NFC South Hot Topic: Oct. 24

Want the daily update on Tampa Bay's NFC South rivals? Look for the Hot Topic during the week to get news on Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans each week.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Left tackle Renardo Foster was placed on injured reserve after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Sunday's loss at New Orleans. Foster, an undrafted rookie, was starting in place of veteran Wayne Gandy, who tore his ACL in his left knee at Tennessee three games ago and was placed on IR.

The Falcons have four players on injured reserve because of torn knee ACLs. Quarterback D.J. Shockley tore the ACL and MCL in his knee during a preseason game at Buffalo and wide receiver Brian Finneran tore his ACL this summer while rehabilitating the torn ACL he suffered during training camp of 2006.

The Falcons signed free agent offensive tackle Terrance Pennington to fill Foster's roster spot. Pennington started nine games for Buffalo last season as a rookie but he was cut during training camp. With a bye this weekend, Pennington has the opportunity to learn enough of the offense to be the reserve tackle for Atlanta's next game against visiting San Francisco Nov. 4.

If Pennington is not ready, the Falcons could use Harvey Dahl, who was signed off San Francisco's practice squad two weeks ago.

Ideally, the Falcons are hoping for right tackle Todd Weiner to return from arthroscopic knee surgery to face the 49ers. If he's healthy enough to play, Ojinnaka could play left tackle or Tyson Clabo, who is filling in for Weiner, could be moved to the left side.

PLAYER NOTES

--Atlanta worked out former Georgia DE Quentin Moses on Monday but did not sign him. He is expected to sign with Miami. Moses was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the third round this spring but was released. He was then signed by Arizona, which also cut him.

--With this being a bye weekend, several players said they plan to go out of town -- to watch football -- once they are released from practice Thursday. QB Joey Harrington said he is going to see his alma mater, Oregon, face USC. CB DeAngelo Hall plans to attend the Virginia Tech-Boston College showdown.

--OLB Michael Boley has 60 tackles by league count -- third highest in the NFL. He had a career-high 85 last season according to league stats.

--RB Warrick Dunn is on pace to rush for 667 yards after gaining more than 1,000 in each of the past three seasons. He's averaging just 3.1 yards per carry and 41 yards rushing per game.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Jon Beason has been outstanding in his two starts at middle linebacker for the Panthers, but he believes he'll be headed back to weak-side linebacker once Dan Morgan returns.

"I know Dan's going to come back, and I'll just move back to (weak-side linebacker)," Beason said. "That's what I hope. People get nicked all the time, and I would hope if I got nicked for a couple weeks I wouldn't lose my job.

"Obviously if a guy's playing well, people might consider it a controversy. But Dan's proven. He knows (playing middle linebacker) far better than I do. It's not like I'm going to bring more to the table than a healthy Dan Morgan will. I think with both of us out there, we're a better defense."

Morgan's return date remains a mystery.

And the decision on who starts there is ultimately up to head coach John Fox, not Beason.

Eventually, of course, Beason will be the team's middle linebacker once Morgan decides to step down. That puts Beason in the potentially awkward position of one day replacing his buddy, a guy who served as role model to him while he was at the University of Miami.

"I don't think it's necessarily going to be a coaching decision," Beason said. "I think it's when Dan's ready, Dan will step down."

But Beason is hoping it will be awhile before Morgan hangs it up.

"If it was up to me, I would hope he could play 10 more years so we could play together," Beason said. "That's one thing I was looking forward to, is being out there on the field with him, learning a lot, watching him. I've been taking notes and want to have that same mystique he has at that position."

Beason's play has prompted teammates to take notice.

"You have a rookie guy who's playing one position and moves to another position on the fly, in the middle of the stuff that was going on," said defensive end Mike Rucker. "I think he's really stepped up to the plate and really stepped your game up."

But Rucker added Morgan can only help the defense.

"There's nobody else like Dan," Rucker said. "We can't wait to have Dan back, because Dan is Dan."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Vinny Testaverde said he expects David Carr to start against the Colts if Carr is healthy.

--QB David Carr said he fully expects to be ready to play against the Colts on Sunday. It is likely he will start if healthy.

--RB DeShaun Foster is averaging 4.2 yards but has only one rushing touchdown in six games.

--RB DeAngelo Williams is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and has played well of late. Still, he will remain Carolina's No. 2 back behind DeShaun Foster.

--WR Steve Smith had more catches (10) and receiving yards (136) this past week than in his previous three games combined (10-89).

--WR Keary Colbert needs to have a huge game against the Colts for the Panthers to win this game. Colbert needs to start taking the pressure off Steve Smith.

--WR Dwayne Jarrett, the team's second-round draft pick, has been inactive for all but two games.

--TE Jeff King has been a reliable receiver for the Panthers and is second on the team in receptions behind only Steve Smith.

--LB Dan Morgan is not guaranteed to start at middle linebacker when he returns from an Achilles injury, coach John Fox said. The Panthers have not said if Morgan will return to practice this week. We should know more on Wednesday.

--DE Mike Rucker is still looking for his first sack since returning from knee surgery in January.

--CB Ken Lucas said the bye week did his shoulder good. Lucas was bothered by shoulder problems for much of last season.

--PK John Kasay has been very sharp this season for the Panthers converting 11 of 13 field goals. His only misses are from 47 and 45. He has made six of six from inside 40.

--P Jason Baker had one off game for the Panthers, but has punted extremely well for the most part.

--KR Nick Goings should be back this week after missing the last three games with a concussion. He could take over duties from DeAngelo Williams, who took over for Ryne Robinson. The Panthers kick return game remains a mess.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Despite winning the last two times out, Saints coach Sean Payton says his team has a lot of room for improvement as they near the midpoint of the season.

While there are many areas to clean up, Payton is specifically concerned with the Saints' third-down efficiency on offense and their ability to stop third downs on defense.

They were two of the things that Payton and his coaching staff zeroed in on after the Saints' 22-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. When they met Monday, the focus was on cleaning up those areas as they prepared to turn the page to Sunday's game at San Francisco.

A win there would pull the Saints (2-4) to within one game of the .500 mark -- which seemed like an unreasonable goal when they started the season with four consecutive losses.

But in order to get that third win, Payton knows the Saints have to be better on third downs. They converted 4-of-12 third downs (and were also 1-of-3 on fourth down) and the Falcons were 9-of-18 on third down. As a result, Atlanta ran 12 more plays than the Saints and held the ball for nearly 11 more minutes (35:27-24:33).

Payton pointed to himself as being one of the culprits. He said time of possession and number of plays could have been improved if he hadn't gotten in a rut in calling the plays in the second and third quarters.

In addition, the second-year coach took the blame for having to use two timeouts on the Saints first possession of the second half. The good news was the Saints finished that drive with a 24-yard touchdown run by Pierre Thomas that gave them a 14-13 lead.

"Yesterday I wasn't as good," he said. "We were late getting the play in and I hate to burn (timeouts), especially in the second half when you get left with just one. I would prefer not to burn those for no reason. We just have to keep working through the substitutions. I can be a lot better that way; I need to be."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Drew Brees completed 22 of 34 passes for 219 yards, but wasn't particularly sharp early. However, he did throw a perfect 37-yard TD strike to Devery Henderson. Brees finished with two TDs and one interception and had a passer rating of 90.2. He was not sacked for the third straight game.

--RB Reggie Bush didn't put up great numbers, but he came up with the yards when the Saints had to have them. He rushed 17 times for 54 yards and had five catches for 19 yards, including a 4-yarder in which he powered his way into the end zone to give the Saints a 20-16 lead with five minutes to play and then added a two-point conversion. He also had a 7-yard run in the final two minutes for a first down to help the Saints run out the clock.

--WR Marques Colston caught three passes for 45 yards, but his clutch 33-yarder on third-and-5 kept the Saints' game-winning touchdown drive alive. He caught a short pass, shook off a tackle and galloped to the Falcons' 31. Eight plays later, Bush crashed in for the touchdown.

--WR David Patten had only two catches for 29 yards, but he also had a key 11-yard grab on third-and-4 from the Atlanta 25 to keep the game-winning TD march going.

--TE Eric Johnson caught five passes and led the Saints with 54 receiving yards against the Falcons. He had a long gain of 21 yards.

--LDE Charles Grant may have had his best game of the season with five tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and two quarterback hurries.

--FS Josh Bullocks had another active game with four tackles and two quarterback hurries. He also broke up one pass.

--RDE Will Smith didn't have any sacks, but he was credited with three quarterback hurries and was solid against the run while recording five tackles.

--RB/KR Pierre Thomas, an undrafted rookie, made the most of his two carries with a 24-yard TD run in the third quarter to give the Saints a 14-13 lead. He finished with 28 rushing yards. He also returned three kickoffs for 78 yards, including a long of 32.

--WR/KR Lance Moore caught only one pass for 10 yards, but he also had a season-long 48-yard punt return in the first quarter.


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