Thu Nov 22 11:43pm ET
By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Keith Kirkwood (18) pulls in a touchdown reception in the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in New Orleans, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) and wide receiver Austin Carr (80) celebrate with wide receiver Keith Kirkwood (18) after Brees' touchdown pass to Kirkwood in the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in New Orleans, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) hugs tight end Dan Arnold (85) after the two connected on a touchdown reception in the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in New Orleans, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
New Orleans Saints tight end Dan Arnold (85) pulls in a touchdown reception over Atlanta Falcons defensive back Sharrod Neasman in the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
New Orleans Saints strong safety Vonn Bell (24) celebrates his fumble recovery with teammates in the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in New Orleans, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) fumbles as he is hit by New Orleans Saints middle linebacker Alex Anzalone in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) reacts after throwing a touchdown pass to wide receiver Austin Carr, not pictured, in the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in New Orleans, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
New Orleans Saints scramble on the turf to pick up a fumble by the Atlanta Falcons in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis celebrates his touchdown reception with wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) in the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in New Orleans, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Drew Brees threw four touchdown passes to inexperienced receivers and the New Orleans Saints won their 10th straight game Thursday night with a 31-17 victory over Atlanta that eliminated the Falcons from contention in the NFC South.
Tommylee Lewis and Austin Carr each caught their second career touchdown pass, and rookie tight end Dan Arnold grabbed his first, as did rookie receiver Keith Kirkwood. All four entered the NFL as undrafted free agents within the past three years and had combined for zero touchdowns this season before Carr caught the first of his career last Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Falcons (4-7) lost three fumbles inside the Saints 20 - something no team facing streaking New Orleans (10-1) can afford this season.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan was stripped by safety Marcus Williams on a third-and-2 from the Saints 3 and Williams recovered to end Atlanta's opening drive. Julio Jones was stripped by linebacker Alex Anzalone after a catch on the New Orleans 17, and safety Vonn Bell recovered in the final minute of the second quarter to preserve a 17-3 lead going into halftime.
The Saints' defense, which had a season-high six sacks, continued to come up with big plays in the second half, with Anzalone breaking up a fourth-down pass in the third quarter and linebacker A.J. Klein intercepting a pass tipped by defensive tackle Tyeler Davison in the fourth.
The interception gave the Saints possession on the Atlanta 22, setting up Kirkwood's diving 4-yard TD catch.
Just for good measure, Lattimore stripped Calvin Ridley on the Saints 1 after a 29-yard completion that looked as though it would end with a touchdown with about four minutes to go. Defensive back Eli Apple recovered that one.
Ryan was under pressure all night from a Saints defense that was bolstered by the return of first-round draft choice Marcus Davenport from a toe injury that sidelined him for three games. Cameron Jordan had two sacks, while Williams, P.J. Williams, Sheldon Rankins and Demario Davis each had one.
Ryan finished 35 of 47 for 377 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. But very little came easy. His first TD pass, to Calvin Ridley, came on a fourth-and-goal from the 2 at the end of the third quarter.
Atlanta rushed for just 26 yards, while New Orleans finished with 150, led by Alvin Kamara's 89 and Mark Ingram's 52.
Statistically, Brees did not have one of his more impressive games, completing 15 of 22 passes for 171 yards with his second interception of the season. The pick was snagged by Damontae Kazee, his NFL-leading sixth this year.
But Brees' ability to play to the strengths of unheralded receivers allowed the Saints to cash in on scoring opportunities.
Lewis, a third-year pro, was in his first game back after spending nine weeks on injured reserve and had not caught a pass all season before getting wide open for his 28-yard grab that made it 7-0 on the first series of the game. Carr is a second-year pro who played in only one game without a catch as a rookie. Kirkwood made his NFL debut three games ago, when Arnold had his first career reception.
Falcons linebacker Kemal Ishmael was helped off the field in the third quarter after a punt.
Falcons host Baltimore Dec. 2.
Saints visit Dallas on Thursday night.
Pittsburgh Steelers impending free-agent running back Le'Veon Bell's trainer responded to "ridiculous" speculation about Bell's shape by pointing out that he is feeling better in February than guys who played in 2018. "Hes going to be the same Le'Veon Bell only better, quicker and faster," Bell's trainer said. Bell sat out all of the 2018 season while refusing to sign his franchise tender, but some teams might still be wary of that fact that he's already run the ball 1,229 times in five seasons in the league. Bell is still young, though, and he's one of the most versatile running backs in the game. He should remain firmly in the high-end RB1 picture no matter where he signs.
Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said he supports quarterback Ben Roethlisberger 100 percent as the team's unquestioned leader amid criticism from disgruntled receiver Antonio Brown. "I have no problem with him. He can call me out and thats fine. What he does I totally respect because Ive seen him too many times win games for us and come through in situations," Colbert said. Owner Art Rooney also said last month that they plan to sign Big Ben, 37, to a contract extension. Roethlisberger led the NFL in yards (5,129) and had a career-high 34 touchdowns, so he wasn't as washed up as most fantasy owners thought before the season. He'll still be in play as a QB1 next season, but losing Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown -- two of the best playmakers in football -- will surely hurt his overall ceiling.
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Carlos Hyde is likely to be cut this offseason, as Hays Carlyon projects there's an 80 percent chance of that happening. The Jags would save $4.75 million if they were to release him. Hyde didn't do much at all after the team gave up a fifth-round pick for him in the middle of last season to serve as insurance for the injured Leonard Fournette. The 28-year-old ran 58 times for 189 yards (3.3 yards per carry) and no touchdowns in eight games. He could land a job on the open market, but Hyde is unlikely to receive a prominent role anywhere else.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Antonio Callaway had his marijuana charge dropped on Thursday, according to his lawyer Kevin Spellacy. Callaway pleaded guilty to speeding on Oct. 14 in a hearing on Jan. 25. He paid $911 in fines and court costs and received one year of monitored probation for driving with a suspended license. The team's fourth-round pick last year must be on his best behavior to avoid a suspension from the league, however. The 22-year-old caught 43 passes for 586 yards and led the team with five touchdowns in his first year. If he can stay out of further trouble, Callaway should take the next step as the team's deep threat in an offense that is only getting better.
The Detroit Lions are not expected to re-sign impending unrestricted free-agent running back LeGarrette Blount this offseason. Tight ends Levine Toilolo and Luke Willson and defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois are also expected to hit the open market. The 32-year-old Blount had 154 carries for only 418 yards (career-low 2.7 yards per carry) and five touchdowns in his only season in Detroit. He had a whopping 18 touchdowns with the Patriots in 2016, but that was an outlier season for the former Oregon Duck, as he never topped six scores in any other year. He doesn't have much left at this point in his career and is strictly a short-yardage, goal-line back.
Arizona Cardinals LB Thurston Armbrister was waived Wednesday, Feb. 20.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst (foot), who was the 25th overall pick in last year's draft, said an X-ray showed he is now 100 percent after he had a screw removed from his foot. Hurst went down with a stress fracture in August and played in 12 games in his rookie season, catching only 13 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown. Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams will be free agents, so Hurst and 2018 third-round pick Mark Andrews could compete for playing time in 2019. Hurst is only 25 and has pass-catching upside, but he's still probably only an asset in dynasty/keeper leagues to begin next season. He could become a waiver wire pickup if he sees considerable playing time and proves he's healthy.
There is word on the street that Pittsburgh Steelers impending free-agent running back Le'Veon Bell is up to around 260 pounds after holding out for all of 2018. His playing weight is listed as 225 pounds. Bell may have lost a lot of that extra baggage now, but the Jets and other teams may be concerned about what kind of shape he's in. There's also concern about how much the 27-year-old has left in the tank after his 1,635 touches in five seasons. Bell is believed to be looking for a deal that nets him $48 million in the first three years of his next deal. He is arguably the best dual-threat running back in the last decade and should still be an RB1 in his new home.
Free-agent RB Le'Veon Bell (Steelers) reportedly weighed around 260 pounds during his year off from football. The Jets are fairly concerned about the shape Bell is in after he played at 225 pounds in 2017. New York is considered to be one of the front-runners to sign Bell this offseason. Despite the weight issue, the Jets will add him for the right price. The Jets currently boast the second largest salary cap heading into the offseason behind the Indianapolis Colts.
Fantasy Spin: Running back will be even more of a need if Isaiah Crowell is not retained. Bell would make a nice fit in green and white but is an RB1 candidate wherever he lands, assuming the weight won't be a big issue.
Carolina Panthers LB David Mayo (hernia) recently underwent surgery for a sports hernia, according to The Athletic's Joe Person. Mayo is rehabilitating and is expected to make a full recovery.
New York Giants impending free-agent SS Landon Collins is expected to be pursued by the Indianapolis Colts in free agency, according to The Herald Bulletin's George Bremer.
The Chicago Bears are expected to release tight end Dion Sims, according to a source. He was due $6 million in 2019, so he'll become a salary cap casualty. The 28-year-old played in just 22 games in his two years in Chicago and caught only 17 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown over that span. Sims is mainly a blocking tight end and won't have a huge market for his services this offseason.
Chicago Bears impending free-agent TE Dion Sims is expected to be released, according to a source. Cutting Sims saves the Bears $6 million in salary cap space.
New York Giants impending free-agent SS Landon Collins cleared out his locker and said goodbye to teammates Wednesday, Feb. 20, indicating he does not expect to return to the Giants this year.
Free-agent WR Jaelen Strong (Jaguars) was signed to an undisclosed deal by the Cleveland Browns Wednesday, Feb. 20.
Updating an ongoing saga, Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell will not be the recipient of the transition tag, according to general manager Kevin Colbert, Wednesday, Feb. 20. Bell will hit the open market in March.
Fantasy Spin: This isn't a big surprise. Gamers will have to wait to see where he ends up to get a true valuation, but Bell will remain in the RB1 ranks, albeit with risk, for 2019.
Los Angeles Rams running back C.J. Anderson said Todd Gurley's knee injury was worse than the team originally thought when they signed Anderson to take over for Gurley for the final two regular season games. "Yeah, he'd never really tell me. It was tough. I would say sprained knee," Anderson said. "Obviously, it's the same knee injury he's had before in his career." Head coach Sean McVay and the Rams were calling it knee inflammation. Gurley has taken a pounding and no player in the league has had more touches than him since the start of 2017. He had just 14 carries in the conference championship and Super Bowl combined, so something was clearly not right with the star back. Gurley has gone over 1,000 yards on the ground in three of his four seasons and had 21 total touchdowns in 2018, making him the league's premiere running back. Despite ending the year hobbled in the playoffs, Gurley is a no-brainer first overall fantasy selection in 2019.
Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said the team will attempt to trade wide receiver Antonio Brown this offseason, but they will not give him away. If the trade doesn't benefit the Steelers, they will not trade him. Both sides are ready to move on, but the Steelers are unlikely to get a ton for the star wideout. Brown has rubbed many in the organization the wrong way despite putting up six straight seasons of 1,000 yards and 100-plus catches. While he's still the cream of the receiving crop, Brown is heading into his age-31 season and will likely do so in a whole new offense. He'll remain a high-end WR1, but Brown will come with more risk than ever before.
Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said the team will not place the franchise or transition tag on running back Le'Veon Bell. "LeVeon is still a great player. We cant afford to use any other type of tags. LeVeon will be an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year," Colbert said. Bell held out for the entire 2018 season after the Steelers placed the franchise tag on him. He'll be free to sign any other club next month and is not expected back in Pittsburgh. The versatile back has 1,000-yard seasons in three of his five years in the NFL and is also one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league. He's likely to remain a strong RB1 wherever he goes next, but his upside will depend on the offense that he's in.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen's agent, Blake Baratz, thinks his client and two-time Pro Bowler could reach an extension with the team this offseason. Thielen signed a four-year deal worth $19.246 million in 2017 that will pay him around $8 million in 2019. He has outplayed his contract after setting career highs in catches (113), yards (1,373) and touchdowns (nine). Thielen just keeps improving season after season and has become a strong WR2 in point-per-reception leagues. It helps that he'll be working with quarterback Kirk Cousins again in 2019.