Around the NFC South

Find out the latest news from the Panthers' rivals in the NFC South. Tampa prepares Chris Simms to take the reigns at QB. In New Orleans, controversy surrounds the team and its possible permanent exodus from the crescent city. Jim Mora assesses his team's record despite allowing a Deuce McAllister-less Saints team to rush for 211 yards.

Atlanta Falcons

At this point last year, the Atlanta Falcons were 5-1 and preparing for an atrocious game at Kansas City that ended with a 56-10 loss.

Second-year coach Jim Mora now leads a team that's 4-2 and coming off a narrow win at San Antonio that included 211 rushing yards by Deuce McAllister-less Saints.

Is there any reason to think this season will result in a second straight division title and another trip to the NFC title game? A win Monday night over the New York Jets would make the Falcons 5-2, the same mark they had last year after losing at Kansas City.

"I think we have to be realistic," Mora said. "We're still finding a lot wrong with this football team, and I think that's good to an extent. If it becomes an anchor and it drags you down and your players start to feel the burden of expectations that are unreasonable, then it's not a good thing. I don't think we're at that point. I think we're at a good spot."

Players like Keith Brooking, a Falcon since 1998, or Patrick Kerney, Todd McClure and Brian Finneran, who arrived the following year, put this start in perspective for Mora. Those four players are well aware of the franchise's 39-year streak of never achieving consecutive winning records and the dreadful 16-32 stretch from 1999-2001.

"I've talked to a lot of players who said this is the worst that I've felt about a 4-2 start ever," Mora said. "Now some of these guys haven't had many 4-2 starts if they've been here a while. We just have to keep it in perspective (because) 4-2 is a good record right now. But just like every team in the league, we've got a lot to work on right now. We're not going to be satisfied until we play the perfect game and we're never going to play the perfect game, so I guess we're never going to be satisfied."

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New Orleans Saints

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin took an opportunity Wednesday to castigate Saints owner Tom Benson, who many believe is laying the groundwork to permanently relocate his team to San Antonio after this season.

During the Saints' 34-31 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the Alamodome, San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger told a San Antonio paper that he will talk to Benson about keeping the team in Texas permanently after it moved there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Benson told the Express-News that he won't talk about the team's future until after this season, but the outspoken Nagin didn't mind commenting Wednesday during the re-opening of Cafe Du Monde, a French Quarter landmark.

"We want our Saints, we may not want the owner back," Nagin said. "I'm ready to go to the NFL and (commissioner Paul) Tagliabue and say, 'Give us the Cleveland plan.' "

Nagin was referring to Cleveland being awarded an expansion team after the Browns left for Baltimore following the 1995 season.

"Whatever the Saints want to do, you let them leave," he said. "But they can't take our logo, they can't take our name, and you give us a promise to give us a franchise when this city's back."

Nagin's comments came after the departure of two of the Saints' top executives on the business side on Monday and Tuesday.

Arnold Fielkow, executive vice president for administration, was fired Monday after Benson asked for his resignation. Connie Kowal, the senior director of marketing and business development, resigned Tuesday.

Fielkow was a proponent of returning the Saints to New Orleans to help the city in its recovery.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Chris Simms says he has matured as a quarterback. Need proof? Take this play from the Bucs-Dolphins game when he came in relief of Brian Griese.

"I was kind of scrambling and I hit Anthony Becht as he was going out of bounds," Simms said. "I had Michael Clayton going up the left sideline and if I threw the perfect ball, maybe it would've been an 80-yard touchdown. But I figured, okay, it's only the third or fourth play of the game here and Anthony Becht's wide open. Let me just take that completion and get the yards. Last year, I might have been Mr. Gunslinger and said, 'Go get it, Mike.' So I would say that's definitely a sign of maturation."

Simms will make only the third NFL start of his career Oct. 30 at San Francisco.

His career passing numbers are modest at best: 48-of-83 passing for 536 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in six career games.

But Bucs coach Jon Gruden believes Simms, who is in his third year in the system, has grown up and is ready for the challenge.

"We think he's getting better," Gruden said. "We gave him the ball in Week 5 last year, so we obviously felt he showed promise and improvement.

"This guy's mature. This guy's worked his butt off. I've never been around a guy who has worked as hard as Chris has at the game, the nuances of the system, understanding the defenses and physically going at it every day. He's as mature as they get. Whether or not it transfers onto the grass, he'll prove that. But we're going to do all we can to help him and we're excited about that process."

Simms has no doubt he is ready.

"Definitely," Simms said. "I had a great preseason, done great in practices, but now it's for real and no more b.s.-ing."

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