Inside slant: New Orleans Saints

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When the NFL schedule is announced each April, the last thing a player wants to see is a bye in the fourth week of the season -- which is much too early for the majority of them.

The thought of having 13 more regular-season games after barely starting the season with three games is not the most pleasant thought. But for the 0-3 Saints, the bye couldn't have come at a better time.

While they're still facing an uphill battle to bounce back from a disappointing and frustrating start, the Saints at least had a week to step away from it and look at what went wrong, and then come back with an opportunity to get some things straightened out.

That was exactly what the doctor ordered after the Saints dropped a 31-14 decision to the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 24. They've held the lead for just more than 11 minutes this season and have been outscored 103-38 in their three losses, so a bye was a relief to bewildered coach Sean Payton.

"It may be just what we need," Payton said. "We'll be able to tell (if it helped) in a week, two weeks, three weeks. But it's hard to sit on a loss like this and be 0-3 with a bye and feel really good."

At this point, the bye is the only thing they have to try and turn around a season that began with so much promise -- but went south in a hurry.

With 13 games left, they know they have time to fix some of the things that have plagued them in the first three games. More important, it gave them hope that the season won't eventually become a complete disaster.

"At first, I thought the bye week was too early in the season," quarterback Drew Brees said. "I think now it gives us a chance to step back and evaluate where we are at and where we need to go from here. It gives us a chance to get guys healed up.

"I don't think we can feel any worse then we feel right now. It can only go up from here."

NOTES, QUOTES

— RB Deuce McAllister underwent surgery last Thursday to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, which was injured in a 31-14 loss to the Tennessee Titans three nights earlier.

Dr. James Andrews repaired the damage to McAllister's left ACL and the medial meniscus in the same knee and also cleaned up the right knee, which had been surgically repaired in October 2005.

"We are pleased to hear that Deuce's surgery went well," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said. "We're confident that his rehabilitation will go well, and everyone in the Saints organization is looking forward to having Deuce back on the field in a Saints uniform in 2008."

In a statement released by the team, McAllister thanked everyone for their prayers and well wishes.

"I'm eager to begin the rehab process and to get back with my teammates as soon as possible," said McAllister, a seven-year veteran who has become one of the most respected and beloved players in club history.

With McAllister sidelined for the rest of the season, Reggie Bush and veteran Aaron Stecker will play expanded roles starting with Sunday's matchup with the Carolina Panthers.

Saints coach Sean Payton indicated that rookie Pierre Thomas, who has been inactive for the first three games, will likely be active on game day.

Thomas, who played his college football at Illinois, was an undrafted free agent who earned a roster spot by beating out fourth-round draft pick Antonio Pittman in training camp.

— QB Drew Brees said that although no formal players-only meetings had been held prior to the team's bye week, there was plenty of discussion regarding the Saints' frustrating 0-3 start.

"We've talked a lot among our team, no coaches," Brees said. "The more we talk, the more I look around this locker room. We've got the right guys, the right type people.

"You see so many guys who are down after this one (a loss to Tennessee) in particular, because it means so much to them. That's what you want. You want guys that care, who aren't going to be satisfied with the point we're at now. We all understand how good we can be."

— During the bye week, Brees and his wife, Brittany, donated $2 million to Purdue University, their alma mater.

Thanks to the gift, The Drew and Brittany Brees Student-Athlete Academic Center will grow to 11,000 square feet in the Intercollegiate Athletic Facility, which is currently located next to Mackey Arena. The academic center in that facility now has 6,500 square feet of space.

Brees set 12 Big Ten and 18 Purdue records and led the team to the Rose Bowl after the 2000 season. The Brees Center is part of Mackey Arena's renovation project set for completion in 2011.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

RCB Jason David had a plate inserted into his fractured left forearm last week and will likely be sidelined from four to six weeks.

LT Jammal Brown should be ready for Sunday's game with the Carolina Panthers after dislocating a finger in a Sept. 24 loss to Tennessee.

SLB Scott Fujita is expected to play Sunday against the Panthers after spraining his ankle in the Saints' last game with Tennessee.

DT Kendrick Clancy was inactive for the Saints' last game because of a right turf toe injury, and his status for this week is unknown.

S Jay Bellamy was re-signed to take Deuce McAllister's spot on the 53-man active roster.

REPORT CARD AFTER 3 GAMES

PASSING OFFENSE: F -- The good news is that Drew Brees is completing 63.8 percent of his passes. The bad news is the Saints are struggling in every other aspect of the pass game -- including play-calling and pass protection -- with a lot of drops along the way. Brees has hit on 83 of 130 passes with one touchdown and seven interceptions, but his passer rating of 57.1 is among the lowest in the league, and the Saints are averaging just 5.2 yards a pass attempt after averaging 8.0 last season. Marques Colston has been their top receiver with 18 receptions for 185 yards and the team's only receiving TD, but no one has stepped up as the second and third receivers for Brees.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- This hasn't been a huge disaster, but the loss of Deuce McAllister for the rest of the season certainly won't help things. The Saints are averaging just 79.7 yards a game, a number that's skewed because they've had to play from behind most of the season. Still, they're averaging just 3.5 yards per attempt with a long of 15 yards. McAllister had just 92 yards on 24 carries before being hurt, and Reggie Bush has had trouble getting started with 80 yards and two TDs on 29 attempts.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- After finishing third in the league in passing yards allowed last season, the Saints have been awful this season. They've given up 12 pass plays of 24 yards or more and are allowing 239.0 yards a game. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 63.9 percent of their passes and have throw seven TDs to just one interception for a passer rating of 123.4. They are also averaging 10.0 yards per pass play after the Saints allowed just 6.6 yards per pass a year ago. In addition to having just one interception, the Saints have not recorded a sack yet.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- This is the one area the Saints have improved, as they're allowing just 3.7 yards per carry and 116.3 yards a game. After they gave up big run after big run last season, the Saints have done a decent job and have allowed a long gain of 19 yards this season. Some skeptics might say teams don't have to run against the Saints because the pass defense has been so porous, but opponents have averaged just under 32 rushing attempts per game -- giving them ample opportunity to pile up yardage.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- Second-year P Steve Weatherford has been the lone bright spot so far, as he leads the NFC with a 48.3-yard average on 12 punts with a career-long of 61 yards. He also has a net of 40.2 and has dropped four punts inside the 20. Olindo Mare had made just one of three field-goal attempts and hasn't been as good as advertised on kickoffs. That, combined with poor coverage on kickoffs, has helped opponents average 26.4 yards per return. The Saints also allow 10.8 yards on punt returns. The Saints have been poor on kickoff returns at just 18.3 yards per return, although Aaron Stecker is averaging 26.3 yards on three returns. The Saints average a healthy 14.0 yards on punt returns, but they have had only three opportunities due to four fair catches.

COACHING: D -- Sean Payton and his staff have tried everything to snap their team out its early-season funk, short of wholesale lineup changes, but to no avail. Payton has taken full responsibility for his team's offensive struggles with his play-calling and has vowed to look at all aspects of it during the bye week. It'll be interesting to see if Payton reaches his players and, more important, gets them to bounce back from their malaise.


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