Saints show some life but defense must improve
Joe Vitt has a history of navigating teams through some trying times.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Aaron Kromer has finished his job as the New Orleans Saints' interim coach.
Joe Vitt, who was suspended for the first six games as a result of the NFL's bounty investigation, was waiting at Tampa International to accompany his team home after a thrilling 35-28 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Vitt, of course, was tabbed to replace Sean Payton, who has to sit out the entire season due to the bounty heard 'round the world.
What looked like an untenable situation for New Orleans started as one early on with a disastrous 0-4 start. Back-to-back wins, however, and an offense which remains among the NFL's elite has the Saints at least contemplating a historic comeback toward the postseason.
"I'm really happy that we took a team that was not playing well early and we continued to work, continued to believe and won two games in a row," Kromer said. "And now we're going for our third."
Kromer will now go back to tutoring the offensive line and hand the reins back to Vitt, who has a history of navigating teams through some trying times. He spent a portion of the 2005 season as St. Louis' interim head coach when Mike Martz was battling a bacterial heart infection and served as the head coach on the field in New Orleans back in 2011 when Payton recovered from a broken leg.
And Vitt was called the "obvious choice" to replace Payton this time around by quarterback Drew Brees.
So Vitt, the team's linebackers coach when Payton is around, has the support of the franchise player, but Brees is the one constant in the Bayou. He's going to play at a high level if Gumbo the mascot is piloting things.
Brees threw four touchdown passes in the first half against Tampa Bay, finishing the game 27-for-37 with 377 yards and an interception as he extended his NFL-record streak of at least one touchdown pass in a game to 49.
If it seems like Brees is making history every week these days, it's probably because he is. This time around the All-Pro amassed his 16th career contest with four-or-more touchdown passes and 300-plus passing yards, matching Hall of Famer Dan Marino or the most in NFL history.
Brees also registered his 62nd 300-yard passing game, equaling Brett Favre for the third-most all-time. He's eyeing down Marino (63) and the record holder, Denver's Peyton Manning (67 games).
"That's pretty impressive, but when you think who it is, it doesn't surprise me," receiver Lance Moore said when talking about Brees. "He's a unique talent we have back there and, hopefully, him and the rest of the team can continue to roll and bounce back from the rough start that we had."
For that to happen, however, Vitt, along with defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo must figure out a way to get more production from their side of the ball.
Despite the return of linebacker and team leader Jonathan Vilma, the central figure on the field in the bounty scandal who is being allowed to play while he is appealing his season-long suspension, NOLA's defense continued to be a disappointment in Tampa.
"Having (Vilma) back just, emotionally, really made a difference in this game," Kromer overstated. "We were trying to get him in certain packages, and we had a couple of linebackers go down early in the game."
If it did make a difference, it didn't show up in the box score. Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson totaled seven receptions for a franchise-record 216 yards and Josh Freeman threw for a career-high 420 yards for the Buccaneers, who aren't exactly an offensive juggernaut most weeks.
A potential overtime-forcing touchdown pass from Freeman to receiver Mike Williams on the game's final play was wiped out when it was ruled Williams went out of bounds, came back in and was the first player to touch the ball.
"It really doesn't matter. If it's called, it's called," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "You live with it. There's nothing you can do about it. So whether he did, didn't, we'll see it on tape. That's life."
Entering Week 7, the Saints were allowing an NFL-worst 456 yards per game and just under 31 points.
Vitt may be happy to be back right now but his mood might grow darker next Sunday when he actually gets to see his defense in person against Manning and the Broncos.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS:
Tennessee running back Chris Johnson, who rushed for 195 yards and two rushing touchdowns, including an 83-yarder, in the Titans' 35-34 win over Buffalo, became the first back with four career rushing touchdowns of 80-plus yards.
Chris Johnson - 4
Ahman Green - 3
Hugh McElhenny - 3
Barry Sanders - 3
O.J. Simpson - 3
THE MONDAY REWIND:
IF YOU AIN'T CHEATIN' YOU AIN'T TRYIN'
That's a famous saying in NASCAR, but it could just as easily explain the NFL.
When the stakes are so high and winning, no matter the cost, is the ultimate goal, it's not surprising that things like performance-enhancing drugs and bounties are prevalent in professional football.
Heck, the New England Patriots even mastered the art of illegally videotaping the opposition coaching staff, and let's not pretend the Saints weren't listening in on the opposition coaching booth at the Superdome.
Former Minnesota governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura probably conveyed it best during his days at a heel on the pro wrestling circuit. "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat," the charismatic Ventura used to utter when chasing Hulk Hogan and Co.
Despite the public relations spin, the NFL understands plenty of its players are beating testing and currently using PEDs. The league knows the Saints weren't the first outfit to offer cash payouts for knocking players out of a game and it understands Bill Belichick was hardly the one who came up with stealing signs.
The NFL did believe it was done with Stickum, however.
The days of Lester Hayes extending a dripping paw to snare an interception were done away with decades ago, but a more conservative use of the sticky stuff is still making the rounds.
The San Diego Chargers are reportedly facing significant punishment after officials confiscated a towel with Stickum on it during their game against the Denver Broncos a week ago.
An equipment manager made the mistake of bringing the towel onto the field during a timeout and San Diego now could face a fine or probably worse.
"During the game, one of their equipment managers came out onto the field with these little hand towels with this illegal substance in it," FOXSports' Jay Glazer reported. "One of the officials, Jeff Bergman, actually saw it and tried to confiscate it.
"The equipment guy wouldn't give it up. Finally they made the equipment guy empty his pockets and what they found in these hand towels was this illegal form of Stickum."
Since NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has proven to be the embodiment of the self-serving politician, he has already decided his legacy -- cleaning up the abhorrent behavior in his league.
And that does not bode well for the Chargers.
Perhaps the moral of the story is -- win if you can, lose if you must, but don't get caught cheating.
Glazer says the Chargers are facing potentially stiff sanctions, a significant fine or even an outside shot of a loss of draft picks depending on how many people actually were involved in Stickum-gate.
An Achilles injury used to be a possible career-ender, but Baltimore's Terrell Suggs, the reigning NFL defensive player of the year who tore his Achilles in late April, was back before the calendar turned to November.
In what can only be described as a medical miracle, Suggs was activated for Sunday's game in Houston and notched four tackles and a sack.
The miracles ended there for the Ravens, however. Suggs' likely replacement as the NFL's top defender, J.J. Watt, led a stifling Houston Texans defense that sent a message with a 43-13 rout of Baltimore.
The 6-1 Texans finally beat the Ravens, who won all six previous meetings in the series and eliminated Houston from last year's playoffs.
"It's about responding to adversity, and this team really did it this week," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said of his team, which rebounded from its first loss of the season to Green Bay. "It was a team effort. The thing I'm most proud of is that everybody pitched in."
The Ravens defense, reeling from the losses of Ray Lewis (torn triceps) and Lardarius Webb (ACL) last week, continued its disappointing season, allowing 420 yards in the blowout and allowing their most points since a 44-20 loss to Indianapolis back in 2007.
"It's not the end of the world," Suggs said of the loss. "But it's not something we're going to take lightly, either."
It's hard to imagine Suggs will have the same explosion going forward, but his presence will be a big difference in a weak conference which had just two winning teams entering Sunday's action, Houston and Baltimore.
The Ravens, though, now need to go about things differently and ride quarterback Joe Flacco, which can't be a comforting thought after watching his performance on Sunday.
Flacco finished just 21-of-43 for 146 yards and served the Texans nine points on a platter by taking a safety and throwing a pick-six.
WHEN A LOSS HELPS
The NFL's trade deadline is a week from Tuesday and although it doesn't pack the same kind of punch as the other major professional sports, you can expect some movement.
Despite entering Sunday's game against Green Bay at 3-3, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher knows he's in a rebuilding situation. So while any loss hurts a competitive coach like Fisher, his 30-20 setback to the Packers may have helped him in the long run.
Fisher is intent on stockpiling draft picks and the Rams have already decided to move on from veteran running back Steven Jackson in 2013. Jackson, however, is still an above-average back with enough left in the tank to make a difference to a contender like the Packers.
Trying to be a seller when your team is above .500, however, is tough to explain to the locals. When you're underwater and on the outside looking in of the playoff picture without your best receiver - the injured Danny Amendola - it's a lot easier.
BEST NEWS OF THE DAY
Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano was released from Indiana University Simon Cancer Center on Sunday, and was able to watch his team reach the .500 mark and surpass its win total from all of last season by topping Cleveland, 17-13.
Colts owner Jim Irsay told the 3-3 team of Pagano's release from the hospital after the game.
"I was more thrilled with that than the win," rookie quarterback Andrew Luck said.
Pagano, of course, was admitted to the hospital after being diagnosed with leukemia on Sept. 29. Despite his condition, the first-year mentor has done all he can to inspire his team and interim coach Bruce Arians has Indy playing competitive football.
"We're obviously excited about the win, to get to 3-3, and be in the hunt now in the AFC with a bunch of other teams," Arians said.
The reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants needed a 77-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz with less than two minutes remaining to earn a 27-23 triumph over Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins in an NFC East clash on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
The Giants' defensive line, particularly Justin Tuck, was pretty impressed with RG3.
"I'm really mad at the football gods for putting him in the NFC East," Tuck said. "He's going to be a headache."
The Giants led 20-16 with 2:55 remaining when Griffin led the Redskins on a seven-play, 77-yard scoring drive to grab the lead.
Griffin converted an amazing do-or-die 4th-and-10 by eluding a pair of New York defenders in the backfield before finding Logan Paulsen for 19 yards.
After the two-minute warning, Griffin scrambled 24 yards into New York territory and two plays later, the rookie quarterback floated a 30-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss to give Washington a 23-20 edge before Manning's latest fourth-quarter heroics.
"(He) takes away from your enthusiasm for the game a little bit (as a defensive player)," Tuck said.
"The headache" finished 20-of-28 passes for 258 yards, a pair of touchdowns and one interception for the 3-4 Redskins.
"That guy is flat-out unbelievable," Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora told the Washington Post. "That's the best QB we've played this year."
"(He) looks like the fastest guy on tape and he's certainly the fastest guy on the field," added New York coach Tom Coughlin. "When he pulls the ball down, when you break down contain and he goes outside, you are just praying someone is going to run him out of bounds."
- Cruz's 77-yard touchdown pass from Manning was the longest game-winning touchdown in the final two minutes in Giants' franchise history.
- Luck became the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to record at least 1,500 passing yards (1,674) and snare three wins in his first six NFL starts.
- The Arizona Cardinals have now lost games in which opposing quarterbacks completed seven passes (the Rams' Sam Bradford) and eight passes, the Vikings' Christian Ponder in Minnesota's 21-14 win on Sunday.
- Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson had a team-high nine receptions for 86 yards in Houston's win over Baltimore. Johnson now has 25 career games with nine-or-more receptions and 80-plus receiving yards, trailing only Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison, who both had 28 in their careers.