Saints regaining their strength

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:15 PM ET

Memo: All NFL teams.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. The New Orleans Saints may be on the march, again.

After running into more brick walls to start the season than anyone this side of the Green Bay Packers’ M.A.S.H. unit, the Saints are finally getting healthy.

Bad news for the rest of the NFL.

All-Pro safety Darren Sharper, who opened the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list while recovering from off-season knee surgery, finally came back last weekend to a defensive backfield that played without its top three cornerbacks.

This week, Pierre Thomas, who was last year’s leading rusher and a productive outlet for Drew Brees on screen passes, was back on the field jogging. He’s been out since Week 3 with an ankle sprain. Starting linebacker Scott Shanle, who has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, also has resumed practice.

Starting cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer are working out again. Greer says there’s a possibility he could be back this weekend.

In their absence, the Saints have looked less than ordinary, losing three of their past five games.

“The disappointing part is you haven’t seen the complete team since Week 2 when Reggie went down,” Shanle told reporters. “It absolutely has an effect. I mean, we do a good job of having guys who are backups come in and play good football, but there’s a reason why Reggie Bush is Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas has done what he’s done.”

Bush has been out since fracturing his right fibula in Week 2 and isn’t expected back for Sunday’s game against the Steelers. He was back on the field this week for the first time, working out by himself.

All of which hints that, like last season when they went into a three-game skid before rallying to win the Super Bowl, the Saints’ best football may yet be to come.

A BRAIN DRAIN?

James Harrison believes his game last week against the Dolphins was probably the worst he’s played this season.

The league offices considered it one of the Steelers linebacker’s best.

Who’s right? Well, it depends whether you believe leaving behind your brain cells on the field is a good thing.

“We can still play the game, but it’s not the same,” Harrison said after Inside the NFL showed clips in which he appeared to avoid collisions rather than accelerate into players. The game came after the NFL fined him and said it would clamp down on violent hits, especially the helmet-to-helmet variety.

“If I shot in there, I would have probably hit helmet-to-helmet, and I’ve already got one offence,” Harrison said. “So I could be looking at a possible suspension.”

While Harrison thinks that’s bad, the league believes changing players’ habits will prevent injury now and long-term disability later.

“I’m not too concerned about it,” Harrison said of the potential of brain damage later in life. “If that happens, it’s gonna suck, but hopefully I’ll have made enough money and put in enough time that my kids don’t have to worry about it. And if I’ve got to go through a little bit of hell so they don’t have to, I’m fine with that.”

Fair enough. For Harrison. But what sounds like an act of altruism is actually rather selfish. Just because he doesn’t mind mortgaging his own future doesn’t give him the right to pass that death sentence on to the guys he’s hitting.

THE LOVE TRAIN

It’s all Lovie-dovey in Chicago, despite a Bears offence that has adopted hari kiri as its favourite hobby.

Coach Lovie Smith insists all is wel,l even though the team has yet to score a single point in the third quarter.

“The odds are ... we’ll correct that,” said Smith this week.

The Chicago Tribune notes that the Bears have not scored in 10 tries from the one-yard line this year; one reason they’ve gone from Matt Forte to Chester Taylor as their goal-line back.

After back-to-back home losses, this would appear to be a team on the cusp of crisis. But, no, says quarterback Jay Cutler. Asked how the Bears might cure their offensive shortcomings, Cutler observed: “That is a very negative question.”

Maybe if he had a positive answer, he wouldn’t have to listen to the negative question.

But so far that hasn’t happened. The Bears had a string of 28 consecutive failed third-down attempts before Cutler hit Devin Hester with a pass Sunday. They have converted only 17.9% of third downs, less than half the league average, and they’ve allowed 31 sacks. Nobody else has given up more than 21.

So, unless you’re wearing a ‘C’ on the side of your head, it’s difficult not be a little negative.

SILENCE IS GOLDEN

Vikings receiver Randy Moss has entered the third week of a media boycott because he says reporters are trying to make him look silly.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello says “players are expected to co-operate with the media following each game and during the practice week,” and that the league is exploring the situation.

The problem of course is that the only one who is an expert at making Moss look silly is, well, Moss. Which means the boycott may have to continue until league doctors “explore the situation” and figure out how to get Moss’ foot out of his mouth.

UNITED THEY STAND

Darrelle Revis has gone from being regarded as the best cornerback in football to, six games into the season, not even being the best cornerback on his team.

After being a pre-season holdout, Revis has been hobbled by hamstring injuries which he now says are behind him. Even when he’s played, he has been inconsistent. Meantime, Antonio Cromartie has shut down opposing No. 1 receivers with regularity.

This week, Revis gets Greg Jennings and the Packers. But Jets coach Rex Ryan says the team plans to rotate Cromartie and Revis against the opposing clubs’ best receivers for the rest of the year.

“I anticipate that,” Cromartie told the New York Daily News. “We feel we have the best cornerback tandem in the league. Both of us are basically No. 1 corners.”

So, is there mutiny brewing on the shores of Revis Island?

“We’re like a tag team,” Revis said. “It doesn’t matter who gets the job that week. I still have to do my job if I’m not on the No. 1 guy. If he’s not, he still has to do his job.”

Just guessing, but if this football thing falls flat, he might want to walk down the street to the United Nations where, no doubt, an exciting career in the diplomatic corps awaits.

CANDY-CANE ROUTE

For Troy Smith and San Francisco receiver Ted Ginn, Sunday’s game against Denver is going to feel like child’s play.

Niners coach Mike Singletary, with nothing left to lose and a 1-6 record, has named Smith his starting quarterback ahead of David Carr. Smith hasn’t started a game since 2007 when he was with Baltimore. But he does have a familiar target in Ginn, one of his best friends from childhood and a favourite target throughout high school in Cleveland and at Ohio State.

They first hooked up as kids in a snack attack offence. They were seven. Their families went to the same church and the two would run their own version of the wildcat.

“It was at church and we had a McDonalds to our left and a little candy store to our right,” Ginn said. “And we would sneak out of the church and either I would hold the door and he would run to McDonalds, or he would hold the door and I would run to the candy store. That’s how we started off, and then we just grew from there.”

And a couple decades later, things haven’t changed much. They’re still looking for a sweet ending.

GOODBYE ALREADY

There is nothing sadder in sport than watching a superstar play on past his “Best Before” date. Someone has to tell Brett Favre it is time to surrender his lead role as the Vikings’ tragic hero.

Hello, Brad Childress. So, have the Vikings actually got a head coach or is that just an inflatable doll they trot out there every weekend? Doctors have told Favre he doesn’t need surgery on his ankles and that he can’t damage them any more by playing with the broken bones. The tenacity is admirable. Favre, being Favre, will soldier on.

But it’s not a matter anymore of whether he can hurt himself. Fact is, he’s hurting his team. He may not see it. Childress should see it.

Favre’s continued presence is beginning to feel a bit like the relative who comes to visit for the weekend and two weeks later you’re still washing his underwear and making him breakfast.

CARDINAL SINS

It would be difficult to blame Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald for wondering whether Matt Leinart wouldn’t, in hindsight, have been the smarter choice for quarterback.

The Pro Bowl receiver has just 29 catches for 331 yards this season, mostly through no fault of his own.

Arizona simply doesn’t have a quarterback who can get him the ball. Last week, Fitzgerald was targeted 10 times but caught just three passes.

In the red zone, quarterbacks Max Hall and Derek Anderson have thrown to him only four times. He has two touchdowns.

At this rate, he might as well hang up the “Gone Fishing” sign. It’s not like anyone ever comes looking for him anyway.

QUICK HITS

Giants’ Mathias Kiwanuka is out for the year with a herniated disc in his neck ... Packers linebacker Brad Jones is out for the season following a right shoulder injury that will need surgery. Green Bay has 10 players on injured reserve and are without starting cornerback Al Harris and safety Atari Bigby who remain on the physically unable to perform list ... Lions rookie Ndamukong Suh leads all NFL defensive tackles with 4.5 sacks ... Less than two weeks after taking a devastating helmet-to-helmet hit that left him on a stretcher, Lions linebacker Zach Follett has consulted a spine specialist and will be out the rest of the year ... Despite injuries, the Packers are fourth in the league with 22 sacks ... Broncos cornerback Perrish Cox is still wearing sunglasses and won’t play Sunday after sustaining a concussion last week. Cox says he can’t even remember the game against Oakland which, considering the score, might not entirely be a bad thing ... The Rams have signed strong safety Michael Lewis, formerly of the Eagles and 49ers ... The Giants have signed kick returner Will Blackmon who scored on two punt returns in 2008, when he led the NFL in combined kick and punt return attempts.

bill.lankhof@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos