback on Monday night against the Bucs as Kerry Collins recovers from an apparent concussion suffered in the loss to Pittsburgh. Can Painter show some poise and put together a consistent effort? One thing that would really help his cause is being more accurate with Reggie Wayne. From 2008-10, Peyton Manning threw incomplete just 18.7 percent of the time he targeted Wayne. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Collins and Painter have combined to miss Wayne 39.3 percent of the time. You can’t miss your primary target that often and have a successful passing game.

Steelers blitzes: Pittsburgh’s been great on defense without blitzing. The Steelers are allowing just 5.5 yards per pass attempt when sending four or fewer rushers, third-best in the league. But last year and so far this year, Matt Schaubis connecting on 71.4 percent of his passes when he’s not blitzed, hitting for 8.2 yards per pass attempt. I’d expect Pittsburgh to bring more pressure to try to get Schaub out of rhythm. The Steelers have forced just one turnover this season.

First quarter points: Three teams in the NFL have yet to score a first-quarter point this season. In Tennessee-at-Cleveland, we’ll see two of them. If the Titans or Browns can find some early offensive rhythm, they’ll get a big advantage. The Titans need to show some early intent, I think. While showing a determination to get Chris Johnson running, they would also be well served to call some plays that include tight end Jared Cookin the early part of the progression. He’s got the potential to be a dynamic downfield matchup problem. With Kenny Britt out, it’s time to start seeing it.

Ah, the memories: The Saints’ last trip to Jacksonville, for the last game of the 2003 regular season, was a memorable one. They trailed 20-13 when they completed a 75-yard miracle touchdown with no time left. The play featured a pass from Aaron Brooks and three laterals before Jerome Pathon scored. But John Carney’s extra point went wide right, leaving the Saints with a 20-19 defeat and eliminating them from playoff contention. The Colts' last trip to Tampa Bay was Oct. 6, 2003. Indianapolis scored 21 points in the final 3:37 of the regulation to tie that game 35-35 before winning it on a Mike Vanderjagt field goal in OT.
John Kasay is 41, which is one of the major reasons the Carolina Panthers released the kicker last month. But as Kasay met with the New Orleans media after signing with the Saints on Tuesday, he said he feels like he still can be productive.

“I am not as young as I use to be,’’ Kasay said. “I am not fooling anybody with that but there have been a handful of guys who have done very well playing into their 40’s. Morten Anderson, John Carney, Gary Anderson, Matt Stover, Jason Hanson. It’s a privilege to be able to play and to do the same thing I was doing as a kid.”

Kasay said he had continued working out, even though he wasn’t sure he would get another chance to kick in the league. That changed quickly after New Orleans kicker Garrett Hartley suffered a hip injury in Sunday night’s preseason game.

“This came together obviously very quickly based on what happened to Garrett,’’ Kasay said. “That’s just the nature of the league. I am married. I have four children and school started last week. I was back-to-school-night last night. That’s how fast life changes.”

Coach Sean Payton wouldn't go into specifics about the severity of Hartley's injury and it's unclear if the Saints think they'll be going with Kasay for the long term or only the short term. Payton said familiarity with Kasay is one reason the Saints chose him.

“With his experience, we know the player a little bit more than some of the others because he’s been in our division,'' Payton said. "He’s consistent. He’s a veteran player and we just started getting some work with him today. Really the adjustment is in the hold because he’s a left-footed kicker.”

Punter Thomas Morstead and backup quarterback Chase Daniel worked as holders with Kasay in Tuesday's practice.

“That’s a good question,'' Payton said when asked who will hold. "I think we’ll go with the holder that is most apt at doing it. Both of them, Chase right now and Thomas Morstead, are getting comfortable doing that and working through the kinks.”
Jason KyleCourtesy of the Blue AngelsThe Saints' Jason Kyle rode along with the Blue Angels at speeds of more than 700 mph on Feb. 24.
Jason Kyle's stomach hadn’t settled down completely as he spoke on the phone from his San Diego hotel last Thursday night. His mind, though, had calmed down a few hours earlier and already was expanding.

The long-snapper for the New Orleans Saints has several business ventures on the side. He is the Chief Executive Officer of his own start-up company, which sets up pro athletes with endorsement and speaking opportunities, and used to be very active in the NFL Players Association. Kyle is one of the smartest players in the league, and he made an astute observation last week.

“You know, I’d never thought about it in these terms until today,’’ said Kyle, 38 and a veteran of 17 NFL seasons. “We’re professional athletes, and people think we’re great and want our autographs and treat us like kings. But we’re not heroes. We’re just guys that are blessed to be able to run fast or shoot a basketball or whatever, and some of us work at it very hard. But that doesn’t make us heroes. Those people are the real heroes.’’

“Those people’’ are the Blue Angels and the rest of the military personnel Kyle met at Naval Air Facility El Centro last week. It’s funny how flying at speeds of more than 700 miles per hour and going up, down and sideways will shake up your stomach and your thoughts. That’s what happened to Kyle as he went up for an 80-minute flight over the California desert with the Navy’s flight demonstration unit.

“Twenty minutes into the flight, I was in as much of a sweat as I’ve been in my whole life,’’ Kyle said. “I’ve always prided myself on working very hard to stay in shape. I’m not in the kind of shape those pilots are. They prepped me for it and told me what I’d have to do to keep myself from blacking out. You’re constantly tightening your legs and your stomach to keep the blood going to your head, so you don’t black out and you know which way is up and down. Those guys have to be able to do that all the time.

[+] EnlargeJason Kyle
Courtesy of the Blue AngelsJason Kyle was pumped up for his flight with the Blue Angels, but learned it wouldn't be a total joy ride: "An 80-minute flight, I'd guess I spent 30 minutes of it getting sick,'' he said.
“Think about what they do, and think about what we do. There’s really no comparison. Those guys are incredibly good at something that’s incredibly difficult, and they work so hard at it and the stakes are a little different than playing football. I couldn’t imagine having to land one of those planes on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the night. But I am very glad and proud that we do have exceptional people that can do that.’’

Kyle got the invitation because he’s a close friend of former New Orleans kicker John Carney, who lives in the San Diego area and has flown with the Blue Angels before.

“John didn’t go up this time,’’ Kyle said. “He talked me into it and said it would be like riding a roller coaster. It wasn’t like any roller coaster I’ve ever been on. John came along to watch it from the ground. I think I saw him taking pictures and laughing at me as I stumbled off the plane at the end of the flight.’’

Kyle, who spent eight seasons with the Carolina Panthers before joining the Saints in 2009, was able to laugh after the flight, but definitely not during it or even before it.

Pilots briefed Kyle on what to expect prior to the flight, and that’s when he began to worry a bit. They told him he would experience G-forces as high as 7.5 and that he might black out if he didn’t keep blood rushing to his head. They told about different maneuvers that were planned, and that parts of the flight would be upside down.

There were also mentions of how there would be some low-terrain flying, where the plane would be lower than some nearby mountains. They also made sure he knew that there was an air-sickness bag close to his left hand and another close to his right.

“I had two goals,’’ Kyle said. “Not blacking out and not throwing up. I was one out of two.’’

Kyle didn’t black out.

“An 80-minute flight, I’d guess I spent 30 minutes of it getting sick,’’ Kyle said.

Still, as he reflected on his flight, Kyle didn’t spend much time dwelling on the negatives. I've covered Kyle in his Carolina days and New Orleans days, and he went to the Super Bowl with the Panthers and the Saints. I never heard him sound so excited or animated.

He ticked off some highlights.

[+] EnlargeJason Kyle
Courtesy of the Blue AngelsJason Kyle kisses the ground after his once-in-a-lifetime ride with the Blue Angels in San Diego. After recovering from the flight, he accepted an invitation to make it a twice-in-a-lifetime thrill.
“When we hit 7.5 Gs, I felt like my head was in a vice,’’ Kyle said. “That wasn’t fun, but feeling the pressure go away as we eased up was pretty cool. We did some barrel rolls that were crazy, but they were also pretty fun. I can’t say it got any easier as we went along, but there were a few light minutes between turns that I really enjoyed.

“But the best thing I can say about it and the biggest compliment I can give is, that as crazy as it felt at times and as sick as I was, I never once felt really scared. That’s because I knew I was safe. I knew I was in the hands of people that are the absolute best in the world in doing what they do.’’

Kyle kissed the ground when he got out of the plane. He needed a little private time in the pilot’s locker room to start getting his body back. Then, he went out and mingled with the troops, took some pictures and signed some autographs.

But, like Kyle said at the top of this story, he didn’t feel like the celebrity. He felt like the guy hanging out with the real heroes.

There’s one last twist to this story. Although the experience was harrowing at times, the Blue Angels asked Kyle if he’d like to fly with them again. He accepted the offer.

But he’s going to wait a month or so.

“I need some recovery time,’’ Kyle said. “But I also want to really work on my legs and abdominals, and some of the pilots gave me some advice on how they do it. I’m going to try it and try to prepare like the Blue Angels and all the military pilots.’’

Prepare like the real heroes.
NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 4.

[+] EnlargeCarney
Chuck Cook/US PresswireJohn Carney made it look easy on Sunday, connecting on all three of his field goal attempts.
A little over a week ago, 46-year-old John Carney was sitting on his couch in San Diego and watching football on television.

On Sunday, he made all three field goal attempts, including a last-second, game-winning kick for the New Orleans Saints. The game marked the third, and most unlikely, stint with the Saints for Carney. Retirement seemed like a real possibility after Carney didn’t get any offers to sign in the offseason and the preseason didn’t create any new openings.

But Carney continued working out on his own and waiting for the phone to ring. It did after Garrett Hartley missed a short overtime kick in a Week 3 loss to Atlanta. Carney was a logical choice because of his ties to the Saints and the fact that he and Hartley have worked together in the past.

The Saints still are hoping Hartley can work out his accuracy issues and are keeping him on the roster. Carney may only be a short-term solution as well as a mentor for Hartley.

But, at least for one week, Carney was able to come in and give the Saints a spark -- and a victory.
NEW ORLEANS -- I’m heading down to the locker rooms for interviews with the Panthers and Saints. I’ll be back with more postgame analysis in a bit. But in the meantime, here’s Rapid Reaction on the Saints' 16-14 victory.

What it means: A win is a win. But all three of New Orleans’ victories have been ugly. This team has some issues and injuries. You can survive that against the Panthers, but there are some tough games coming up later in the season and the Saints can’t win some of those unless they start playing a lot better. Despite playing better than they have all season, it’s over for the Panthers. They’re 0-4 and John Fox is a lame-duck coach. Injuries to receiver Steve Smith and defensive tackle Ed Johnson looked significant enough that Carolina could face a couple of games without those two players. The effort was there Sunday, but that’s tough to continue when you’re in a downhill spiral.

Hero: John Carney. The 46-year-old kicker was signed this week after Garrett Hartley missed a field goal in overtime last week. Carney connected on all three of his attempts, including the game winner.

Injuries of note: Carolina wide receiver Smith left the game with an ankle injury late in the third quarter. The Panthers went with rookies Brandon LaFell and David Gettis the rest of the game. New Orleans opened the game without starting strong safety Roman Harper, who was injured last week. Pierson Prioleau started in Harper’s place, but was injured in the first half. Chris Reis took Harper’s place, but suffered a shoulder injury. The Saints had to finish the game with Usama Young, their only remaining safety.

What’s next: The Saints will be on the road the next two games. First, they travel to Arizona. Then, on Oct. 17, they go to Tampa Bay. The Panthers host Chicago in a game that has a big subplot as Bears defensive end Julius Peppers returns to play against his former team for the first time. The Panthers have their bye the following week.

Thomas, Harper out for Saints

October, 3, 2010
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NEW ORLEANS -- As expected, the Saints will be without injured running back Pierre Thomas for Sunday’s game with Carolina.

The Saints have said Ladell Betts will start in place of Thomas. The Saints also are without injured running back Reggie Bush, and that means Chris Ivory and DeShawn Wynn likely will share carries with Betts.

The Saints also will be without starting strong safety Roman Harper. Pierson Prioleau will start in his place. John Carney will handle place-kicking duties as Garrett Hartley is inactive after missing a short kick in overtime last week.

Also inactive for the Saints are linebacker Anthony Waters, offensive lineman Charles Brown, tight end Tory Humphrey and defensive end Junior Galette.

Brees gives Hartley some advice

September, 29, 2010
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It seems like everybody’s got a little advice for New Orleans kicker Garrett Hartley after he missed a short field-goal attempt in overtime against Atlanta.

Hartley
Hartley
Former New Orleans kickers are talking about the obstacles he’s facing. The Saints went out and brought back John Carney, although they're holding onto Hartley, at least for now.

But maybe the guy Hartley should listen to most is quarterback Drew Brees. After all, Brees is the leader of this team and he’s also a guy who went through some hard times earlier in his career. Brees told the New Orleans media on Wednesday that he has sat down and talked to Hartley about getting through a rough period.

“I told him I’ve been benched three times,’’ Brees said. “I said, it’s all part of the process. Every young player has to learn it. There’s no shortcut to it. There’s no easy way to it. You just have to learn it the hard way. You’re learning it the hard way. Make the most of it. Absorb everything you can from John Carney. John Carney’s a Hall of Fame kicker. I’ve lost track of how many years he’s played. He’s played more years than Hartley’s been alive probably. Really, we should look that up. Is that true?’’

For the record, it’s not quite true. Carney, 46, appeared in his first NFL game in 1988. Hartley, 24, was born in 1986. But you get Brees’ point, which is to learn from your elders.

“How many opportunities do you get like that,’’ Brees said. “When I had the opportunity to play with Doug Flutie when I was a rookie and then Mark Brunell, you constantly are a sponge and take in everything you can. Garrett Hartley has a ton of talent and he’s already made some big kicks in his career and there are plenty more that he has to make in the future. This is just one of those times where he has to gut it out a little bit.”

How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch

September, 29, 2010
9/29/10
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Marques Colston, wide receiver, Saints. The guy who is supposed to be New Orleans’ best wide receiver and maybe even the best receiver in the NFC South had just four catches for a very inconsequential 25 yards Sunday. Colston has yet to catch a touchdown pass this season. With his mediocre start and the quarterback struggles in Carolina taking a toll on Steve Smith, it’s become abundantly clear that Atlanta’s Roddy White is the best wide receiver in the division.

Garrett Hartley
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesThe Saints brought in some competition for Garrett Hartley after he missed a 29-yard field goal in overtime against Atlanta.
2. New Orleans’ defense. When it’s not forcing turnovers, this unit is rather ordinary. The first three games have shown teams can run the ball on the Saints and teams are going to continue to do that. Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams are two strong personalities. They co-existed when the defense was making turnovers and the Saints were winning big last year. But a few more losses could really put this relationship to the test.

3. Garrett Hartley, kicker, Saints. It appears as if the Saints are going to hang onto Hartley even though they’re bringing in veteran John Carney. The Saints aren’t completely ready to give up on a talented young kicker who has made some big kicks in his career. But his miss of a 29-yard field goal in overtime cost the Saints a victory Sunday. They can’t afford to carry two kickers for too long, so Hartley better figure out what’s causing his inconsistency and fix it quickly.

RISING

1. Matt Ryan, quarterback, Falcons. People like to debate if Ryan’s an “elite’’ quarterback or not. I’m not sure what the exact qualifications for that are. But, if going into an extremely hostile environment and playing a nearly flawless game against the defending Super Bowl champions is on the list, then I’d lean toward calling Ryan an elite quarterback.

2. Atlanta’s pass rush. The numbers still aren’t dominant. But the Falcons are generating pressure. They didn’t make any dramatic moves in the offseason because they said they believed in what they had. Turns out, they were right. John Abraham's bouncing back, Kroy Biermann is on the rise, Jonathan Babineaux is one of the better interior pass-rushers in the league and the much-maligned Jamaal Anderson put enough pressure on Drew Brees to force a huge interception Sunday.

3. Lance Moore, wide receiver, Saints. You don’t replace all that Reggie Bush does with a single player. But Moore took on Bush’s role as punt returner and spent some time at slot receiver Sunday. Moore was quieted by injuries much of last year. But he’s an athlete and a playmaker and he’s going to get a chance to showcase those abilities while Bush is out.

Sean Payton played the percentages

September, 28, 2010
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I know a lot of New Orleans fans are questioning Sean Payton’s decision to have Garrett Hartley attempt a 29-yard field goal on a first-down play in Sunday’s loss to New Orleans. The mailbag is full of those questions.

You all know what happened. Hartley missed the attempt, the Falcons went down the field and won the game, fans are second-guessing Payton and the Saints worked out veteran kickers John Carney and Kris Brown on Tuesday. Still no word on if they plan to sign either of them.

When Payton decided to kick on first down, my gut reaction was it was the right call. The Saints were tired and needed to put an end to the game. They had put Hartley in position for a chip shot. I didn’t think it was the wrong call.

But, when I started hearing so many critics, I decided to check into the percentages. I reached out to ESPN Stats & Information and asked what history has shown about field goal attempts from 29 yards or less.

The response I got was a survey of all field-goal attempts during the regular season and post season since 2001. On field goals of exactly 29 yards, kickers have made 231 of 255 attempts. That’s 90.6 percent.

On field goal attempts of 29 yards or less, kickers are 2,574 of 2,686. That’s 95.8 percent.

Could Payton have run a couple more plays and gotten a few more yards? Sure. Would it really have mattered? I’m not so sure. He was playing the percentages and the percentages said an NFL kicker should make that field goal more than 90 percent of the time.

AFC East Hall of Fame debate

July, 8, 2010
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A weeklong look at current or former players or coaches with Hall of Fame potential in the division.

Buffalo Bills: Steve Tasker, special teams.

Claim to fame: Tasker perhaps is the greatest special-teams ace in NFL history. He was a notable weapon on Buffalo's four consecutive AFC championship teams in the 1990s.

Case for enshrinement: Tasker was so dominant in his role, the NFL changed its Pro Bowl rules to include special-teamers on rosters. He went to seven Pro Bowls, putting him in select company, and was named the MVP in 1993. He has been a semifinalist on the Hall of Fame ballot four times. The NFL Network named him the ninth-best player -- of any position -- not in the Hall of Fame.

Tasker blocked seven punts and made 204 special-teams tackles. He forced seven fumbles and recovered six. He returned kickoffs, punts and held on extra points and field goals. As a receiver, he caught 51 passes for 779 yards and nine touchdowns.

Case against enshrinement: Special-teamers just don't get enshrined. Kicker Jan Stenerud is the only pure special-teamer with a bust. Legendary punter Ray Guy isn't in. No return specialist has been honored, either.

The common retort to that is one of the silliest sayings in football: Special teams are one-third of the game. Sorry, but that's not true. If each team plays a perfect defensive game and forces the opponent to go three-and-out on every possession, then special teams are needed once every four plays. And if football people truly believed special teams were that integral to the game, they would draft special teamers rather than fill out those units with offensive and defensive reserves.

Parting shot: I'd like to see more special-teamers recognized in Canton. But unless there's a substantial change in selection philosophies, Tasker won't make it into the Hall of Fame.

Miami Dolphins: Jake Scott, safety.

[+] EnlargeJake Scott
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireMiami's Jake Scott was the MVP of Super Bowl VII.
Claim to fame: Scott was among the greatest safeties and most dangerous punt returners of the 1970s. He was voted MVP of Super Bowl VII, when the Dolphins closed out their undefeated season.

Case for enshrinement: Scott is one of the most overlooked players in NFL history. His career was relatively short, but it burned brightly. For five years in a row, starting with his second season, Scott went to the Pro Bowl and was named first- or second-team All-Pro.

Despite playing only nine NFL seasons, Scott recorded 49 interceptions, a total that ranked 18th all time when he retired. Hall of Fame safety Ken Houston played 14 seasons and finished with the same total. Scott still holds the Dolphins record with 35 interceptions. He added 14 more in three seasons with the Washington Redskins. Scott recovered 13 fumbles in his career.

He also was a slick punt returner. He holds Miami career records in returns and yardage and ranks third in average.

Case against enshrinement: There's a stigma that comes with playing on the No-Name Defense. Only one player from that great unit, linebacker Nick Buoniconti, is in the Hall of Fame, and his cause certainly was helped by previous work with the Boston Patriots and by remaining in public view as a broadcaster.

Scott, meanwhile, became a recluse. He moved to Hawaii and for a time avoided attention at all costs. He reportedly declined the chance to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame because he wouldn't commit to attending the ceremony.

Also working against Scott, who never has made the cut to 15 modern-day finalists, is the dearth of safeties enshrined in Canton. Only seven have been inducted.

Parting shot: Scott didn't play long enough to get traditional consideration. His best hope would be through the senior committee.

New England Patriots: Adam Vinatieri, kicker.

Claim to fame: If Vinatieri is not the greatest clutch kicker in NFL history, then he's in a short conversation. He won the Patriots' first two Super Bowls with field goals in the final seconds.

Case for enshrinement: Vinatieri has kicked for six Super Bowl teams, played in five Super Bowls and won four rings -- three with the Patriots and one with the Indianapolis Colts. He directly delivered a pair of Lombardi Trophies for the Patriots. He kicked a 48-yarder as time expired to win Super Bowl XXXVI and a 41-yarder with four seconds left to win Super Bowl XXXVIII.

In blizzard conditions at the end of the infamous Tuck Rule game, Vinatieri kicked a 45-yard field goal with 1:39 left in regulation to force overtime and then won it with a 23-yard field goal.

Vinatieri has been an All-Pro twice. He has kicked a record-tying five field goals in a postseason game twice and owns multiple playoff and Super Bowl records. He has scored the most points for a kicker (34) in Super Bowl history and converted the most field goals (seven) and extra points (13). His 177 postseason points rank first.

Case against enshrinement: Stenerud is the only true kicker in the Hall of Fame. Morten Andersen and Gary Anderson will have to get in first, and the idea of quadrupling the number of kickers (if you consider Vinatieri the next one inducted after Andersen and Anderson) won't be an easy sell to the voters.

Vinatieri has led the NFL in scoring and field goals once and probably won't finish with attractive enough career stats. At 37 years old and showing signs of slowing down -- he played six games for the Colts last season because of hip and knee surgeries -- and he ranks 15th in scoring and 13th in field goals made. Players such as John Carney, Matt Stover and John Kasay have more. Vinatieri has kicked almost 100 fewer field goals than Jason Elam. Nobody envisions Canton when they think of those guys.

Parting shot: Vinatieri provided two of the most indelible memories in Patriots history. As his career stands now, however, two big kicks won't overcome the circumstances of his position.

New York Jets: Joe Klecko, defensive lineman.

[+] EnlargeJoe Klecko
TSN/Icon SMIUnofficially, Joe Klecko recorded 20.5 sacks in 1981 as part of the New York Sack Exchange.
Claim to fame: Klecko was a key member of the New York Sack Exchange defensive line. Many consider him the greatest Jet not in the Hall of Fame and one of the best sixth-round draft picks of all time.

Case for enshrinement: Klecko was the first player to make the Pro Bowl at three positions. He went as a defensive end in 1981, a defensive tackle in '83 and '84 and a nose tackle in '85. To illustrate his importance, the Jets made his No. 73 the third number retired in club history after Joe Namath and Don Maynard.

Unlike the Fearsome Foursome or Purple People Eaters, the Sack Exchange doesn't have a single Hall of Fame representative. While Mark Gastineau's histrionics garnered the most attention, Klecko was the most complete player of the four. He was a dangerous pass-rusher and nasty against the run.

Klecko unofficially recorded 20.5 sacks in 1981 and notched at least one sack in 10 straight games, a franchise record.

Case against enshrinement: What hurts Klecko is that he somehow remained relatively anonymous in New York. He was overlooked because he played thankless positions and was trumped by Gastineau's sack dances.

Klecko also played on some lousy teams. The Jets went to the playoffs only four times during his tenure (1977 through 1987). Once was in the strike-shortened 1982 season and he was hurt for the 1986 postseason.

Parting shot: Klecko never has made the cut of 15 modern-era finalists. He might need to rely on the senior committee.

Well-calculated gambles by Payton

February, 8, 2010
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Sean PaytonAP Photo/Julie Jacobson"When he got on stage at the after-party with all his players, all I saw was his face and I thought, 'That's the Sean I remember,' " said Patrice Payton, the coach's sister.
MIAMI -- You’re going to hear a lot about Sean Payton being a gambler in the coming days. Don’t believe a bit of it.

A gambler is someone who is taking a 50-50 (or less) shot. Payton is not that dicey. He’ll only get risky when he’s convinced the odds are slanted heavily in his favor. So how the heck do you explain Payton’s choice to have a rookie punter try an onside kick to start the second half of the first Super Bowl in franchise history?

Throw in the fact you’re playing the mighty Indianapolis Colts and the even mightier Peyton Manning and the odds of such a play working couldn’t have been more than what? 10 or 20 percent? Tops?

"We felt during the week it was more than a 60 or 70 percent chance," Payton said. "We felt not [just] good, we felt real good."

That play, more than anything else that happened Sunday night, is going to symbolize how the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV at Sun Life Stadium. Throw in Payton’s decision to challenge a two-point conversion that initially was ruled a failed attempt and a choice to let kicker Garrett Hartley, who is only slightly more than a rookie, kick a 47-yard field goal near the end of the third quarter and you’ve got a lot of big chances.

Enough to subject a coach to months, maybe years, of second guessing if he doesn’t hit on most of them. If you want to get technical, Payton was three out of four on big chances. He also gambled on a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line when he called a run by Pierre Thomas instead of passing or kicking a field goal near the end of the first half.

Thomas was stopped short of the goal line, but that was the only gamble Payton missed on all night and it turned out that it didn’t really cost him anything. His defense, which was built on gambling, bailed him out and the Saints got the ball back in time for Hartley to hit a 44-yard field goal as the second quarter ended and cut Indianapolis’ lead to 10-6.

That set the stage for the decision that changed the fate of the entire hard-luck New Orleans region and will live forever in Super Bowl lore. In the locker room, Payton told his team he was going to pull one of the biggest surprises in Super Bowl history.

Shock the world, but not the Saints. Not if you really know what Sean Payton’s all about. He’ll take some chances, but only when he knows there’s a decent shot they’ll work.

"Everyone knows that Sean Payton plays hard and aggressively," New Orleans offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. "He plays to win the game."

"That gives us confidence when he does something like that because it shows us how much confidence he has in us," linebacker Scott Fujita said.

It gives some of the Saints confidence, but Payton’s dare was something the Colts and the rest of the world didn’t see coming. And, remember, I said only some of the Saints.

Payton told Thomas Morstead, who had been practicing onside kicks for all of 10 days, that he’d be doing it to open the second half.

"For 20 minutes, I sat at my locker terrified," said Morstead, who handled only punting duties in college. "Not worried, terrified."

Morstead said he came out of the locker room and worked on his punting as the teams warmed up for the second half. He got so caught up in the bluff that he almost forgot to practice kickoffs. He squeezed one in right before it was time to do the real thing.

"I showed them the same thing I’d done on every kickoff all season long -- deep and to the right hash," Morstead said. "That’s all anybody’s seen out of me."

Well, anybody who wasn’t at a Saints practice the last 10 days. What Morstead did next was try to make sure he kicked the ball at least 10 yards and put some backspin on it. That’s exactly what happened. After a scramble, New Orleans safety Chris Reis was ruled to have recovered the ball.

"What we were trying to do was create another series [for the offense]," Payton said.

Another series in which the Saints scored the first Super Bowl touchdown in franchise history on a 16-yard pass from Drew Brees to Pierre Thomas. And a series less for Manning and the Indianapolis offense to work the magic they had all season, but didn’t really have Sunday night.

Yeah, the Colts came right back down the field and scored a touchdown to take a 17-13 lead, but the damage had been done and the tone for the rest of the game had been set by the onside kick. Payton followed that gamble by taking another, letting Hartley kick a 47-yard field goal to cut the deficit to a single point.

What you need to know here is that Payton took a gamble on his field goal kickers earlier this season. With Hartley suspended for the first four games of the season for testing positive for a banned dietary supplement, the Saints signed veteran John Carney. He kicked very well and the Saints stayed with Carney long after Hartley’s suspension was over.

The dilemma was that Carney was dependable, but didn’t have a very strong leg. Hartley continued to kick well in practice. Late in the season, Payton elected to release Carney and make him a "kicking consultant" and let Hartley handle the kicking. Could Carney have made the 47-yarder?

Maybe, but the odds were probably less than Payton’s magical 60 to 70 percent. Hartley made it with ease.

Speaking of chances, Payton took his last big one after Brees hit Jeremy Shockey with a 2-yard touchdown pass to give the Saints a 22-17 lead with 5:42 remaining. Instead of leaving Manning with enough time to beat him with a touchdown, Payton chose to go for the two-point conversion.

At first, Brees’ pass to Lance Moore was ruled incomplete. But Payton, with help from assistant coaches who had seen the replay, challenged the call. The play was overturned and the Saints were given two points.

The gambling didn’t really stop there, but that’s only because it started so long ago. You want to know what Payton’s biggest gamble of all was?

Forget about taking the New Orleans job just after Hurricane Katrina because it was a chance for Payton to move up. And forget about the signing of Brees soon after -- yes, there were questions about his surgically-repaired shoulder, but there had been evidence before that he could play.

Payton’s real leap came after last season when it became painfully obvious he had a great offense, but absolutely no defense. He fired defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs and got Gregg Williams. Once upon a time, Williams had a reputation as a great defensive mind. That got sullied during stints as a head coach in Buffalo and as a coordinator in Washington and Jacksonville. There were also whispers about how Williams could be a bit of a self-promoter and more style than substance.

Payton threw out $250,000 of his own salary to make sure the Saints got Williams. It turned out to be the best bet he ever made.

Williams came in the door preaching aggressive defense. It worked nicely at the start of the season, but seemed to fizzle around midseason when the Saints ran into some injury problems. The Saints got healthier as the playoffs came and played good defense in victories against Arizona and Minnesota.

But Manning wasn’t supposed to be like Brett Favre or Kurt Warner at the end of their careers. He was supposed to be fool-proof, but Williams and the Saints ended up fooling Manning and sealing the game. Tracy Porter picked off Manning and returned it for a touchdown with 3:12 remaining.

"This is kind of a redemption that makes me feel a lot better," Williams said. "I’m really happy for the people of New Orleans. They adopted me. When I came to town in January, I tried to tell them I wasn’t a savior."

No, not a savior, just part of one very calculated gamble that played off.

Jon Beason, Drew Brees and Thomas MorsteadGetty Images/AP PhotoJon Beason, Drew Brees and Thomas Morstead headline the list of NFC South players receiving end-of-the-year honors.
We’ve rolled out the All-NFC South offense and defense for the 2009 season already and we’ll get to the special teams, coaches and front offices very soon. But with the Saints on a bye for the first round of the playoffs and the rest of the NFC South done for the season, it’s time for our annual awards.

Some are pretty conventional and some are not, but put them all together and, hopefully, you’ll have a comprehensive review of the season.

Most Valuable Player: Drew Brees, Saints. Do I really have to explain? Let’s save time and move on.

Most Valuable Player not named Brees and not with the Saints: Jon Beason, Panthers. Consistently excellent. Should have been named to the Pro Bowl. Best player on the division’s best defense.

Rookie of the Year: Thomas Morstead, Saints. Yes, I’m going with a punter and it’s not because the pickings are slim. There were some other decent options. But Morstead was so good punting and on kickoffs that he earned this award.

Best win: The Saints steamrolling the Patriots on Monday night. If the Saints play like that in the postseason, they’ll win the Super Bowl. That said, I’m a little concerned that the Saints might already have played their best game.

Worst loss: Carolina’s 20-9 home loss to Buffalo. The Panthers had a chance to get to 3-3 after an 0-3 start. They had one of the worst teams in the league coming into Bank of America Stadium. They didn’t just lose. They got embarrassed. Think about what might have happened if they just had been able to win that game?

Worst injury: You could see right away that Atlanta rookie defensive tackle Peria Jerry was going to be an impact player. He was making everybody around him look better. Problem is, Jerry went down with a knee injury on Sept. 20 and missed the rest of the season. You instantly could see the rest of Atlanta’s defensive line start to slide.

Best injury: The leg injury that New Orleans linebacker Dan Morgan suffered in minicamp. It wasn’t major, but it was enough to prompt the star-crossed Morgan to retire for the second time. Sure, it’s a shame that he missed out on being part of what became a very fun season in New Orleans and a healthy Morgan truly might have prospered on that defense. But Morgan made the right call in walking away. The guy put his body through too much and had some concussion issues in his Carolina days. He’s got a family and his health is more important than football.

(Read full post)

How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch

December, 29, 2009
12/29/09
11:00
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

1. Gregg Williams, Saints defensive coordinator: Remember early in the season when the Saints were playing good defense and the common assumption was Williams could parlay that into a head-coaching job next season? Well, forget about it.

The Saints haven’t been playing great defense for a long time. Some of that’s because of injuries. But you have to wonder if the rest of the league has started to figure out how to attack Williams’ scheme.

2. Drew Brees, Saints quarterback: It’s tough to say Brees’ stock is falling, but it is. It’s been at an extremely high level all season, and while he is far from dropping off the charts, he is out of the MVP race.

His numbers haven’t been all that bad in two losses. But this is an offense that needs to score more than 17 points.

3. Garrett Hartley, Saints kicker: He missed a field goal that would have prevented an embarrassing loss to the Buccaneers. It wasn’t a long one and Hartley said the snap and the hold were perfect.

Only recently, the Saints made the decision to go with Hartley over veteran John Carney, who has joined the team as a kicking consultant. Carney can’t come back to the Saints as a player this year. He better start doing some serious consulting with Hartley.

[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman
AP Photo/Bill FeigJosh Freeman led the Buccaneers in their win over New Orleans.
Rising

1. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay quarterback: The kid has won his last two starts and looked good doing it. Pretty impressive for a 21-year-old to go into the Superdome and beat Brees.

Freeman just might save Raheem Morris’ job and he’s at least giving Tampa Bay fans a glimpse of light down what has been a very dark tunnel.

2. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers running back: DeAngelo who? With starting running back DeAngelo Williams out with an injury, Stewart has taken on a bigger role in the Carolina offense and ran wild against the Giants. We’ve always known Stewart was pretty good, but he suddenly is showing he can be great.

3. Matt Moore, Panthers quarterback:. He went into the last game in Giants Stadium and threw three touchdown passes. It’s premature to say he’s a franchise quarterback, but he sure has shown he’s a functional one.

If John Fox stays in Carolina, all the Panthers need is a functional quarterback in his system. Well, that and some receivers to go with Steve Smith.

We're going to give a special honorable mention to Atlanta defensive end Kroy Biermann, who had to kick off after Michael Koenen and Matt Bryant were hurt. Biermann doesn't look anything like a kicker, but he did a decent job.
ATLANTA -- Time for some observations on the first half of the game between the Saints and Falcons.

  • Atlanta’s played about as well as anyone could expect, so far. The Falcons have a bunch of key guys out, but Mike Smith’s sticking with a game plan similar to what he used in a close loss to New Orleans earlier this year.
  • I’m totally impressed with what I’ve seen from Atlanta replacement quarterback Chris Redman in the first half. He’s been solid and his numbers would be really outstanding if Michael Jenkins had been able to pull in a long pass that went off his fingertips.
  • I know we’ve all come to expect New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees to be perfect all the time. Well, he pretty much was perfect in the first half with only two incomplete passes.
  • Love the way Sean Payton is using Reggie Bush. He’s not getting a lot of snaps because Pierre Thomas is. But it seems like Bush is almost always put in a position to make plays when he does get on the field.
  • Not a bright move by New Orleans defensive lineman Charles Grant getting an unnecessary roughness penalty at the end of the first half. It truly was unnecessary and it gave the Falcons the ball on the New Orleans 14-yard line with 19 seconds left and Atlanta cut the deficit to 16-9 with a late field goal.
  • We’ve talked a lot about New Orleans receiver Robert Meachem being the breakout player in the NFC South. I think you could make a case he’s the breakout player for the entire NFL.
  • A missed extra point normally isn’t a big deal, but not when you’re Garrett Hartley. The New Orleans kicker was just put into the job last week and the Saints still have John Carney hanging around. Another bad kick or two by Hartley and Carney might get his job back.

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