After having a tough game against the New York Giants Oct. 15 it appeared that maybe all the years of jarring tackles, bull-rushing lead blockers and sacrificing his body for the good of the team had caught up to safety Lawyer Milloy.
He had not been playing as physically as usual and his biggest asset seemingly was his leadership and his ability to motivate players, not by being the playmaker he once was.
Over the past few weeks, somewhere in the drought-stricken waterways of North Georgia, Milloy found a fountain of youth. The 12-year standout has been a force so fierce, he bypassed middle linebacker Keith Brooking as the second-leading tackler behind outside linebacker Michael Boley.
His 11 tackles against the 49ers gave him 64 for the season and 1,414 for his career. He's also on pace to have his 10th season of amassing more than 100 tackles.
He's re-gained some of his pass-coverage ability -- he has been asked to play more standard coverages than in the recent past -- nabbing his first interception with Atlanta last Sunday in a 20-16 victory over San Francisco.
"The only reason we won this game was because of our leadership," fullback Ovie Mughelli said after Atlanta victory over San Francisco. "Guys like Lawyer and Keith Brooking keep us going. They even come over to the offensive side to make sure that we stay up at all times."
A team official said late last week that Milloy has been the glue of a pretty good defense and that "he is a man's man, a pro's pro," in how he's approached practices and games, despite the 2-6 team's wayward fortunes. He's also played defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's defense to its designed specs.
His discipline and desire have him in position to not only add to his illustrious career but to also make the team think long and hard about retaining him next season, the last of a three-year deal his signed before the 2006 season.
Atlanta will be going through more of a roster purge and several high-profile vets could be on the chopping block. With Milloy still being highly productive and arguably being the most respected player in the locker room, the Falcons might want him to be a part of their rebuilding process.
--If backup RB Jerious Norwood were sidelined this week because of an ankle injury he sustained in Atlanta's 20-16 victory over San Francisco, veteran Artose Pinner would take his place. Pinner was inactive last week but he has been the short-yardage back and protection back on the punt team for most of the season.
--TE Alge Crumpler, who has missed the past two games with knee and ankle injuries, was listed as the starting tight end by the team on Tuesday's pre-game report. That was not the case the previous two games, which Dwayne Blakley started at tight end.
--Backup QB Byron Leftwich has begun running on his surgically repaired right ankle. It is not known if he has done any quarterback-related running, such as drop back drills or rollouts, but he is said to be recovering quickly.
--There are some players who crank things up against certain teams. Case in point: Falcons DE John Abraham vs. Carolina. In five career games against the Panthers, Abraham has 26 tackles, five sacks and two forced fumbles. Four of those sacks have come in the past three games.
--OLB Michael Boley, a fifth-round selection, was the 20th linebacker selected in the 2005 draft. With 208 tackles over the past three years, he is fifth in tackles among that group, which includes Oakland's Kirk Morrison, Seattle's Lofa Tatupu, Miami's Channing Crowder and Kansas City's Derrick Johnson.
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said Tuesday the team has placed the talented, but often-injured linebacker on injured reserve with a partially torn Achilles tendon. Hurney said Morgan will have surgery in the next couple of weeks.
Morgan, who has never finished a 16-game season since joining the Panthers as a first-round draft pick out of Miami in 2001, played in just three games this season. In seven years, Morgan has played in 59 games and, by the time this season ends, will have missed 53 due to injury.
"It's obviously very disappointing for us and for Dan," Hurney said. "He has been trying to rehab for the last six weeks and it just didn't get any better."
The team replaced Morgan on the active roster with fullback Billy Latzko.
The Panthers aren't losing much money under the salary this year because they were basically paying Morgan on a pay-for-play basis. He was to be paid $125,000 for each game he played in, which would have allowed him to recoup the $2 million bonus the team elected not to pay him this past off-season. Morgan is under contract through 2008.
Morgan's long-term future with the Panthers looks tenuous at best.
Not only is he facing surgery to repair his Achilles, but he has also suffered five career concussions. However, Hurney would not discuss Morgan's future on Tuesday.
"As with everyone, we will evaluate that after the season," Hurney said.
If there's a positive, the Panthers seem to have found their middle linebacker of the future in rookie Jon Beason, a fellow Miami Hurricane who has played well in Morgan's absence.
Also, the team has signed quarterback Drew Olson to the practice squad, giving them another quarterback to take reps in practice with Vinny Testaverde and David Carr nursing injuries. Olson signed as a free agent with Baltimore in 2006 and spent the year on the Ravens practice squad. He played for Amsterdam in NFL Europe where he passed for 1,967 yards, and was released by the Ravens Aug. 28.
--QB Vinny Testaverde has a strained right Achilles tendon and the Panthers will reevaluate his status later this week.
--QB David Carr is coming off a lousy game against the Titans and he also suffered a concussion. His status for this week's game is up in the air. He will have some baseline tests on Wednesday.
--QB Matt Moore, a rookie, has a chance to start this week against the Falcons if Vinny Testaverde and David Carr can't go. Moore has played in parts of three games, but only for brief periods. He has never started an NFL game.
--RB DeShaun Foster has tormented the Falcons over the years. He ran for 122 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta in Week 3 and has four 100-yard games in the past five meetings with the Falcons. The Panthers are expected to rely on him heavily this Sunday.
--RB DeAngelo Williams continues to get a limited share of carries since his 121-yard against Arizona. He remains the No. 2 back.
--WR Steve Smith gets a rematch with Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall this week. In Week 3, Hall held Smith to just one catch for 10 yards. However, Smith coaxed Hall into three penalties for 67 yards -- two of them for unsportsmanlike conduct -- in leading Carolina to a win.
--WR Keary Colbert was a non-factor against Tennessee.
--WR Drew Carter caught his first TD pass this past Sunday since Week 1. Carter, who is in his contract year, has been fairly disappointing for the Panthers.
--TE Jeff King should see plenty of balls thrown his way this week, especially if rookie Matt Moore starts at QB.
--LB Dan Morgan is headed to injured reserve. Morgan, who has not played since Week 3, is suffering from a partially torn Achilles tendon.
--LB Jon Beason continues to play well on the inside since taking over for Dan Morgan.
--C Justin Hartwig has a broken right thumb and may miss this week's game. Broken right thumbs aren't good for right-handed centers.
--DE Mike Rucker still has not registered a sack this season.
--DE Julius Peppers simply doesn't look as dominating as he did the past five seasons. In fact, he looks downright average with just 1.5 sacks this season. It's hard to figure out what is wrong with Peppers.
--CB Ken Lucas is coming off his best game of the season against the Titans as he intercepted one pass and contributed to another INT by getting his hand on the ball. Now he needs to play big against Atlanta's Roddy White, who burned him in Week 3 for a long touchdown.
--PK John Kasay missed his only field-goal attempt this past Sunday from 40 yards. That kick was a big one as it would have pulled the Panthers to within 10-3 early in the game.
--P Jason Baker has just one touchback this year and 17 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
The Saints' four-game winning streak is almost as shocking as the four-game losing streak that the team went through to start the season.
Suddenly and swiftly, the once-struggling Saints have come out of nowhere to move within a half-game of the NFC South lead with half the season left to be played.
As a result of their recent play and unexpected winning streak, the Saints (4-4) can pull into a tie for the division lead with idle Tampa Bay with a victory over winless St. Louis on Sunday. Carolina, which is also 4-4, could make it a three-way tie with a win over Atlanta.
At this point, the Saints aren't worried the rest of the season. When they dug themselves an 0-4 hole, they set their sights on one thing -- and one thing only -- the next game. That mantra served them well as they mounted a charge that has them nipping at the heels of the Bucs and Panthers.
"The other teams in our division, they're looking over their shoulder," said Saints fullback Mike Karney. "We've got the baton and we're coming up fast."
What's even bigger than their four-game winning streak is the fact that the Saints have gotten through the toughest part of their schedule. After playing four teams that have winning records at this point in the season, only one of their eight remaining opponents currently have more wins than losses.
That's huge for an explosive offense that is starting to hit its stride and a defense that is playing with more and more confidence, especially against the run, as it heads into the final eight-game stretch. Four games ago, the second half of the season was only a distant dream to the Saints.
"An 0-4 start is going to do one of two things," quarterback Drew Brees said. "It's either going to throw you in the tank or it's going to give you an edge. It's only made us stronger. It's only made us tougher mentally, and now we're in a position where we're hardened a little bit."
--QB Drew Brees had a second straight monster game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He completed 35 of 49 passes for 445 yards, the second-highest total of his seven-year career, and had four touchdown passes in a 41-24 win. Brees, who was sacked just once, did not throw an interception and compiled a passer rating of 119.9.
--RB Reggie Bush continues to get more and more comfortable as the featured back. He finished the game with 115 total yards from scrimmage, picking up 72 rushing yards on 17 carries and a TD and catching seven balls for 43 yards and another score.
--WR Marques Colston had his best game of the season with 10 receptions for 159 yards and a long of 30. While he didn't score a touchdown, Colston had four catches of 20 yards or more and set up two TDs with receptions inside the Jaguars' 10.
--WR David Patten started for the second straight week and caught four passes for 81 yards and a touchdown -- his first since 2004. He recorded catches of 26 and 36 yards.
--TE Eric Johnson caught four passes for 27 yards with a long of 11 and was instrumental in the running game as a blocker.
--LCB Mike McKenzie gave the Saints a two-touchdown cushion in the third quarter when he intercepted Quinn Gray and raced 75 yards for a score. McKenzie also broke up two other passes and had four tackles.
--DE Renaldo Wynn, a former Jacksonville player, saw more playing time against his old team and had four tackles and two sacks among his three quarterback hurries.
--CB Jason Craft, who is the Saints' nickel back, recorded three tackles and had an interception to close out the game. He had one other pass defense as well.
--TE Billy Miller caught three passes for 75 yards. His 57-yard catch and run in the first quarter was the longest of his eight-year NFL career, setting up Reggie Bush for a 1-yard TD run.
--RCB Jason David was burned for an 80-yard TD pass in the first quarter, but he came back to get an interception in the second period and finished with eight tackles to tie for the team lead.