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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Come on NFL

Because of live television, we watched as Reggie Bush taunted Brian Urlacher during last Sunday's NFC Championship Game. We watched the Heisman winner from USC do a nifty flip into the end zone to punctuate his 88-yard touchdown catch.

What we didn't get to see as it happened was NFL big-wigs decide to fine Bush $5,000 for the finger-pointing gesutre A WEEK LATER.

Look, sportsmanship in all professional sports is down. Bush's decision -- while clearly not the smartest -- deserved a $5,000 fine like everyone needs another hole in their head.

The NFL blew this one. Reggie Bush learned his lesson immediately and, if he didn't, the 23-0 run Chicago went on after the score certainly taught him. If the NFL feels it needs to fine someone, there's an organization in southern Ohio that's probably near the record for most NFL players arrested in one calendar year. Go take some of its money.

Friday, January 26, 2007

SI jinx

Peyton Manning could probably do without this week's Sports Illustrated cover photo.

I know, I know, a lot of people don't believe in the SI cover jinx.

But if you are keeping score, last week's cover also had the photo of a quarterback. That would be Drew Brees of the Saints.

Oh yeah, his team lost to the Chicago Bears, 39-14 in the NFC Championship Game.

Guess Brees would have preferred a Rex Grossman cover.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

NFL official: Reggie taunted

There has been much discussion about Reggie Bush's touchdown celebration/taunting in Sunday's game with the Chicago Bears.

Some in the media have suggested that since no penalty was called on Bush his antics weren't all that bad.

Well, well, well.

On NFL Network tonight, NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira reviewed Bush's touchdown.

Pereira had no problem with Bush's flip into the end zone. But Bush's pointing at the Bears defense was, in Pereira's words "direct taunting.'' Pereira also said Bush should have been flagged on the play and if a similar play happens in the Super Bowl, officials have been told to throw the flag.

So that should end the ridiculous argument that because there was no flag there was no harm.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Colts take big first step

If you're Peyton Manning, you can breathe a little easier.

You've gotten a team to the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately for Manning, he is going to have to WIN a Super Bowl before people get off his back.

It wasn't enough for the Boston Red Sox to take out the New York Yankees in 2004. The Red Sox had to win the World Series and they did.

Whether it's right or not, you can bet the national media will make the outcome of the Super Bowl in two weeks all about Manning and his place in history. And they'll make it a win or else proposition.

Get ready, you'll hear this for the next two weeks.

I hate to say I told you so

But in the podcast early this week, and last night on the blog, I said Fred Thomas would be a key to this game. Much was made about how bad Grossman was, but the Saints' secondary was worse. And a bad secondary can make an average quarterback look like Joe Montana.

Bears must force Grossman mistake

His stats are gaudy by any stretch, but Rex Grossman still holds the key to this game. The Saints just had the Bears pushed back to the 15-yard line and Grossman made a couple of nice completions to get out of trouble.
The Saints have to find a way to make Rex make a mistake.

Signs of life

It took a 16-point deficit, but the Saints finally show some signs of life with a touchdown pass to Marques Colston.

Well, it's been fun

The Saints' offense is frozen solid, and so is the defensive line right now.
This is getting ugly in a hurry.

Saints still in this

The breaks have gone the wrong way and the scoreboard isn't kind, but one turnover (or big play) the Saints way could turn this around.
I would like to see a little more of the running game, although Deuce appears a bit limp.

The good news: It's only 6-zip

I just came out of the cold and I have some good news. The Saints, despite 3 fumbles (2 lost) are only down 6-0. They were moving the ball AGAINST the stiff wind. Now, with the second quarter here, they will have the wind at their backs. If they can hold onto the ball, they might be OK, because they have been able to move the ball against the Bears.

Still think the weather makes no difference? Turnover No. 2

Michael Lewis fumbles a kickoff return and coughs up the ball.
The first quarter clock expires with the Bears holding a 3-0 lead.
Three fumbles for the Saints.
This is not looking good.

First turnover goes against Saints

Rookie Marques Colston makes the first big mistake of the game.
His fumble near midfield gave the Bears the ball. The Saints were driving.
This is the stuff hard, slick footballs will cause, especially if you're not used to it.
Yes, he played at Hofstra, but last I checked not in the middle of January.


CHICAGO -- Wide receiver Joe Horn will not play in today's NFC Championship Game at Solider Field.
Horn has been struggling with a groin injury throughout the last half of the season.
The temperature is currently 28 degrees. The 14 mph winds make it feel like it's 7 degrees. There is a snow advisory in effect with the possibility of light freezing rain and snow.

A little worried about this weather

I'm beginning to wonder how these crappy field conditions will affect the Saints, especially Reggie Bush.
Bush makes a living with cutback and slick moves. You would think, those are going to be tough to pull off this afternoon. With 90 minutes until kickoff, the sleet is falling -- and so is the temperature.
The Saints have the No. 1 offense in the league and the Bears the top defense. The weather would seem to favor a defensive squad, but we'll just wait and see. The Saints have proven everyone wrong all year.

Saints' secondary the key

With all this negative talk about Rex Grossman, many are forgetting how dirt-poor the Saints' secondary was last weekend against Philadelphia.
If Fred Thomas and the boys play like they did in the perfect conditions of the Superdome, Grossman could have a field day and the dream could end.
If the defensive front can puts some pressure on Rex, and the secondary can pick one off early, things could turn out OK for the Black and Gold.
Grossman isn't terrible and the 13-3 record speaks to that. Or maybe he just doesn't have to be stellar. Either way, the Bears are an extremely formidable opponent and should not be overlooked.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Maybe I'm missing something

So I'm typing in some of the picks of our panel of experts for Sunday's paper and every one of us picked the Colts over the Patriots.

Now, I have a friend who works for the Colts. We've been friends for close to 25 years. And I'd dearly love for him to go to the Super Bowl.

But no one picked the Patriots?

Earlier in the week I thought about the Patriots. I was going to pick the Patriots. And at the end, the Patriots just scared me. Yes, the Patriots are in the Colts' head. But the Colts at least are playing defense. And I think defense is going to rule the day.

Which is why I was surprised no one picked the Bears besides me. Yes, the Bears' defense has struggled since the loss of Mike Brown and Tommie Harris.

But has anyone checked out Fred Thomas lately?

So I'm all by my lonesome with the Bears.

Here's the thing, I think these are two good matchups that you can make a case for either way. I was just a little surprised to see overwhelming favorites in both games.

Friday, January 19, 2007

When the Saints (fans) come rolling in

A gaggle of Saints fans are expected to arrive at Chicago's Union Station this morning at 9 a.m. Photographer Greg Pearson and I will hail a cab and head that way now.
Supposedly, Amtrak had to employ an extra train or two for the folks in New Orleans.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Will offense or defense prevail?

The outcome of Sunday’s NFC title game could hinge on the answer to one question.

Can a top-notch defense stop a top-notch offense?

The New Orleans Saints bring the NFL’s top-ranked offense to Chicago, where the Bears will showcase the NFC’s top-ranked defense.

“(The Saints) have lots of weapons,” Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer told reporters. “But they say great pitching beats great hitting, and I think great defense beats great offense.”

ESPN’s Joe Theismann, who guided the Washington Redskins to a 27-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII, begs to differ – in this case.

“I honestly don’t believe there is a way to stop (the Saints’) offense,” he said. “The best bet is to use your offense to keep the Saints’ potent offense off the field. That means successfully running the ball and chewing up clock.

“What makes this offense so special isn’t the number of playmakers it has, but the rhythm in which every offensive player plays. They do a wonderful job of getting on the field and executing their game plan with precise timing. It’s imperative for the Bears to break that up this week.”

That will be no small chore, however.

Behind All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints averaged a league-leading 391.5 yards a game during the regular season - and they haven’t let up during the postseason.

From the look of things, the Saints may have all of the answers.

Iron Mike speaks

Boy, that Mike Ditka isn't bitter or anything.

He called former Bears president Michael McCaskey "a snake.'' He calls Saints owner Tom Benson "stupid.'' And he refuses to pick either team to win the game.

You can read Ditka's rant in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Ditka deserved better treatment in Chicago. He did coach the Bears to their only Super Bowl win (although he screwed over Walter Payton in the process).

But New Orleans, that's another story. Calling New Orleans a "dirty city'' in a national publication didn't help. Nor did trading away the 1999 draft for dope-smoking Ricky Williams. Not to mention all of the losing.

It's understandable Ditka wanting to stay out of this game. It's not so understandable to still be bitter so long after being fired.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Glad to be a Saint

New Orleans Saints linebacker Scott Fujita was on a conference call with national media today.

Fujita, a free-agent signee last offseason, certainly sounds like a guy who made the right decision to leave the Dallas Cowboys for the Saints. With the Saints in the NFC title game and the Cowboys out of the playoffs two weeks ago, few would argue with his decision now.

"I had been offered an extension in the few months prior to free agency,'' Fujita said. "As free agency hit, the offers slowly climbed. For me, it was all about finding the right fit and a place where I felt the most comfortable and thought I would be the happiest.

"Once free agency opened up and I came down to New Orleans, I just felt like I was right here, right where I belong. It's nothing against Dallas. I enjoyed my time there. They had a good thing going. It was just time for me to have a change.''

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Saints getting some national love

ESPN's Merrill Hodge, you may remember him from either the Pittsburgh Steelers or when we had sports radio in this town, likes the Saints in Sunday's NFC title game with the Bears.

Hodge expressed this opinion on ESPN radio tonight.

Hodge sees the Saints having a major advantage with their ability to run the football. He notes the Bears struggled against the Seahawks when Seattle ran to the weak side. The Bears' adjustment meant sliding its front four away from the strong side. He also points out that the Saints enjoyed success running to the weak side against the Eagles on Saturday.

Hodge also sees the Saints' defense in a similar vein to the Minnesota Vikings. He points out that Bears QB Rex Grossman struggled against the Vikings, in part because of Minnesota's press coverage and a smaller window to throw.

That's all well and good. But the game is still played on the football field.

The Saints may well run up and down the field. Or they may not run the ball at all the way they didn't in some games this season.

But there's nothing wrong with a little talk leading up to the game.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Reggie, Reggie, Reggie, Part 2

I don't care what Roy says. He still fumbled.

- Joel Anderson

Deuce busts through

Well, the Saints recaptured some of the momentum with a 7-play, 63-yard drive that was capped by Deuce's pile-driving, helmet-cracking TD run. That dude is as strong as an ox. Wow. Even Earl Campbell would have appreciated that one.

Maybe the Saints should have gone for the two-point conversion instead of the extra point kick, but they still trail only 21-20. Maybe that means Saints coach Sean Payton has confidence that New Orleans can - and will - score again.

Hope springs eternal, you know?

Westbrook takes off again

It didn't take long before the Eagles struck again, this time on Brian Westbrook's 62-yard scamper down the right sideline into the end zone. We're just about a minute and a half into the end zone.

Philly, 21-13.

It's hard to quantify how much quieter it is in the Superdome right now. Earlier, you could almost feel the noise. Now I could probably yell out some tackling tips to the Saints' D.

Half over?

If the Superdome crowd wasn't worked up enough about trailing at the half, um, by a point, then the end of the second quarter caused them a little more grief.

Marques Colston somehow got his hands on a Hail Mary pass from Drew Brees in the end zone, only to drop it when he fell to the turf. The call - at least to me - could have gone either way.

The refs debated it for a minute, then the half was over. No review; boos ensued.

Oh well. Yet another break for Philly.

Big crowd

Saturday night marks the largest playoff crowd at the Superdome for a Saints game.
70,001 are packed in here. No Saints playoff game had ever been attended by more than 69,000 before today.

Eagles RB takes to air

Philly RB Brian Westbrook just took off over the goal line with a leap that puts anything Reggie Bush has ever done to shame.

The Saints have dominated this game, as far as time of possession, yards and overall big plays. Yet they still trail 14-12 with only 50 seconds left until the half.

You've got to wonder what New Orleans can do to create some separation. Thus far, they've done pretty much everything except score enough touchdowns.

Fred Thomas ... the 12th Eagle

Fred Thomas is the best thing going right now for the Eagles. He just watched Reggie Brown send him head-over-heels for a long gain after giving up a 75-yard touchdown -- when he tripped -- on the last possession.

I almost forgot ...

Joel said Bush wouldn't get 50 yards of offense tonight.
This just in ... 34 yards rushing, 14 yards receiving and a touchdown. 48 yards with 5 minutes to go in the second quarter.
I'm looking pretty good on the over.

But Fred Thomas is really horrible

I'm sorry but Fred Thomas is just killing the Saints tonight. Wow.

Jeff Garcia and the Eagles, as bad as they look on offense, are turning the backup corner into a human turnstile. That dude bears watching all night; something I'm sure the Philly braintrust has noted as well.

Bush fever

Joel Anderson still won't give Reggie any credit.
Therefore, you know he's a sham.
Reggie just led the Saints down the field and capped off an extremely impressive drive with a 4-yard scamper to the corner of the end zone to give the Saints the lead again.
New Orleans is completely outperforming the Eagles' offense, but the Saints only hold a 13-7 lead.


The Superdome was deafening. The Saints had a 6-0 lead and the Eagles had done nothing to scare the home town crowd.
But when New Orleans cornerback Fred Thomas tripped over his own Reeboks early in the second quarter, that left Donte Stallworth wide open down the left sideline. Eagles quarterback Jeff Garcia threw a pass that look more like a punt and Stallworth, the former Saint, ran under the ball, corralled it and skipped into the end zone.
The pass was the longest touchdown and pass play in Philadelphia Eagles playoff history.

Jeff Garica is horrible...

...wait a minute. I was just about to write those words and Roy said, somewhat cryptically, "Yeah, but he's only one pass from taking the lead."

Then, bang! Garcia hits former Saints receiver Donte Stallworth for a 75-yard touchdown that absolutely sucked the life out of this Superdome crowd.

Wow. If you let anyone stick around long enough in the NFL - even a retread like Garcia - and eventually it'll come back to bite you.

Will field goals get it done?

The Saints settle for another field goal in the red zone. They have done NOTHING to capitilize on a Superdome crowd ready to erupt at a moment's notice.
6-0 Saints.

Bullocks drops the ball; Henderson DOESN'T

New Orleans safety Josh Bullocks had his eye on the end zone. Unfortunately, he never hauled in the potential interception from Jeff Garcia.
Moments later after a amazing 25-yard rush by Reggie Bush, receiver Devery Henderson hung onto a 35-yard grab down the left sideline. Henderson has been prone to drops this year, but came up big here.
First-and-goal on the 5.

Big holes for Deuce

Deuce McAllister has all day to run early in this ball game, a GREAT sign if you are a fan of the New Orleans Saints. While the Saints only managed to get 3 points despite great field position, unless Philadelphia adjusts up front, the Saints could control the ball tonight.

Saints sputter then respond

After an awful first series on offense, the Saints came up with a huge defensive stand that gave them awesome field position.

Deuce McAllister then broke off a big run - completely flattening a Philly defender along the way - that had everyone out of their seats, and set up the first points of the game - John Carney's 33-yard field goal.

But if I were a Saints fan, I'd be worried. The crowd has been absolutely electric in here and the New Orleans offense has seemed really flat other than Deuce's tackle-breaking run.

Philly will have its chances tonight, for sure. The Saints need to feed off this energy in the Dome, and quickly.

Reggie, Reggie, Reggie

...was busted up big time by Eagles' cornerback Sheldon Brown on a swing route on the second play of the game. The hit jarred loose the ball and sent the rookie darling to the sideline.

Luckily for the Saints, he shook it off and jogged to the bench.

A message may have been sent, though. Philly will be coming hat-first in this one.

Only one problem tonight

The jersey sales have obviously been swift around here. Now the only thing missing is coordination. How about a White Out. Or a Black Out. Come on ... place would be incredible under such circumstances. OK, maybe for the NFC Championship.

The best running back in the stadium...

...is probably sitting one row in front of Roy and I in the Superdome press box: the Washington Redskins' Clinton Portis.

If I'm not mistaken, he's doing some, um, broadcasting work for the NFL Network. He at least looks the part today, wearing a nice gray suit and diamond studs large enough to blind the entire second row of the press box.

Two other things: Clinton seemed amused at his own entry on wikipedia.org and later entertained himself during dinner by thumbing through the Saints Gameday magazine. He eventually settled on the Saintsations' page.

A little reading never hurt anyone, you know?

Hometown kid makes good

Well aren't the Saints' fans are a swell bunch?

When the Indianapolis Colts nailed a field goal with 15 seconds left to seal a win in their divisional playoff game against the Ravens, a cheer swelled up through the Superdome crowd watching on a Jumbotron screen.

The biggest cheers were reserved for camera shots of Indy quarterback Peyton Manning, a New Orleans native who apparently moved on to big things.

By the way, I picked Indy to win that one. I know it's not recorded anywhere; nevertheless, it's true. As I just told esteemed my esteemed colleague and road trip partner for the day, Roy, neither the Chiefs nor the Ravens really had enough offense to expose the Colts' porous defense.

Next week, though, may be a different story for Peyton and Co.

- Joel Anderson

To use a bad pun...

...some of the Saints just came marching onto the Superdome turf.

The buzz in, around and outside the stadium, spilling blocks away from the stadium, is palpable. The pregame atmosphere feels almost collegiate, nothing like an NFL game.

Fans walking down the famed Poydras Street joined in cheers of "Who dat?" and hardly a speck of Philly green could be found in the stands hours before kickoff.

You know, normally I don't believe in home-field advantage; New Orleans may again convince me otherwise tonight.

I remember coming to the Superdome in January 2004, when I was a cub reporter covering the Oklahoma Sooners in the Sugar Bowl. Their opponent, of course, was the Nick Saban-led LSU Tigers. In that game, an OU team that I had believed to be nearly perfect for a college team was overwhelmed from the start. The pro-LSU crowd played no small role in that "home" win.

To me, without giving a prediction, it feels a little familiar in here tonight.

- Joel Anderson

Joe Horn is INACTIVE

Saints wide receiver Joe Horn will not play tonight against the Philadelphia Eagles. I believe this is a crucial loss for New Orleans. I'm not saying they are going to lose, but Horn is that possession receiver the Saints have needed.
How many times have we seen Devery Henderson and Terrance Copper drop balls in the second half of the season. Tonight's game could very well hinge on a crucial reception. While Marques Colston has proven himself, Copper and Henderson have dropped the ball.
With Lito Sheppard out, this would have been a great opportunity for the Saints' tripleheaded monster at wideout to excel.

Saints will keep marching

Don’t worry, Saints fans. New Orleans will prevail tonight.

The last time the Philadelphia Eagles faced a high-powered offense on the road, they were demolished (45-21 by Indianapolis).

Not only do the Eagles have to contain the Saints’ No. 1-ranked offense, they also have to contend with the Superdome crowd – and that’s too much for ANY team to handle.

Feeling it

Just in driving around town and going to a youth league basketball game, I've got to say this is the most Saints enthusiasm I've seen around here.

I saw way more Saints shirts, hats, flags, etc., than I ever did during the 2000 playoffs or again in the early 1990s.

Times sports writer Russell Hedges was in New Orleans last night and said the scene is crazy there as well.

What does it mean?

It means Saints fans feel they have their best shot ever at reaching the NFC Championship Game and even the Super Bowl.

A win tonight will only make it crazier next week for the NFC title game. A loss would be a tremendous letdown.

Last-minute predictions

With the Indianapolis-Baltimore kickoff 20 minutes away, it's time to see if I can do better than my baseball predictions (Not that my stellar 0-6 record will be tough to beat).

Baltimore 20, Indianapolis 17
New Orleans 31, Philadelphia 21
Chicago 27, Seattle 13
San Diego 24, New England 21

Thursday, January 11, 2007


That's right. The Times Sports staff takes you through the NFL Playoffs. Can the Saints cap their season with a victory in Super Bowl XLI? Is this Peyton Manning's year? Who has the inside track to Miami? Watch the answers unfold here.