Disappointed Panthers, Saints seek strong finish

By BY BRETT MARTEL - AP Sports Writer
    2012-12-28 20:24

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints are about to close the book on a season that may forever be defined by the word ``bounty.'' They want to do it by avoiding the ``losing team'' label, even if the playoffs are out of reach.

The Panthers had no such scandal overshadowing their season, only the disappointment of failing to reach expectations that may have been unfairly high after Cam Newton's stellar rookie campaign. Still, Carolina has won three straight and four out of five, offering hope that one productive offseason may be all the Panthers and their talented, dual-threat quarterback need to become contenders again.

So when the Saints (7-8) and Panthers (6-9) meet Sunday, what might otherwise look like an anticlimactic season finale between two teams going nowhere will mean much more to the players and coaches involved.

``You want to go out and play your absolute best and really feel good about our team, the way we were able to finish and the future despite not meeting some of the goals that we had for this season,'' said Brees, whose season has been about as wildly inconsistent as his team's. ``We want to finish strong, and we want to really have something we can build on moving forward. Over the last two weeks we've done that, but we have to complete that trifecta by doing it again this week. This is the most important game of the season.''

Brees, who held out until shortly before training camp for a five-year, $100 million extension, has been plagued by a league-high 18 interceptions, while at the same time remaining among the most productive quarterbacks in NFL history.

With one more touchdown pass, Brees will become the first quarterback to throw 40 scoring passes in consecutive seasons. With 4,781 yards passing, Brees is the first player in NFL history with three straight 4,500-yard seasons, and he needs 219 yards - well below his average - to be the first in NFL history with three 5,000-yard seasons.

``Well, let's hope we hit those. Let's hope we win the game. And then we'll reflect once the season is over,'' Brees said. ``In the end, as a quarterback, it's did you win or did you lose, did you go to the playoffs or did you not, did you have a chance at the championship or not? That's what drives you.''

For the Saints, the game is expected to be the last under assistant head coach Joe Vitt. He has served in an interim role while Sean Payton has served his season-long suspension in connection with the NFL's investigation into the Saints' cash-for-hits performance pool.

It might even be the last game Vitt coaches in any capacity. While appearing as a witness earlier this month on behalf of players appealing their bounty suspensions, the 58-year-old Vitt said he ``could've retired last August.''

``I'll make a decision after the season what I'm going to do with my career,'' Vitt said, according to transcripts of the closed hearing obtained by The Associated Press.

The Saints are expecting Payton to return as head coach when his suspension ends following the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 - perhaps earlier if Commissioner Roger Goodell permits it. Payton agreed in principle to a multiyear contract extension on Friday, according to two people familiar with the deal. The people spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been signed and exact terms were still being worked out.

Meanwhile, Carolina coach Ron Rivera's future is unclear as he concludes a second straight losing season. A loss would doom him to consecutive 6-10 finishes, but Rivera said he believes the team is headed in the right direction.

``This week we're playing the Saints and then after that we'll just go forward and see what happens,'' Rivera said, referring to the talk about his job security. ``It's crazy because you kind of wonder where it all came from and it never came from (Panthers owner Jerry Richardson) and that's the thing. I'm on the hot seat; at no point was I ever told that.''

Certainly, his players haven't given up on him as they look to close out the season.

``Everybody feels like we're playing well, but it's kind of a bittersweet moment, because we feel like we should have been playing like this all year long,'' Panthers receiver Brandon LaFell said. ``We know we have a good coach here. Hopefully he'll come back. We all want him back.''

One of Carolina's few early-season wins came in Week 2 over a Saints squad en route to an 0-4 start. The Saints' defense was playing much worse back then, however. New Orleans' defense started so poorly, in fact, that despite substantial improvement it remains on pace to give up more yards than any in NFL history.

The Saints have yielded 6,512 yards, 281 yards short of the record 6,793 allowed by the 1981 Baltimore Colts, a team on which Vitt served as a third-year assistant.

Vitt concedes the numbers are not flattering, but also said they don't tell the story of how the unit responded to a poor start under first-year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

``You talk to any defensive member of the team and they're proud to be a part of that unit. The coaching staff certainly is,'' Vitt said. ``There has been improvement, there has been (a) shutout. Instead of being the negative part, the all-time leader, whatever that means, we have a chance to be 8-8 and be an improved defense. That's more important - not where we were, but how we finished.''


Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Matt ForteNov 26 07:13p

Chicago Bears RB Matt Forte (knee) is officially active for the Week 12 game against the Green Bay Packers Thursday, Nov. 26.

Corey BrownNov 26 03:43p

Carolina Panthers WR Corey Brown (shoulder) has been declared inactive for the Week 12 game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Corey BrownNov 26 03:33p

The Carolina Panthers have declared RB Brandon Wegher, RB Cameron Artis-Payne, CB Charles Tillman, WR Corey Brown, LS Danny Aiken, WR Kevin Norwood, DE Ryan Delaire inactive for Week 12.

Brice ButlerNov 26 03:33p

The Dallas Cowboys have declared WR Brice Butler, TE Geoff Swaim, LB Mark Nzeocha, CB Morris Claiborne, OG Ronald Leary, DE Ryan Russell, RB Trey Williams inactive for Week 12.

Timothy WrightNov 26 11:33a

The Detroit Lions have declared OT Corey Robinson, DL Gabe Wright, S Isaiah Johnson, DL Jermelle Cudjo, OT LaAdrian Waddle, WR T.J. Jones, TE Tim Wright inactive for Week 12.

Darrelle RevisNov 26 11:33a

New York Jets CB Darrelle Revis (concussion) wasn't spotted at practice Thursday, Nov. 26, and he's unlikely to play in Week 12 against the Miami Dolphins.

Calvin JohnsonNov 26 11:23a

Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson (ankle) is active Thursday, Nov. 26, against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Matt BryantNov 26 11:13a

Updating previous reports, Atlanta Falcons PK Matt Bryant (quadriceps) injured his quadriceps in practice Wednesday, Nov. 25.

Sam BradfordNov 26 11:13a

Philadelphia Eagles QB Sam Bradford (concussion, shoulder) is inactive Thursday, Nov. 26.

Sam BradfordNov 26 11:13a

The Philadelphia Eagles have declared DL Brandon Bair, CB Denzel Rice, WR Jonathan Krause, RB Ryan Mathews, QB Sam Bradford, OT Tanner Hawkinson, TE Zach Ertz inactive for Week 12.

Peyton ManningNov 26 11:03a

Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning (foot) will be out at least three weeks as his foot is in a cast for the next 10 days. He'll need at least [ More ]

Devonta FreemanNov 26 11:03a

Atlanta Falcons RB Devonta Freeman (concussion) won't practice Thursday, Nov. 26, and the team is preparing to play without him in Week 12, according to head coach Dan Quinn.

Shayne GrahamNov 26 10:43a

Free-agent PK Shayne Graham (Saints) will sign with the Atlanta Falcons Thursday, Nov. 26, according to a source.

Mark SanchezNov 26 08:43a

Philadelphia Eagles QB Mark Sanchez will start Thursday, Nov. 26, in place of QB Sam Bradford (concussion, shoulder).

Doug BaldwinNov 25 07:43p

Seattle Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin (ankle) did not take part in practice Wednesday, Nov. 25.

Tyrod TaylorNov 25 07:23p

Updating a previous report, Buffalo Bills QB Tyrod Taylor (shoulder) said he will play in Week 12 against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Malcom FloydNov 25 06:53p

San Diego Chargers TE Antonio Gates (hip) and WR Malcom Floyd (shoulder) were limited in practice Wednesday, Nov. 25.

Case KeenumNov 25 06:43p

St. Louis Rams QB Case Keenum (concussion) was limited in practice Wednesday, Nov. 25.

Dexter McClusterNov 25 06:33p

Tennessee Titans RB Dexter McCluster (knee) did not take part in practice Wednesday, Nov. 25.

Kendall WrightNov 25 06:33p

Tennessee Titans WR Kendall Wright (knee) was limited in practice Wednesday, Nov. 25.

Mark IngramNov 25 06:23p

New Orleans Saints RB Mark Ingram's (shoulder) injury isn't expected to be a major concern after resting last week during the bye. It's unclear, however, if his shoulder injury [ More ]

Andrew LuckNov 25 06:23p

Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck (abdomen, kidney) is confident that he will play again this year, but a timetable for his return at this point is tough to gauge. [ More ]

Leonard HankersonNov 25 06:13p

Atlanta Falcons WR Leonard Hankerson (hamstring) is still bothered by a hamstring strain, and the Falcons may continue to take their time with his injury. Hankerson previously missed two [ More ]

A. Seferian-JenkinsNov 25 06:03p

Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder) was limited in practice Wednesday, Nov. 25.

Stedman BaileyNov 25 05:53p

St. Louis Rams WR Stedman Bailey (head) is out of surgery and will be in an intensive care unit for 3-5 days. Doctors are hopeful he will make a successful recovery.

Danny AmendolaNov 25 04:43p

New England Patriots WRs Julian Edelman (foot), Danny Amendola (knee) and Aaron Dobson (ankle) did not practice Wednesday, Nov. 25.

Glenn DorseyNov 25 04:33p

San Francisco 49ers DT Glenn Dorsey (knee) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Wednesday, Nov. 25, after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Week 11.

Marshawn LynchNov 25 03:53p

Updating a previous report, Seattle Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch (hernia) will return in three to four weeks after undergoing sports hernia surgery Wednesday, Nov. 25, but he could be [ More ]

Matt ForteNov 25 03:33p

Chicago Bears RB Matt Forte (knee) and WR Alshon Jeffery (groin, shoulder) are both listed as questionable for Week 12 against the Green Bay Packers Thursday, Nov. 26.

John BrownNov 25 03:13p

Arizona Cardinals WR John Brown (hamstring) did not practice Wednesday, Nov. 25.

Martellus BennettNov 25 02:53p

Chicago Bears TE Martellus Bennett (ribs) has been ruled out for Week 12 Thursday, Nov. 26.

Michael FloydNov 25 02:33p

Arizona Cardinals WR Michael Floyd (hamstring) is practicing Wednesday, Nov. 25.

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
Player Notes:
Forum Posts:

© 2015 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group