NFC South Round-up: week 5

Catch up on the latest news and notes from our divisional opponents -- INSIDE!

Atlanta Falcons

Most fans probably want an update on the status of Michael Vick, but quarterback isn't the position that concerns the Falcons most right now.

Losing middle linebacker Ed Hartwell to a torn Achilles and nickel cornerback Chris Cash to a broken arm and wrist removes two important players from a defense that's coming off an ugly beating after New England scored 31 points and hammered out 483 net yards at the Georgia Dome.

Ike Reese, the logical candidate to replace Hartwell, showed some moxie in holding Corey Dillon and Patrick Pass to a combined two rushing yards on the three attempts the eight-year veteran had to make plays in the middle. As far as being a long-term solution, Reese might serve the team better as a backup because of the important roles he has on special teams.

That means rookie Antoine Cash, who made the final cut as an un-drafted free agent, will get a look in the middle. He was inactive the last couple of weeks with a groin injury, but has played only on special teams. Rookie Michael Boley, a fifth-round draft choice and a teammate of Cash's at Southern Mississippi, is better suited to play on the weak side.

Head coach Jim Mora met Monday with his veteran linebackers to gauge where they believe they can best help the defense in San Antonio Sunday. Atlanta certainly catches a break; playing the Saints after they've lost star running back Deuce McAllister for the rest of the season.

"What we have to do is consider not only the ramifications on defense but also special teams," Mora said. "Those guys do play a big part in our special teams packages. We have not made any decisions yet. We are just kind of hashing it out. I want to talk to Keith, Ike, Demorrio and Michael. I want to get their input and feeling, and then we will decide. We will go forward with what we think is the best decision to help us win both on defense and special teams."

Vick's status remains uncertain. Whether he plays or not against the struggling Saints is likely to depend on whether he can practice by Thursday.

* * *

--If the safeties play any worse than they did against New England, the Falcons are in trouble. Keion Carpenter and Bryan Scott were routinely not even in the same vicinity as the New England receivers while Patriots quarterback Tom Brady carved up the secondary.

"They're a great team or they wouldn't have won three out of the last four Super Bowls," Carpenter said. "But we gave them 21 points yesterday. We gave it to them. I don't take anything away from Tom Brady or Bill Belichick and that staff -- they did a great job of game planning. They came out and played great, but we looked at the film and we gave those guys 21 points. And I don't care who you're playing. If you give somebody points like that, it's going to be hard for you to win and you put your back against the wall."

--First they lost Kevin Mathis. Now they're without Chris Cash. That means the personnel department began exploring alternatives Sunday afternoon. Atlanta can survive a week by plugging in somebody already on the roster, but no current player can hold down the slot position if the Falcons are to return to the playoffs this season.

"Guys like Les Snead, Ray Farmer, and Rich McKay will go out and say, 'Is there someone else that fits that mold that we can bring in?' If there is, then we will do it," Head coach Jim Mora said. "If there is not, then Omare Lowe, Leigh Torrence, Christian Morton, and Allen Rossum have to fill that role, and they will. They will. That is what we expect."

--Count running back Warrick Dunn among those giving props to Matt Schaub after the backup quarterback held the offense together and produced four touchdown drives. Dunn was relieved that the offense didn't fall apart without starter Michael Vick in uniform.

"No, we didn't miss a beat and I think that's the good thing about the offense and this team is that Mike wasn't in there and we still went out there and played well and made plays," Dunn said. "We didn't make plays early. We made plays late, and I think that's what hurt us. But you could see that it's not just built around one guy. This is a team, and I thought it was important that we just went out and played well. Schaub did a great job coming in."

* * *


--RB T.J. Duckett averaged six yards on five carries. He deserves credit for showing patience, making excellent reads and hitting holes hard.

--TE Alge Crumpler showed again why he is an elite player. He was the first read for QB Matt Schaub, who delivered a perfect spiral down the seam for a 25-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

--LT Kevin Shaffer limped off the field in the third quarter with an undisclosed leg injury, but he didn't miss a snap and returned to help the offense score two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

--FS Bryan Scott, depending on which statistical service you choose, either had one tackle or none. That kind of production is inexcusable for a third-year veteran who started and took every defensive snap.

--SLB Demorrio Williams all but disappeared on some plays and was flattened on others as New England pulled guards to get him out of the way on big gains. Hopefully, Williams can use this letdown as a learning experience.

New Orleans Saints

Dropping a 52-3 decision to the Green Bay Packers, the second-worst defeat in franchise history, was nothing compared to what the Saints lost in the second half at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

Running back Deuce McAllister went down with what was initially diagnosed as a sprained right knee with 6:50 to play in the third period. An MRI on Monday, however, revealed a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that will sideline the five-year veteran for the rest of the season.

McAllister was to undergo another MRI on Monday night and then get a second opinion from sports orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, but Saints coach Jim Haslett said the first indication was that it's a slight tear of the ACL.

McAllister, the Saints' all-time leading rusher with 4,529 yards -- including 4,438 in the last three-plus seasons -- said after Sunday's game that X-rays of the knee were negative. But the Saints (2-3) got the news they feared when the results of the MRI came back.

"We suspect it's a torn ACL," Haslett said at his weekly news conference. "That was the first indication. If that's the case, he'll be out for the year.

"Deuce is a great football player and a heck of a human being," he added. "I feel sorry for him personally. He's worked real hard this season to get to this point. He means a lot to the team."

Barring a miracle, McAllister, who agreed to an eight-year contract worth $50.1 million on the day before training camp opened, will finish the season with 335 rushing yards and three TDs on just 93 carries. He had 17 catches for 117 yards.

The injury to McAllister made Sunday's setback even more devastating a day later. But Haslett vowed that his team will bounce back from both losses.

He said the team will call on veterans Antowain Smith and Aaron Stecker to replace McAllister, but that won't be the easiest job. "I don't think anybody can replace (McAllister) fully."

* * *

--In what turned out to be the lone highlight of Sunday's loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Saints scored on their first possession for only the second time in their last 21 games.

The Saints' defense forced the Packers into a three-and-out on their first possession and the offense moved 37 yards in nine plays, with John Carney drilling a 33-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. It turned out to be the only score of the day, however, in a lopsided 52-3 setback to the Packers.

The Saints' only other score on their opening possession since the start of the 2004 season came when they traveled 80 yards to a touchdown in this year's opener at Carolina.

--Saints coach Jim Haslett had little comment Monday on a report by CBS Sports that strong-side linebacker Sedrick Hodge would be suspended for a year by the league for a repeat violation of the substance abuse policy.

Hodge was suspended for the first four games of the 2004 season, but was later reinstated. He has started the first five games of the season in place of James Allen, who has been bothered by knee and hamstring problems.

"It will be a big loss if it's true," Haslett said.

--The Saints played without four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Joe Horn, who is nursing a hamstring injury, for the second straight week.

Prior to missing last week's game with the Buffalo Bills, Horn had missed just one regular-season game in his five-plus seasons with the Saints.

After the game, Horn said he expects to play in Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons in San Antonio.

--Saints running back Aaron Stecker, who is from the Green Bay suburb of Ashwaubenon, played in Lambeau Field for the fourth time in his NFL career -- including his third regular-season game.

But other than seeing 40 family members and friends who attended the game, it was a sour homecoming again. Stecker is now 0-4 in his visits back home -- losing for the second time with the Saints (including one preseason game in 2004) after going 0-for-2 with the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Stecker said he lived about five minutes from Lambeau after moving to Green Bay from La Crosse, Wis., in the fifth grade.

"Coming back home is fun," he said. "It's exciting to play in Lambeau because you know the history when you get on the field."

--In a strange twist, Packers linebacker Paris Lenon had tight man-to-man coverage on Saints tight end Zach Hilton in the first quarter -- which means that Paris was on Hilton -- and broke up a pass from Aaron Brooks.


--RB Deuce McAllister suffered a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday and did not return.

McAllister is going to get a second opinion, but coach Jim Haslett said the first indication is that there is a tear and McAllister will be lost for the rest of the season.

--RT Jammal Brown injured his ankle during Sunday's game and returned, but Haslett said Monday that he'll be "questionable at best" for Sunday's match-up with the Atlanta Falcons in San Antonio.

--WR Joe Horn missed his second straight game because of a sore left hamstring, but said he expects to play Sunday against the Falcons. He was listed as questionable on Monday.

--WR Az-Zahir Hakim started Sunday's game in place of Joe Horn and had five receptions for 108 yards. The catches were his first with the Saints.

--RCB Fakhir Brown was able to practice last week, but was a game-day inactive for the fourth straight time because of a bone bruise on his knee.

--SLB James Allen was inactive for Sunday's game with the Packers because of a left hamstring injury and will be questionable for this week's matchup against the Falcons.

--FS Mel Mitchell, who didn't dress for Sunday's game because of a left hamstring problem, will likely be questionable for the Falcons.

--WLB T.J. Slaughter did not play against the Packers because of a right groin injury and should be questionable again this week.

--RG Jermane Mayberry returned to the starting lineup for the Packers' game after missing the previous two games with a shoulder injury and came out of the game OK, according to Haslett.

--RB/KR Aaron Stecker was able to play Sunday after being sidelined for one game with a high-ankle sprain.

--TE Shad Meier, who had knee surgery in early August, did not play for the fifth consecutive week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs still hope to build their offense around first round picks Cadillac Williams and Michael Clayton.

Williams, who was inactive with a left foot sprain in Sunday's 14-12 loss to the Jets, was upgraded from questionable to probable for this week's game against the Miami Dolphins.

The disappearance of Clayton has been more of a mystery. A rookie of the year candidate a year ago, he failed to catch a pass for the first time Sunday, ending a streak of 20 games.

Gruden suggested that Clayton was clearly 'not himself' following Sunday's game, apparently referring to a second-degree shoulder separation the second-year pro from LSU has played with since the preseason.

But on Monday, Gruden admitted that the Bucs need to get Clayton more involved in the passing game beginning this week against the Dolphins.

"No. I haven't given any thought to resting him. We have given much thought this morning about doubling his work-load this week," Gruden said. "We need him, obviously, to be a big part of this offense. We realize he's got some soreness, but we feel he'll improve and be ready to go for the Dolphins.

"I think a healthy Carnell Williams and a more involved Michael Clayton, the elimination of penalties on early downs and getting us in an operative down-and-distance situation will help. We've got to drive the point home that turnovers are not part of this football team."

Williams, who set an NFL record with 434 rushing yards in his first three games as a pro, was limited to 13 yards on 11 carries last week against the Lions and aggravated his foot injury while straining his left hamstring. With Williams out, the Bucs' rushing attack has plummeted from 166 yards per game during the first three weeks to 76.5 yards per game the last two.

"It's definitely getting better," Williams said of his foot injury Monday. "Right now, I haven't (tested) it. Right now, they just want me to stay off it and rest it because that's the best thing for it. I'm sure this week I'm going to try a lot and see how it goes and take it from there... I'm ready to play some football."

Gruden also said he remains confident in quarterback Brian Griese, who threw a first half interception to set up the Jets first touchdown, his seventh pick of the year and 14th in the last nine games. Two other interceptions were nullified by penalties.

"I'm confident in him," Gruden said. "I've got to be honest. I've taken a lot of pride in my career as a play-caller to surround myself with guys who don't turn the ball over. We'll continue to do that, just so you know. So we'll have to take a good look at where we are after five weeks. He has made some great plays for this football team. Some great plays. And he's made some plays that have clearly hurt us. We have to eliminate the plays that have hurt us and we've got to magnify the things that he does well."

* * *

--CB Ronde Barber rarely loses his temper, but his outburst against the Jets will likely cost him some money.

Barber was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after tangling with Jets center Kevin Mawae. In trying to break Mawae's grip on his jersey, Barber inadvertently struck umpire Butch Hannah in the face.

"It was just two guys, testosterone running high, acting like idiots," Barber said. "I was trying to get his hands off me. You live with those things. Obviously, you don't want them to happen at that point in the game, but I'm a feisty dude, he's a feisty dude. It's football."

--K Matt Bryant is accustomed to the conditions at Giants Stadium after playing two seasons with the Giants. On Sunday, he accounted for all the Bucs' points against the Jets by connecting on all four field goal attempts from 35, 36, 43 and 30 yards.

--The Bucs continue to be vexed by Giants Stadium, falling to 1-9, including an 0-6 record against the Jets.

--S Jermaine Phillips did not accompany the Bucs to the Meadowlands because of a fractured thumb. Phillips is questionable for Sunday's game against the Dolphins.

--CB Torrie Cox, who bobbled the opening kickoff against the Jets, is expected to lose his job as the Bucs kickoff returner. PR Mark Jones could take his spot against the Dolphins.

--OT Kenyatta Walker made a touchdown-saving tackle following an interception for the third time this season when he tackled Jets CB Ty Law Sunday.

--WR Michael Clayton saw his streak of at least one catch in every game end after 20 games Sunday.

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