New Orleans Saints (0-4) at Seattle Seahawks (3-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:15 ET
TV: NBC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Andrea Kremer
SERIES: 10th meeting. The Seahawks lead the series, 5-4, after winning the last three matchups of the two teams. The Saints have lost their last two games played in the Great Northwest, falling to the Seahawks 20-10 in Husky Stadium in 2000 and 27-10 in Seahawks Stadium (now Qwest Field) in 2003. Seattle also prevailed in the Superdome in 2004, 21-7.
KEYS TO THE GAME: A strong start on the road in primetime is always critical, and QB Drew Brees will likely rely more on the short passing game to help complement a lackluster running attack. The Saints don't want to fall behind and subject Brees to the pass rush Seattle can bring with its linebackers, especially OLB Julian Peterson (6.0 sacks). Saints coach Sean Payton hinted he might experiment with different combinations in his three- and four-receiver sets, which could mean more snaps for WRs Lance Moore and/or Terrance Copper. ... QB Matt Hasselbeck is coming off a poor game in Pittsburgh and is struggling to find rhythm throwing to an injury-depleted receiving crew that lacks speed. However, he should have ample time to throw with the Saints recording only one sack through four games. The Seahawks are averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and need to get more production out of RB Shaun Alexander, who will have a new lead blocker in FB Leonard Weaver after Mack Strong (neck) retired this week.
KEY INJURIES: Saints: CB Jason David (fractured left forearm) remains out; K Olindo Mare (groin) is uncertain; LB Scott Fujita (ankle sprain) and DT Kendrick Clancy (toe) should return. Seahawks: WR Deion Branch (foot sprain) will miss at least two games; WR D.J. Hackett (ankle sprain) remains out; CB Josh Wilson (ankle sprain) might return this week.
FAST FACTS: Saints RB Reggie Bush has 113 career catches, the most ever for a running back through his first 20 games. ... The Seahawks are coming off their first shutout loss since 2000.
--K Olindo Mare returned to practice Thursday and will handle the kicking duties in Sunday night's game with the Seattle Seahawks. Mare has been hampered by a groin injury.
--P Steve Weatherford will likely handle the kickoff duties for the second straight week with Mare nursing a groin problem.
--SLB Scott Fujita worked again Thursday and should be ready for Sunday after missing last week's game with a sprained right ankle.
--DT Kendrick Clancy will likely be available for the game with the Seahawks after missing two straight games with a turf toe injury.
--S Jay Bellamy, who has been bothered by a sprained left ankle that kept him out of last Sunday's game, was able to practice again Thursday.
--RCB Jason David did not practice because of a fractured left forearm that will likely keep him out another 2-to-4 weeks.
--OT Ray Willis is out with a sprained knee, meaning Tom Ashworth likely will be activated for the game against New Orleans.
--DT Rocky Bernard did not practice Thursday because of a groin injury.
--TE Marcus Pollard did not practice Thursday with a sore knee.
--CB Josh Wilson has returned to practice after an ankle injury that sidelined him last week.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Saints put kicker Olindo Mare through a workout on Thursday and decided that he's healthy enough to kick in Sunday night's game with the Seattle Seahawks. Mare, who has been nursing a strained groin since being injured in practice last Wednesday, wasn't 100 percent. But coach Sean Payton said he looked noticeably better than last Sunday, when he struggled to make two of four field-goal attempts in a 16-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Mare was held out of Wednesday's practice, one day after team officials worked out seven possible replacements, and he said afterward he hoped to play against the Seahawks. But he said didn't want to hurt the team or make the injury worse. He had to take two injections in order to play against the Panthers, but still experienced severe pain when his foot met the ball.
"(Olindo) Mare looked better and looked sharp," Payton said. "He did a good job. He did a good job and that was encouraging."
Payton said he didn't know how significant Mare's injury was, but thought it was a mild strain. If he continues to make progress, he didn't rule him out of handling his usual kickoff duties as well as field-goal and extra-point tries.
"When it's a strain and you're a kicker, you feel that every time you kick," he said. "I've never kicked with a mild strain. I'm sure that there's some pain. He felt better and looked better. We'll decide our approach to the kickoffs as we move forward this week."
While most of the practice was closed to reporters, Mare made several field goal, including one from 42 yards out, before the media was escorted out. "I won't be kicking any 60-yard field goals or kick off, but I don't think they're expecting me to," Mare said. "I expect to play and I expect to do well.
"I did a good job today making some field goals and felt like I had a little more height and distance than I had last week. With two more days of rest, hopefully by Sunday it will be enough to make a huge difference."
Shaun Alexander rushed for 25 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers. If he performs true to form, he might pick up 10 times that yardage Sunday evening against the New Orleans Saints. Alexander has played in six career Sunday night games and has averaged 123.5 yards rushing and two touchdowns per game. In 2001, he rushed for 266 yards and three touchdowns against Oakland, and then had five touchdowns in the first half against Minnesota on a Sunday night the next season.
"You come into it prepared the same way, but at the same time, it's exciting knowing that there's games on Sunday that your family members don't watch," Alexander said. "But on Sunday night, pretty much everybody's going to be watching, so it makes it a little bit more exciting."
Alexander will be more of an offensive focal point this week regardless of the time of the kickoff or the television coverage. The neck injury that forced fullback Mack Strong to retire deprived Alexander of the lead blocker he's had since he came into the league.
"I'm just going to mourn because Mack is my buddy," Alexander said. "I'm confident in the stuff (replacement) Leonard Weaver can do, but you don't replace a legend. This is going to be different."
The Hawks also will be without leading receiver Deion Branch, who is out for at least two weeks with a foot sprain.