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Kristian Garic

Wake up to live, local sports talks with Kristian and T-Bob Hebert on "Double Coverage!" 

Weekdays 6am-9am on 3WL 1350-AM

Twitter: @kristiangaric1
Email: kristian@3wl1350.com


Lewis "steamed up" at Rob Ryan critics

Defensive about Rob: Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro said it yesterday: "Lay off Rob," and cornerback Keenan Lewis is the latest player to come to the defense of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. "I'm tired of them blaming my coach... it aint my coach. I'm hot, tell them I'm steamed up about that," Lewis said in the locker room. "You don't give up on people cause things aren't going well," Lewis added. Rob Ryan is partially to blame, but so are the players. "Coach Rob is the best, period. It's us, too, we have to make some of those plays," Lewis explained.

Sloppy Turf: The Saints are preparing for a sloppy field in Pittsburgh. Heinz field is usually a little chewed up this time of year, after hosting college and high school football games nearly all weekend, prior to the Saints and Steelers kicking things off Sunday afternoon. "It's one of those fields that you're going to be wearing the screw in (cleats) that you wore in high school, otherwise you will be slipping around," said coach Sean Payton. The conditions in terms of weather should be fine, the Saints say there is usually a pretty good swirling wind at the stadium this time of year.

Bunkley on injured reserve: Saints nose tackle Broderick Bunkley's season is over. The team placed Bunkley on injured reserve with a quad injury. Bunkley is the third defensive starter to land on IR, and fourth significant contributor to be added to that list (Byrd, Bush, Cooks, and Bunkley). Second year player Jon Jenkins will slide into Bunkley's starting spot at nose tackle.
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Kristian: Vaccaro says "Lay off Rob Ryan"

Blame Rob: Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has gone from the toast of the town in New Orleans in 2013, to the whipping boy this season with the Saints off to a 4 and 7 mark and a defensive unit that is struggling to get off the field on third down, hasn't scored a defensive touchdown in two seasons and can't stop the run consistently. "Lay off Rob man, he's a great guy. I've never seen somebody so committed to their players. No matter what happens this season, he'll never throw us under the bus. He'll always blame himself, and you got some guys that won't do that," said Safety Kenny Vaccaro. "There is a lot of players stuff on there too," Vaccaro added.

I asked Vaccaro if his defensive teamates share his thougths and feelings on Ryan "Nobody is going to blame Rob for anything, he's not a phoney. He's 100% a players coach. he's player friendly he wants to put us in the best position to succeed" said Vaccaro. I'm totally with Vaccaro on this one, the players have to shoulder most of the blame in a league that is described as a players league. The coach can only draw up the plays, the players have to execute better.

Tipping point: By his own admission, Drew Brees has always been "annoyingly optimistic," as he described it. His optimism hasn't wavered despite the current three game tailspin the Saints are currently in. "We're about to hit the tipping point. I believe that. It's only a matter of time we're going to catch some breaks, we're going to start to win. Hopefully those wins will come in bunches, but we have to get the first one first," Brees said following practice. Brees said the veterans in the locker room are staying positive with the younger players during this rough patch: "The biggest thing we can do as veteran guys is just show them a presence as to how you handle this situation, and our presence is staying positive." Getting a win in Pittsburgh would be significant for a team that is painfully still alive for the NFC South title with three more division games remaining, two of those three are at home in the Dome.

Injury report: Saints Nose Tackle Broderick Bunkley (quad), RB Khiry Robinson (forearm) and LB Kyle Knox (hand) were listed on the injury report as did not practice today. The Saints held a walk through but still are required to submit an injury report to the league. CB Keenan Lewis (knee), LB Curtis Lofton (ankle), C Jonathan Goodwin (toe) and G Ben Grubbs (neck) were listed as limited. RB's Mark Ingram (shoulder) and Pierre Thomas took every snap in today's walk through. WR Robert Meachem was also listed as a full participant today.
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Kristian: Pray for the Saints

In the mood for prayer? When you head to mass this week, have the Saints in mind. The Saints are 4 and 7 and in a three game tailspin for several reasons. The most important and obvious reason; they're just not a very good team. They don't have the talent we thought they had. Sure, the black and gold have suffered injuries in a few key areas, but they were struggling with the top-tier players in the lineup. I asked Saints defensive back Keenan Lewis how the team can improve and fix it. "Man, I don't know just pray I guess." Pray, he says! Hope is not a method.

We (present company included) were all wrong with this team. I had them penciled in as a possible representative for the Super Bowl in the NFC. That was a gross over estimation of talent on this roster. This is a cyclical problem facing the Saints. Last year they went 11 and 5, and for the most part with the same collection of talent on both side of the ball, save from Brandin Cooks and Jairus Byrd.

At some point it falls on the players. "It's not effort it's execution going out there and winning our individual battles consistently," explained offensive lineman Jahri Evans. Individual battles.., in other words, my guy vs your guy and the Saints guys haven't been good enough. The players in some spots are great, in some spots mediocre and others completely incapable. It's not Rob Ryan, or Sean Payton's perceived lack of fire or anything else you want to throw against the wall. The individuals the Saints have aren't good enough to get it done.

Like the media, Sean Payton and the front office miscalculated. They too had a gross over estimation of talent when trying to build this team. The players say it's on them; they have to win their battles. Who's picking the players? Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis! The players have to execute and the coaches have to pick the players and teach the players. Payton shares as much blame as the players. They're his guys. He didn't inherit them from another staff, they've all been brought in via the draft or free agency with his approval.

4 and 7, say a little prayer for the next five games. While you're at it, go to a psychic so we can resurrect the ghosts of the Super Bowl championship team. Are you willing to go to mass to for the Saints? Pray hard! Pray very hard!
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Kristian: Poor play on 3rd down is costing the Saints

Third down: It's the get-off-the-field down for defenses, and often a good indication as to if a team is playing well. The Saints haven't played well on that down and haven't gotten off the field. "We have to fix this so it can't just be 'oh we play good and then we blow this.' That is costing us games. We have to fix it," said defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. His defense is allowing opposing offenses to sustain drives converting the money down. In 129 chances opponents have moved the sticks on 59 occasions. WOW, that's 45% conversion rate. The league average is just under 35%.

Keenan Lewis: Has been limited in practice this week (knee) but sounds like a man that will play against Baltimore: "Monday night football, I'll be there," he said in the locker room. Lewis has been the only bright spot in a leaky secondary this season and has been hobbled by a knee injury in the past two games. Last week he was beaten by A.J Green on a long touchdown pass, and was clearly not 100% playing in situational roles on defense in the loss to the Bengals.

Prediction: The Saints have lost two in a row at home and have never lost three in a row in the Sean Payton era. Once unbeatable in the dome, now the Saints appear vulnerable. At 4 and 6, the Who Dat Nation is teetering on the edge of the bandwagon and a loss could send them jumping off. I've gone back and forth with this one all week. The Saints are favored by 3.5, and they're at home. No way they lose another one in that building right? It's primetime for God's sake! Plus, this one has an "I told you so" stench to it right? Sean Payton and Drew Brees have made a living out of doing what most thought they couldn't do. However, I just don't like the health status nor the focus of this team.

Sorry but going with Baltimore is the logical choice here: Ravens 24-17. New Orleans falls to 4 and 7 and the buzzards begin to swoop down to feast on the carcass that was once a Super Bowl body.
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Kristian: Vaccaro says he wants to win; Lofton says do your job!

Still in it: The Saints are still very much still in the race for the NFC south at 4 and 6. Whether or not you think they're a playoff caliber team is a different story. Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton and the team are trying to find as much positive energy as they can right now. "Everything is in front of us. We still got a shot at winning the division and getting into the playoffs. You can't focus on the bad, you have to look forward and that is what we're doing as a team," Lofton said. The Saints have never lost three games in a row at home and will look to avoid that distinction on Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens.

Leadership: I've been saying since early in the season the Saints were void of leadership after the departures of Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper in free agency. Sure, the Saints upgraded talent with the addition of Jairus Byrd (Byrd landed on Injured reserve with a knee injury after week 4). Curtis Lofton and Junior Galette were voted team captains, but some (present company included) have questioned their leadership ability this season. "When you're a leader, you know your guys and what each guy needs," Lofton said. Each leader has their own style, Lofton is right there. "I know my guys, if I feel like a guy needs me to get in his face, then I'll get in his face," Lofton added. Do teams need the Ra-Ra leaders? Lofton doesn't think so. "That's not me, maybe they need to get someone else in there that can do that. We all get paid a lot of money to go out and do our job. If you can't do your job without having someone else to motivate you then you don't need to be in this locker room."

Leadership part 2: Yeah, I know it's been a theme, but it's something that I pay close attention to. You don't have to be designated as a "leader" to lead. A natural leader will evolve, it's not forced, you either have it or you don't. Saints Safety Kenny Vaccaro might have touched off a bit of a controvery after the game against the Bengals when he said the vibe was just off with the team. Vaccaro clarified those comments today: "You shouldn't show your frustrations in the media. It should be an in house thing. I guess it was more my fault. I got tired of answering the same questions over and over and I was just being myself."

You know what? That's a HUGE part of leadership, being yourself. "I wanna win, I'm doing everything I can to win. That stuff is going to come out of someone that is feeling that way," Vaccaro explained. Sometimes leaders are born out of necessity and some are not as visible. Vaccaro views himself as a leader: "I didn't get voted as a captain but I think a team can have a lot of internal leaders that may not be one as proclaimed in the media or by the coaches or by your team. They kind of do it without saying much and guys kind of revolve around them," added Vaccaro. That last comment goes back to what I said earlier. You don't have to have the leadership title bestowed upon you in order to lead.

Injury report: Five players missed practice today for the Saints; LB Curtis Lofton (ankle) & DB Keenan Lewis (knee) were among the notables to miss work. RB's Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Travaris Cadet (hamstring) were also held out of work. LB Kyle Knox (hand) also missed practice. Lofton missed some time last week with that ankle injury and still play against the Bengals, for that matter Lewis did as well. RB Pierre Thomas (rib/shoulder) returned to the practice field in a limited role today. Thomas suffered his injuries in week 7 against the Lions and hasn't played since. WR Robert Meachem (ankle) was also listed as limited today. OT Zach Strief is listed with a chest injury, but was knocked out of last week's game with a concussion. Strief was back at practice and took every rep in practice.
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Kristian: Saints release Leonard, could be sign of health at RB

According to Field Yates of ESPN, the Saints have waived RB Brian Leonard, and added WR Jalen Saunders off the Arizona Cardinals practice squad. Leonard was signed just last week, and appeared in the game against the Bengals this past Sunday.

It appears the Saints are getting healthier at RB with the release of Leonard. RB's Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson have been sidelined since week seven (Thomas, chest and Robinson, hand) The team hasn't officially updated the media on the health status of Robinson and Thomas, but the release of Leonard indicates one or both should be back this week.

Saunders was a fourth round pick of the New York Jets this past May. In three games with New York this season Saunders returned 26 punts for 26 yards before his release from the Jets on September 29th. After being released by the Jets, Saunders went to the Arizona Cardinals practice squad. Saunders played college football at Fresno State.

The Saints placed WR Brandin Cooks on Injured Reserve yesterday and it appears Saunders can fill that role if the team decides to use him in that role.
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Kristian: Are the Saints on the same page on and off the field?

Saints Safety Kenny Vaccaro started a nice firestorm after the Saints loss to the Bengals Sunday. "I came last year as a rookie and the team is different, just a different vibe... I don't know if it hurts when you lose guys that have been together for so long. Something changed," Vaccaro, said clearly frustrated by the Saints 4 and 6 record, generally speaks his mind when asked a question.

This offseason the Saints had several veteran departures on defense; Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper, and Will Smith. Some of his teammates disagreed with his statement; his head coach, however, said nothing was out of line. "I love the attitude and toughness he brings along with the frustration that comes with it," continued Coach Payton. "It was just that frustration of getting results and wanting to win, so absolutely it's important to him."

FULL AUDIO: Kristian & T-Bob talk about Saints 'different vibe' this year

If you've ever talked to Sean Payton, one of the common phrases he uses when evaluating talent is, "is it important to him"--meaning is he passionate about his work? Vaccaro might get chastised by his teammates for airing dirty laundry, but I actually think it was something that needed to be said. Kenny Vaccaro verbalized what many are feeling. His words sum up what I've felt for a while about this 2014 Saints team. Was he wrong? Was he inaccurate? Nope, the vibe is off!

Maybe this team needs more statements like Vacarro's to get them fired up. Maybe it was a sophomore player showing leadership, saying what nobody else will say out loud. Sunday against the Bengals the Black & Gold were listless, very flat.

The NFL locker room is an interesting place. In some locker rooms it's viewed as a bad thing to speak candidly with the media; in others it's no big deal if you do, almost protocol. None of the Saints captains had the gall to stand up and say what Vaccaro said, even if they felt it. Linebacker Curtis Lofton disagreed with the time and place of Vaccaro's comments, "I think when you express your frustration you don't express it in the media, you keep that in house."

So let's get this straight, Sean Payton likes the comments; has no issue with Kenny Vaccaro's frustration, but Lofton does? The Saints clearly haven't been on the same page this season on the field and by the looks and sound of it, they don't appear to be in sync off it either. Lofton added this, "He's not the only player that feels that way. There have been numerous guys that have expressed the same feeling, but there is a different type of way of doing it".

Very interesting! I call your attention back to, "He's not the only player that feels that way." Vaccaro is, however, the only player brave enough to express it openly. That's not a bad thing. The Saints need that. Man in the mirror…team in the mirror…honesty. Finally, somebody with some passion and concern from inside the locker room.

Look, we (media and fans) blast players for not showing emotion and passion during press conferences and interviews, but when they do, we second guess them. Vaccaro's comments were the most resounding sign of leadership from a locker room void of leadership this season.

Some NFL players allow themselves to be brainwashed by the company line and political correctness, others just speak their minds. I found it extremely refreshing to hear Vaccaro say what he was thinking and feeling. I also find it disturbing that players in the Saints locker room are not on the same page about expressing the truth…publicly.

The conflict in philosophy shows this team isn't on the same page on or off the field. Moments like Vaccaro's have a funny way of either further dividing or galvanizing a team. We'll see what happens with the Saints. I'm with Payton, I love the passion and the frustration. I think it's healthy. Maybe others in the locker room should take notice, especially the defensive captains Curtis Lofton and Junior Galette.

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Kristian: Loss of Brandin Cooks is tremendous

The loss of Cooks is tremendous. The rookie wide receiver was becoming more and more of a factor in the Saints vertical passing game, and now that onus will fall on WR Joe Morgan. Not to mention Cooks' responsibilities as a punt return man will be shuffled too. Cooks has been targeted 70 times with 53 grabs for 550 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Safety Pierre Warren (signed from the Vikings practice squad) is a player who is familiar to the Saints. Warren spent training camp with the Saints before being cut on the final roster pairing to 53 players. Warren was signed to the Vikings practice squad shortly after his release from the Black & Gold. Warren flashed at times during camp and can contribute on special teams.

Terrence Frederick was on the Saints practice squad this season and because of injuries will now get a shot to contribute. Frederick will give the Saints some special teams depth that eroded with injuries. Moise Fokou (Linebacker) was a 2009 7th round draft pick of the Eagles, also spending time with the Titans, before being released on August 30th of this year.
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Kristian: Graham done with leaping into stands

Cop a feel: It's not every day that football player jumps into your arms during an NFL game, and Saints tight end Jimmy Graham did that last week after scoring a touchdown against the 49ers "That will probably be my last one too after getting groped up," Graham said with a smile. "I think fans were trying to thank me a little too much." I mean you can hardly blame them for getting an extra grab or pinch here or there with Graham in their arms. To borrow a line from Seinfeld, "Hands off Jimmy, don't touch Jimmy!" A fan grabbed a handful of the pro-bowl tight end's end during the celebration.

Learning curve: Rookie WR Brandin Cooks started off really hot against Atlanta and cooled off for a few games, and has heated back up again in recent weeks with another long touchdown grab last Sunday "I am more comfortable with the offense and I'm not thinking as much as I was," Cooks explained. He's been solid as a receiver but struggled at times with the punt return, and it's an area that Cooks wants to start getting more production "Sooner or later it's going to pop open. I'm not going to press it like I was earlier (in the season)," said Cooks.

Prediction: So we found out last week that the Saints are not invincible at home in the Dome after the 49ers snapped their 11 game home win streak. The Bengals are really banged up, and in some respects so are the Saints. However, when you can't stop the run against the Saints, it usually spells doom for the opponent. At 4 and 5 New Orleans has little to no margin for error. I can't see the Saints lose two in a row at home. New Orleans 30 Cincinnati 21.
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Ingram: You're never as good or as bad as they say

Featured back: Since arriving in 2011 via the first round of the NFL draft (and a trade up to get him) running back Mark Ingram has had his moments of skepticism, and criticism in New Orleans, both from the fan base and media. "I've never really paid attention to criticism... it's never affected me one way or another," he told me today.

Ingram arrived with a Heisman trophy his rookie season. In 2011, he missed 6 games with a foot injury prompting a "buyer beware" cry from the Who Dat Nation. Ingram returned for a healthy season in 16 games in 2012, he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. Last year was Ingram's best season despite battling some injuries early in the year, Ingram posted a solid 4.9 yard per carry average, and this year has posted three straight 100 plus yard rushing performances as the featured back, with Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson battling injuries. "I really don't listen to the praise either. You're never as good as they say you are and never as bad as they say you are. I just keep pushing and try to be the best I can be," Ingram said.

Inevitably the question becomes what will the Saints do when Thomas and Robinson return from injury? Coach Sean Payton offered this: "Each week we'll come up with the best plan, and we pay close attention to what Mark's doing right now, and he's doing real well. A year ago there were a ton of people crying for his head." Ingram went from goat to toast of the town in New Orleans. He could be in line for a big day again this Sunday when the Saints take on the Bengals. Cincinnati is ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game with 143.0 per contest.

In house: Saints WR Joe Morgan talked for the first time since returning from his two game team imposed suspension and described as an "in-house matter... it was something that took place between coach Payton and the team." Morgan has been active for just one game this season and says he learned not to take things for granted: "Being suspended sucks, especially when you don't know what comes out of it, the learning experience is don't things for granted, and handle things in a different way." Morgan says he spent the two weeks focusing on bettering himself physically and mentally, and continued to work out for his return. Morgan was told at the time of the suspension that it would be two games. "I'm going to continue to do the right things, and continue to get better," he said.

Injury report: Six players missed practice on Thursday. Punter Thomas Morstead (illness) returned to the field today. LB Curtis Lofton (ankle), CB Keenan Lewis (knee), RB Pierre Thomas (shoulder) Khiry Robinson (hand) WR Robert Meachem (ankle) and RB Edwin Baker did not practice. Lofton and Lewis would be the two big blows if they're not able to go this Sunday, but both are veterans that don't need a lot of practice in order to play in the game. For Lewis it won't be a difficult game plan, just go cover A.J Green.
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Kristian: Vaccaro says "Saints can't lose anymore"

At 4 and 5 the Saints are clearly having an up and down season, and while they're in control of their own destiny still atop the NFC south (for the time being) now the Saints are truly desperate for wins to remain in the NFC play off picture. Sure they'll get into the post-season if they win the divisio,n but at 7 and 9 or 8 and 8 their playoff lives would likely be short lived, even if they play a home game. San Francisco proved the Saints are not guaranteed a win just because they're in the Superdome.

"It's been the tale of the season, we're going to bounce back... going back and forth like a roller coaster isn't going to get us to the playoffs. We can't lose any more to be honest," said safety Kenny Vaccaro. So does that mean the Saints feel like they have to run the table the rest of the way? "In my head if we truly expect to do something in the postseason, we need to," Vaccaro added. Vaccaro is speaking exactly to my point. If the Saints get into the post-season at 8 and 8, you wouldn't exactly feel good about them making a run would you? I wouldn't feel good about it.

Vaccaro still believes in the team, saying "wWe got the roster, we got the players, we got the heart. We have to win the close ones. You take all our close ones and we win we're not 4 and 5." However, to borrow a line from Sean Payton: "It is what it is, or you are what you are in this league."

The Saints are in fact 4 and 5, but still in control of things for the time being. The Saints have seven games remaining with three straight games (two at home) against teams with winning records currently, starting this Sunday against the Bengals followed by another home game on Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens. New Orleans wraps up the month of November against the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road, and while they won a road game against the Panthers on October 30th, I hardly feel safe in saying the team has solved all of their road woes. In December the Saints have four very winnable games in the final quarter of the season with home games against the Panthers and Falcons, and road games against the Bears and Buccaneers.
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Kristian: Morgan is back, 7 Saints miss practice

Joe is a Go: The Saints announced several roster moves today, including WR Joe Morgan's reinstatement from the reserve/suspended list. Sean Payton didn't elaborate what landed Morgan on that list to begin with, but said he was back and at practice today. The team also announced rookie safety Vinnie Sunseri has been placed on season-ending injured reserve (fractured arm). The team also announced the signing of safety Jamarca Samford, and running back Brian Leonard. To make rom for Leonard on the roster the team waived C/G Eric Olsen.

It's on Me: Saints quarterback Drew Brees said today when asked about his rash of turnovers (3 against the 49ers) this season. "The turnover margin is the most important statistic in football, we preach it. It's not OK, we talk about it and do things to correct it, but we don't paralyze ourselves because of it," Brees said. "There is nobody who's harder on themselves then me. I can't let that happen, it's my job," he continued, noting that the criticism comes with the territory. "The ball's in my hands, I'm responsible, I have no problem taking the fall, responsibility or accountability." I know this; there have been a few quarterbacks in the past that have refused to take responsibility for turnovers or poor play. Accountability is a part of leadership and Brees has both.

Banged up: Seven players missed practice today. RBs Pierre Thomas (rib/shoulder) Khiry Robinson, (hand) DB Keenan Lewis (knee), WR Robert Meachem (ankle) and LB Curtis Lofton (ankle) were among those that missed work. Punter Thomas Morstead (illness) also did not practice. Cornerback Keenan Lewis is doing everything he can to play Sunday against the Bengals. "I'm getting better every, keeping my spirit high, getting ready for Sunday," Lewis said. RB Mark Ingram (shoulder) and LB David Hawthorne (hand) were limited in practice. Ingram is coming off his third straight 100 yard rushing performance in a loss to San Francisco.
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Kristian: Saints add new running back

The Saints have added running back Brian Leonard, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals. This move provides more depth for a unit that has suffered injuries in the last few games.The Black and Gold are pretty thin at RB with Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas both banged up.

Even Edwin Baker, who the Saints just singed a few weeks ago, is sidelined after suffering an undisclosed injury against San Francisco.

Leonard's agent confirmed the signing on Twitter.
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Kristian: Keenan Lewis says "I'll be ready"

"I'm just getting ready for the Bengals," said Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis after suffering what the Saints originally reported as a quad injury in the overtime loss to the 49ers. Sunday evening a picture of Lewis' swollen left knee surfaced on Intsagram. Lewis hurt his leg defending a pass to tight end Vernon Davis.

He's been the Saints most consistent defensive back by far this season, and if Lewis is unable to play this Sunday against the Bengals it would be a significant blow to an already leaky secondary. Lewis maintains he'll be fine: "I'll be ready," he says. When probed about further details on his injury he simply deferred to Coach Sean Payton "I don't want to diagnose myself," Lewis explained.

Lewis was noticibly hobbled by the leg injury during the game. After leaving and going to the locker room at one point Lewis returned to the field and was evaluated further by the team's training staff "I think they wanted me to give it a call. I felt if I could walk, I could at least try and go out there and help my team win," Lewis said. Lewis delivered a gutsy performance, and didn't feel like he would risk any further damage to his knee by continuing to play: "I don't want to say I'm a tough guy. I don't want to judge myself. If I felt as though I couldn't go, I wouldn't put my career in danger for a single game unless it was the one that really really counted. Even if it was a career threat I would probably told them no," added Lewis.

I've seen guys gut through some injuries before but I was really amazed watching Lewis hobble around in between plays and then once the ball was snapped to watch him seemingly run at full speed - it was a true testament to his toughness.
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Kristian: Was it pass interference on Graham?

A big controversial call in the Saints loss to the 49ers came on the final play of regulation, when tight end Jimmy Graham was flagged for offensive pass interference after hauling in what looked like the game winning touchdown pass on a hail marry from Drew Brees. The officials threw a flag on the play ruling that Graham pushed off on San Francisco corner back Perrish Cox. While fans may still be fuming, Coach Sean Payton is not.

"That was the last thing on my mind when I walked in here this morning was to look at that play," said Payton.

It's a call that is rare, but it's certainly one that could have gone either way. It would have been second guessed if it was not called, just like it's being second guessed that it was indeed called. The coach pointed out that Graham did extend both of his arms before making the catch.



"It's hard to say looking at it. I think the second hand out, just the extension can give that illusion. Hey they're calling it tighter and we have to be able to adjust." Payton added.

Many fans think Cox intentionally "flopped" on the play, falling down dramatically to make it look much worse. Payton did allude to that.

"That one was a little bit clearer, or the illusion, it was clearer... whether he went down on his own, it's hard to say."

The Saints can second guess the decision to throw the flag, the fans can too but like they have the team is pointing to a couple of other costly mistakes as to why they lost the game. Three turnovers, a 4th and 10 conversion late in regulation, and of course the sack/fumble of Drew Brees in the overtime period are the true reasons why the Saints came up short, not because of the officials.

What's fair to expect of an officiating crew is to get the rules right, and they did. By the definition of the rule it was offensive pass interference. The officials don't have the benefit of reviewing the play in super slow motion before the flag comes out. Judgment calls in the heat of the moment usually have a way of equally out, the Saints might be on the benefiting end in another game this season.

Photo by Chris Bennett
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Kristian: Saints will win a close one against Niners

Physical: When I asked Saints quarterback Drew Brees to describe the game with the 49ers in a word he immediately responded with "physical." The Saints know San Francisco well having played them each of the past three seasons, with one of those three games coming in the post season at the end of the 2011 campgaign (36-32 won by the 49ers). In 2012, the 49ers came to town and beat the Saints in the Superdome (31 to 21), and in 2013 New Orleans avenged that loss with a 23-20 win over San Francisco.

Peaking pass rush: The Saints have tallied 11 sacks in their last three games (Detroit, Green Bay and Carolina). The 49ers have given up 14 sacks in their last two games (both losses). So what gives Sunday? The players and coaches have consistently said "Sacks and turnovers come in bunches", and they really have for the black and gold defense. The Saints have forced seven takeaways in the last three games.

Breesing: Saints quarterback Drew Brees has really heated up in the last three games after throwing some costly and inexplicable interceptions early in the season. Since that 4th Quarter interception in a loss to the Lions Brees has been particularly sharp, with 6 touchdown passes to just 1 interception. He's third in the NFL in third down completion percentage (68.4%). Brees has been even hotter at home; Since 2013 Brees is 11-0 at home with a Quarterback rating of 119.8.

Pressure packed: In 2013, left tackle Terron Armstead played in 84 snaps as a rookie after taking over for Charles Brown in week 15. Armstead gave up 7 pressures and 3 sacks in those games. So far in 2014, he's played 303 snaps and allowed 15 pressures and just 1 sack. Wow! Pretty impressive considering he's still a rookie by definition having just played 11 games as a pro. When the Saints drafted Armstead in third round in 2013 the team felt he could eventually earn his way as one of the best tackles in the league, and it looks he's well on his way.

Injury status: Three players ruled out for Sunday's game vs San Francisco; running backs Pierre Thomas, and Khiry Robinson, along with LB David Hawthorne. Running back Mark Ingram (shoulder) is questionable along with Tackle Zach Strief (chest) and Wide Reciever Robert Meachem (ankle). Tight End Jimmy Graham and Wide Reciever Kenny Stills are probable for this week.

Prediction: The wise guys in Vegas have the Saints favored anywhere from 4 to 5 points. The Saints are a different team in the last four games, and while they've got wounded animal in San Francisco coming to town this Sunday I just like the quiet confidence around this team right now. It won't be easy by any stretch to beat San Francisco, but the Saints get it done in the neighborhood of the spread from Vegas, 24-20 over the 49ers. Sean Payton and Drew Brees haven't lost a home game in the month of November since 2007.
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Kristian: 4-4 Saints still desperate for a win

Needing a win: The Saints and 49ers both have identical 4 and 4 records but appear to be headed in opposite directions. New Orleans is riding a two game winning streak and feeling a bit of momentum headed into the back half of the schedule. San Francisco is sitting on a two game losing skid, with a ton of questions about their offensive line and quarterback, and a possible internal issue in the locker room according to reports. The 49ers might be a desperate team but this from Payton: "We're a desperate as well. Someone is going to 4 and 5, and the other team is going to be 5 and 4. We just talk about understanding the type of game we're going to have to play this week, and making sure we know this opponent well," he explained. The 49ers have never lost three straight under Jim Harbaugh (since 2011) "We'll get a very hungry team because coming off of a loss, it's something else. There's a reason they've had the success they've had. They've played in a lot of big games, playoff games, their expectation similar to ours is to be successful and have a chance at playing for something that's real significant" Payton explained.

Featured back: With Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson banged up in the last two weeks, RB Mark Ingram has been the "Workhorse" running back for Sean Payton and the Saints ground attack. Ingram since returning from injury (broken hand) has carried the ball 54 times in the last two victories for the Saints. That production begs the question, should Ingram be the featured back and should the Saints get away from the running back by committee? "I've always felt it's the best approach to let a running back feel the game through multiple carries on a consistent bases. Running back is a rhythm position, and you have to feel the offensive line, the defensive line and get into a true feel for the game and you can't do that touching the ball 10 times in a game," said former Saints running back Heath Evans.

Opportunistic 49er D: The 49ers have had their struggles on offense this season, but make no mistake about it, Vic Fangio still has the San Francisco defense playing great football. "I'd say unlike other teams that take a bunch of chances in order to create turnovers and that becomes susceptible to big plays... these guys, the great balance for them is they are creating turnovers without putting themselves in position to give up big plays. They lead the league in the least amount of big plays given up. It is less than four a game," explained QB Drew Brees. This match up is similar to the type of game New Orleans faced against the Lions top ranked defense a few weeks ago. Taking care of the football will be of utmost importance Sunday for the Saints.
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