NFC South Hot Topic: Nov. 2

Need to keep up with Tampa Bay's NFC South rivals? Here's your chance to catch up with the "Hot Topic," as Bucsblitz.com updates you on the Falcons, Panthers and Saints. It's a free service from Bucsblitz.com.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Things have almost fully reverted back to the way they were before the Falcons drafted Michael Vick in 2001.

On top of a 1-6 start, the Falcons-49ers game Sunday will be blacked out locally, adding more salt to the widening wound that the season has become.

It's the first time since team owner Arthur Blank bought the team in 2002 that Atlanta has not sold out and also the first time a home game won't be televised. The Falcons had sold out 56 consecutive games, according to the team.

The franchise sold the majority of the 71,000 Georgia Dome seats for this season but it held a few thousand single-game tickets for each of its eight home games for walk-up purchases or other requests.

More than 3,000 tickets were unclaimed by the NFL deadline Thursday, which was far too many for any sponsor or business partner to buy. The Falcons declined to ask for an extension, as projections were too discouraging.

The Falcons have four more home games, two against NFC South foes Tampa Bay and New Orleans and one, Thanksgiving night, against Indianapolis (NFL Network).

Atlanta's season finale is against Seattle Dec. 30.

Besides the losses, the Falcons have not had a star emerge to draw marquee appeal. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall is a two-time Pro Bowler with two interceptions, but the biggest headlines he has drawn is for criticizing coaching and front-office decisions and for a heated meltdown on the sideline in a loss to Carolina.

Tailback Warrick Dunn, tight end Alge Crumpler and middle linebacker Keith Brooking were the most recognizable veterans on the team but none of them has played at the level fans are accustomed to.

Upstarts Michael Boley and Jerious Norwood clearly are building blocks but Boley plays a low-profile position (outside linebacker) and Norwood (running back) isn't getting enough touches to make himself a must-see player.

PLAYER NOTES

--TE Alge Crumpler (knee, ankle) still has not practiced since Atlanta's 31-10 Monday night loss to the Giants and is questionable for Sunday's game vs. San Francisco.

--LB Keith Brooking is having a rugged go of things playing MLB but he is still held in high regard by the franchise because he's playing out of position. He is being viewed as taking one for the team because the Falcons had no one else to play the position. Personnel officials feel Brooking still has a lot of football left and he could be moved back to WLB next season - if a better MLB can be signed in free agency or drafted.

--With backup NT Montavious Stanley possibly out Sunday with a knee injury suffered during Wednesday's practice, the Falcons signed NT Tim Anderson, who was released from Buffalo less than two weeks ago. Anderson, a former third-round pick from Ohio State, spent four seasons with the Bills, starting 17 games. Anderson is the third player the Falcons have signed from Buffalo this season. DS Mike Schneck and OT Terrance Pennington are the others.

--To make room for Anderson, the Falcons waived CB Brent Grimes, who was promoted off the practice squad this week. Grimes was in his second season on Atlanta's practice squad. There is a chance he could be re-signed early next week.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

The Panthers' quarterback situation remained status quo on Thursday with David Carr running the show.

For the second straight day, Vinny Testaverde watched the practice from the sidelines in street clothes.

That would suggest that Carr will start Sunday against Tennessee -- although head coach John Fox has not confirmed that.

However, we've seen things change late in the week before.

In fact, all signs pointed to Carr starting last week against Indianapolis, but Fox changed his mind after watching Carr in practice on Friday and went with Testaverde.

This week, Carr has been able to throw the ball deep in practice and said he's feeling much better. He's still not 100 percent and the back spasms could resurface at any time.

If Testaverde, who has a strained Achilles tendon, can't play, then Carr would be his primary backup.

In other news, it hasn't taken long for Carr to learn how intense wide receiver Steve Smith can be -- on and off the field.

"I've been to his house where he's done it," Carr said. "You're in the pool and something happens, he's going to flash on you. It's just him. I enjoy that, because I like guys that care. I like guys who'll go out there and compete with you. He definitely has his opinions on things, but how do you not trust a guy when he comes to you the way he does? He's very aggressive, but he's not coming to you out of disrespect; it's never that way."

Carr said dealing with Smith is much different that receiver Houston Texans star receiver Andre Johnson.

"It's a little bit different," Carr said. "Andre is a totally different person than Steve. Not to say that Andre is a bad person at all. Andre is quiet. He's not going to initiate conversations like Steve will. If I wanted to say something to Andre -- and it wasn't his fault -- I'd have to go up to him and initiate the conversation. Steve is going to initiate conversation with everybody."

PLAYER NOTES

--LB Dan Morgan appears likely to miss his fourth straight game with a partially torn Achilles tendon.

--WR Steve Smith said Wednesday that rookie Dwayne Jarrett should watch more film and not spend as much time talking to the media.

--LB Adam Seward practiced for the second straight day and appears ready for Sunday's game. He would be a backup.

--RB DeAngelo Williams is likely to remain on kickoff returns for the Panthers.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The Saints are bracing for their second-best opponent of the season on Sunday when they go against the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-2) in the Superdome.

And there's more than one reason to be wary of the Jaguars even though the Saints (3-4) have climbed back into contention in the NFC South and are riding a three-game winning streak.

The Jaguars reside in the more dominant AFC, which has given the Saints fits since 2000. Former Saints coach Jim Haslett was 10-14 against AFC competition from 2000-05, going 2-2 four times and 1-3 the other two seasons.

Second-year coach Sean Payton has had an even tougher time. He won in his coaching debut against the Cleveland Browns last September, but has since dropped five straight to the AFC going into Sunday's game.

"We talked about it in the team meeting today," Payton said Wednesday. "We beat Cleveland and that's been it. We've really struggled against these other teams.

"And that's one of our challenges. Each week we play one of these teams, we understand it's going to be a physical game, and no one expects anything different this weekend."

While everyone was looking for a reason for the tough times against the AFC, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who used to play in that conference, simply pointed out that the Saints have played some good teams.

After beating Cleveland last season, they lost to Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. This season, they have been dominated by Indianapolis and Tennessee.

"I'd just say it seems like every team we've played in the AFC has been pretty darn good," Brees said.

PLAYER NOTES

--LDE Charles Grant sat out his second straight practice on Thursday because of a sprained right ankle. He will be re-evaluated again Friday.

--WLB Scott Shanle did not participate in practice again Thursday as he continues to nurse a strained left hamstring.

--C Jeff Faine, inactive last week with a strained left pectoral muscle, did not work Thursday and likely will miss his second straight game on Sunday.

--DT Brian Young, who did not practice on Wednesday, returned to work Thursday. Young had fluid drained from his left knee earlier this week.

--LB Alfred Fincher was limited in practice Thursday as he continues to be brought along slowly after suffering a concussion in last week's game.


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