NFC South Hot Topic: Dec. 10

Hot Topic is your source for NFC South news at Bucsblitz.com. Today get updated on what's going on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' division rivals, Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans. The Falcons and Saints are preparing for a Monday night game.

ATLANTA FALCONS

The Falcons will have started three different quarterbacks over the past four games, including Monday night's matchup with the Saints, but the shuffling figures to stop there.

Chris Redman will start Monday for the first time since 2002 when he was with Baltimore, and will finish out the final three games, barring injury or utter catastrophe on the field. Coach Bobby Petrino hasn't said as much but players indicated that is the plan, which is just fine with them.

"It's been so tough," Falcons center Todd McClure said. "My wife knows that more than anybody. I go home and vent to her just about every day. It's the most frustrating season I've been involved with because of the chain of events."

The chain of events he was referring to started with Michael Vick's dogfighting investigation, which triggered his indefinite suspension, new coach Bobby Petrino's re-jiggering of the offense to fit Joey Harrington, to Petrino's diminished faith in Harrington, to the acquisition and eventual starting of Byron Leftwich. Leftwich then got hurt twice (ankle, tailbone) forcing Harrington's ineffective return.

Enter Redman, who in the fourth quarter of a 28-16 loss to St. Louis earned the starting job by running the offense more effectively than Harrington or Leftwich had, albeit against a struggling team that was playing a prevent defense.

In that 15 minutes and this week in practice, Redman has inspired players the way Harrington couldn't. Leftwich had a similar effect but he has spent more time in the training room than under center.

Several players said Redman's confidence in his ability to run Petrino's offense exudes through the huddle. That's added a pep that has been missing. Whether it adds points and efficiency to one of the NFL's least productive offenses remains to be seen.

Nobody has made any predictions about Redman's effectiveness, but there does seem to be some comfort in knowing that he gets the ball out of his hands quickly and that he's the only player on the team who understands how Petrino wants the offense to operate.

Redman played for Petrino at the University of Louisville in 1999, when Petrino was the offensive coordinator. They have retained a relationship since.

That's one of the reasons why Redman was afforded the opportunity that has led to this. Petrino brought him into offseason workouts to help other quarterbacks learn the system.

The loss of Vick and a season-ending knee injury to backup D.J. Shockley assured a roster spot for Redman. He has quietly sat back and watched the shuffling of Harrington and Leftwich, all the while appreciating the opportunity just to be back in the NFL. He also shook off the rust from back surgery and shoulder problems and regained some of the pop in his accurate right arm.

Now that he has this chance to showcase himself, he said he plans to play as if he has nothing to lose, which he doesn't. Redman said he's not worried about using this opportunity as an audition.

He has to start small, he said, and see where things go from there.

PLAYER NOTES

--OG D'Anthony Batiste could be starting his third straight game, except this time at left guard. He has spent some of the week alternating snaps with season-long starter Justin Blalock, a rookie who has struggled. Batiste started at RG against the Colts and Rams in place of Kynan Forney, who has returned to the starting lineup.

--If OLB Demorrio Williams' quadriceps problem that landed him on the injury report this weekend limits his productiveness or snaps, that could open the door for rookie Stephen Nicholas, who is expected to assume the starting job next season, to get back on the field.

Williams and Nicholas rotated series earlier in the season until Nicholas suffered a high-ankle sprain.

--Second-year backup FS Jimmy Williams seems to have fallen out of favor. He was inactive against the Rams and has not worked much on special teams or in nickel sets during the week. Before the 2006 draft, Williams was pegged as a potential star.

--WR Joe Horn, who played in New Orleans for seven seasons, took a shot at Saints coach Sean Payton, who he blamed for his release last summer.

"All those guys there, Jeff Faine, Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Mike McKenzie, all of them know I care about them and love them. I've been in the fire with them before. But to see what's happened and unfolded, man... When you get power in this league -- I own a business and I don't talk to people who work for me any kind of way. I don't treat them like dirt under my feet.

"Sooner or later, I don't care what profession you in, when you get power and you know you have power and you act like you're The Man, it will come back and bite you in the (behind). So basically, it's the chicken coming home to roost. That's what it is."

CAROLINA PANTHERS

With the Panthers all but out of the playoffs at 5-8, coach John Fox was non-committal as to who will start at quarterback next Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks

There's a chance the Panthers could wind up playing undrafted rookie Matt Moore.

As for who will start next week, Fox's official response was, "Let us look at the tape first."

Moore relieved an ineffective Vinny Testaverde in the fourth quarter, but struggled to move the team, picking up only one first down on two possessions. He completed three of 10 passes for just 21 yards as the Panthers were rocked by Jacksonville 37-6.

Moore has seen action in six games for the Panthers, but has yet to throw a touchdown pass.

On Sunday, Testaverde started his fifth game of the season for the Panthers and was not effective, completing 13 of 28 passes for 84 yards with one interception that was returned 39 yards for a touchdown. The Panthers had less than 100 yards total offense with him at the helm.

"I'm disappointed," Testaverde said. "I feel like I missed some throws that I could have had -- the interception for one. There were quite a few plays out there that we let get away today."

It seems unlikely that David Carr would be an option since he inspires no confidence.

Carr was the team's third-string quarterback for the third straight week.

When asked if he feels like Fox has lost confidence in him as a leader, Carr replied, "I don't know what it is. I know we have a lack of a lot of things right now. It could be, but I don't have a lack of confidence in myself because I know what goes on on the field every day (in practice). I feel good about myself."

Carr has started four games for the Panthers, winning just one.

He has completed 53 percent of his passes, but only for 4.6 yards per pass attempt. He has looked nervous in the pocket and been sacked 13 times.

Overall, he has not been impressive to say the least.

But does Carr, who suffered through back problems and two concussions, feel like he was given enough time to showcase his skills?

"As a competitor you never feel like you are doing anything to hurt the team," Carr said. "You feel like you out there trying to help the team. We have just had a rough year this year all around. I can't feel selfish about it and feel bad for myself. The whole team has struggled and it's been tough."

Fox was frustrated that his offense regressed after a 31-point outburst last week against San Francisco.

Fox said the offense's woes are forcing the defense to remain on the field too long.

Jacksonville owned nearly the ball for nearly 39 minutes.

"That's been the story in several of our losses," Fox said. "We turned it over early in the third at an inopportune time. We're not generating enough on offense, for us to stay fresh enough as a football team to feel like we can compete for four quarters."

PLAYER NOTES

--WR Steve Smith was a non-factor yet again Sunday, finishing with 44 yards on six catches. Smith has now gone seven games without scoring a touchdown.

--RB DeShaun Foster ran for 46 yards on 11 carries, but had a costly fumble on the first play of the second half.

--OG Jeremy Bridges did not play because of an abscessed tooth.

--OG Geoff Hangartner started at right guard for Jeremy Bridges, who was out with a sore tooth.

--QB Vinny Testaverde was held to 84 yards passing and had an interception returned for a touchdown.

--CB Chris Gamble struggled all day long. He gave up a touchdown and also several first down passes on third downs.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

With a day off Sunday in advance of their crucial Monday night game with the Atlanta Falcons, the Saints had to like what they saw just by taking a peek around the league every now and then.

With their playoff hopes virtually reduced to a wild-card spot after that disappointing and discouraging 27-23 setback to the Tampa Bay Bucs a week earlier, the Saints were reduced to scoreboard-watching Sunday.

With what little idle time they may have had as they wrapped up their preparations for the game with the Falcons, Saints coaches were pleased to see that the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals, two teams that were ahead of them in the wild-card race, both stumbled.

The Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers, who were tied with the Saints heading into the weekend, also lost and took a step backward in the wild-card chase.

Still, Saints coach Sean Payton seemed unconcerned about what was going on around the league. He and his staff were preoccupied with preparing an offensive plan that featured running back Aaron Stecker instead of Reggie Bush, who was sidelined for Monday night's game with a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

"It's the time of the year that all of us begin to pay attention to (the scoreboard), but not at the expense of looking past what we're doing," Payton noted.

"The interesting thing is that a lot of those teams, including ourselves, are playing each other in the next few weeks. So each week things seem to get sorted out more and more."

Payton said that focusing on the Falcons was much more important than worrying about what anyone else was doing far, far from the Saints' hotel in Atlanta.

"You're in this tunnel and there's no light right now," he said. "So you start peeking when you start to see the light, and the only way we're going to see any light is if we start winning."

Because of the loss to the Bucs, the Saints were only looking at the game with the Falcons -- which started a critical four-game stretch against NFC teams that included three games against teams that are still in the jumbled wild-card chase.

The next three weeks have the Saints playing both Arizona and Philadelphia at home before they close out the regular season at Chicago. But Payton wasn't about to start looking that far ahead.

"The focus now is in really trying to streamline everyone's attention on this team to this game -- and the importance of this game," he said of the contest with the Falcons. "Then you worry about next week when next week comes. That's kind of the approach we've taken."

And, right tackle Jon Stinchcomb said, that's all that matters when you're in the situation they're in.

"There are plenty of people who can figure out what needs to happen and this and that," he said, referring to the wild-card race. "All we can control is how we play in these next few games."

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Reggie Bush will be inactive for Monday night's game with the Atlanta Falcons after he was diagnosed with a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

--RB/KR Pierre Thomas, who missed last week's game with Tampa Bay because of a bruised kidney, returned for the contest with the Falcons.

--LCB Mike McKenzie will play against the Falcons after missing the final moments of last week's game because he was spitting up blood.


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