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Rickey Jackson Jersey

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The choice for Pat Swilling is to celebrate.

Sure, he has cried, and very well could do so several more times now that his friend and former New Orleans Saints teammate, Vaughan Johnson, has passed. Johnson died Thursday evening at the age of 57.

But Swilling would much rather focus on the good memories that were produced during the Dome Patrol days, when Swilling, Johnson, the late Sam Mills and Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson combined to become, arguably, the best linebacker corps in NFL history.

The quartet remains the only starting linebacker unit to be named to the Pro Bowl together, in 1992. Overall, Swilling and Johnson were All-Pros in 1989 and Pro Bowlers from 1989-92 in their Saints careers.

“There was not another, or better, inside linebacker that I think played the game that was as big, as strong, as fast as Vaughan Johnson,” Swilling said. “And when it comes down to his character and who he was, I loved him. I loved him because he was one of those guys, every single day, he brought his pail to work and he brought a great attitude and a smile to work.

“I spent (seven) years playing right next to him. I’m the right outside linebacker and he was my right inside linebacker. We spent time together. I mean, our locker was right beside each other. I saw him every day, I can’t every remember a negative thing coming out of his mouth, win, lose or draw. The guy was just always upbeat and just a helluva football player.”

Jackson carried a tone of relief for Johnson, who’d battled kidney disease for the last several years, and then lung failure.

“We talked at least once a month, sometimes two or three times a month,” Jackson said. “We always stayed in touch with each other. I knew things were tough on him down the stretch, and I was real concerned for him.

“I’m more relieved now than anything. Because when I talked to him, I knew the condition he was in. He doesn’t have to suffer anymore. But he was somebody I could talk to.”

Johnson, a Saint from 1986-93, was a 6-foot-3, 240-pounder who played in 120 regular season games, with 98 starts. He totaled 664 tackles, 12 sacks, four interceptions and five fumble recoveries and in four playoff games, he had 24 tackles. In ’92, when all four Saints linebackers were selected for the Pro Bowl, New Orleans finished first in the NFL in opponent points per game and second in total defense for the second consecutive season.

“I wish I could tell you one thing that you could hang your hat on about Vaughan, but Vaughan was just a wonderful person,” Swilling said. “And I don’t know any other way to describe him other than that.

“It makes football seem so minor. It wasn’t just the time we had on the field. I laid last night and I was there thinking about it, and I’m smiling and I’m laughing, and my wife is looking at me, and I said, ‘I’m just thinking about Vaughan.’ Just all the nice, fond memories we had.

“We spent time off the field. If one of us was having something or an event, we all would attend. When I had the nightclub uptown, he’d come to the club. We all were very close, that whole group was close off the field. Vaughan was just one of those guys that you always liked to be around. Just a fun guy. Just a fun guy.”

Jackson, whose Saints career (1981-93) ended the same year as Johnson’s (1986-93), said his former teammate was mild-mannered.

“He wasn’t a loud guy or anything like that, he was always calm and cool,” Jackson said. “When he hit you, he would knock your head off. But he was never a guy that would talk or start trouble. He never did mess with people too much.”

The 1992 Pro Bowl invitation was something the entire group was proud of, Jackson said.

“You won’t get four guys to do what we did,” Jackson said. “I know some of the press honored us as the greatest four. That meant a whole lot to us. He was proud of it, I was proud of it.”

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It’s often thought that younger is better in the NFL, with players putting up their best performances before the ravages of injuries and time hit and their peak athleticism begins to fade. But New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead is running against that trend. In fact, he’s having a career-best year in his eleventh NFL season, and at age 33.

To illustrate that point, Morstead saw a punt land in the opposing end zone for a touchback for the first time this season in Sunday’s game with the Carolina Panthers. It broke a streak of 41 punts without a touchback, which highlights just how accurate he’s been when the Saints are forced to give the ball away. Saints coach Sean Payton hates doing that, but when backed into a corner he can trust Morstead to put the other team in awful starting position.

His career average of 46.8 yards per punt ranks second-best among active players (trailing the Los Angeles Rams’ Johnny Hekker at 47.1) and third-best in NFL history (behind retired great Shane Lechler, at 47.6).

While his per-season average has dropped (see the chart below) to just 45.6, his accuracy has gone up, with 54.8% of his punts being downed inside the 20-yard line. That’s insanely good, even for his standards — Morstead’s previous career-high rate of punts landing inside the 20 was 43.3% in 2017. Expand that scope to the rest of the NFL and it’s the highest rate in the league, outpacing Baltimore Ravens living legend Sam Koch (who has put 12 of his 22 punts, 54.5%, inside the 20).

In other words, for the first time in his 11-year NFL career, Morstead’s rate of landing punts inside the opposing 20-yard line is higher than his average yards per punt.

The chart embedded below compares those two numbers year-by-year, with the gray line denoting Morstead’s average yards punt and the gold line highlighting the rate at which he put his punts inside the 20. It’s remarkable:

But let’s circle back to the present. Morstead has punted 42 times in New Orleans’ first 11 games, showing rare synergy with his coverage unit. Here’s what happened on each of those 42 punts:

16 fair catches called by opposing team return unit
16 returned by opponents, gaining 122 yards (7.6 yards per return)
5 downed by the Saints punt coverage unit
4 punts ruled out of bounds
1 punt ruled a touchback

That’s impressive any way you look at it. It also speaks to the quiet improvements the Saints have made on special teams after overhauling the staff and personnel this offseason; they hired a new coordinator in longtime Miami Dolphins coach Darren Rizzi, who brought in two new assistants with him in former Penn State coordinator Phil Galiano and returns coverage specialist Michael Wilhoite. The Saints also invested in core special teamers like Craig Robertson (who signed a two-year contract extension) while bringing in free agents such as Stephone Anthony and Johnson Bademosi during the season. Rookie returns specialist Deonte Harris has been outstanding when the Saints special teams have gotten to go on the offensive. Saints kicker Wil Lutz has won two games with last-second field goals after inking his own five-year contract extension.

Hopefully Morstead won’t have to punt many more times this season, but it’s reassuring to know that the ball is in good hands when his number is called. He’s already earned multiple Special Teams Player of the Week and Month awards this season, and he just might pocket a few more.

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New Orleans Saints cornerback P.J. Williams was suspended for two weeks without pay after violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, per Rod Walker of Nola.com. Williams will miss games against the Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals, putting him on track to return during the Saints’ Week 9 bye. According to league rules, he must stay away from the team until Monday, Oct. 28.

Williams was arrested and booked for driving while under the influence of alcohol earlier this year. He reportedly pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of recklessly operating a motor vehicle and paid a $340 fine back in August, but the NFL still investigated the incident, as is its policy.

The obvious candidate to replace Williams in the lineup is veteran Patrick Robinson, whom he competed with for the starting job throughout training camp. But Robinson has taken a back seat to both Williams and rookie defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who has taken the field lined up in a variety of roles including slot cornerback and two-high free safety. Here’s how their snap counts have broken up through six games:

Williams: 314 snaps on defense, 37 on special teams units
Gardner-Johnson: 67 snaps on defense, 100 on special teams
Robinson: 9 defensive snaps, 72 on special teams

New Orleans could see this as an opportunity to test a prospect they value for the future against two vulnerable quarterbacks: Bears backup Chase Daniel and Cardinals rookie Kyler Murray, neither of whom is working with a top-shelf receiving corps. But it’s just as possible that the Saints err on the side of caution and lean on the veteran they signed last year to start in this exact role.

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The New Orleans Saints are coming off a historic Monday night when they defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 34-7. Drew Brees set the new all time touchdown record in the game, surpassing Peyton Manning’s mark of 539. Before today’s game Drew Brees currently sits at 541. In that game Drew Brees also set the new single-game high completion percentage, he was 29/30, completing 96.7% of his passes. The Saints can continue their historic performance because Drew Brees finished last week’s game with 22 straight completions, with 4 straight completions in todays game he will set a new NFL record for most consecutive completions (26). Michael Thomas can break the receptions record with 11 catches today he will surpass Marvin Harrisons 143 reception record.

They have a lot on the line, in order to get the first seed the Saints need to win out and get some help

Here is how the game unfolded as if you were there:

Saints win the toss and elect to defer to the second half. Saints defense gets back to back stops in the back field. Forces the Titans to go three-and-out after Tannehill gets stopped on an effect to scramble for the first.

Saints offense starts with an inside zone to Kamara and then a completion to Michael Thomas for a first down. On 1st and 10 Drew Brees is incomplete to Michael Thomas ending his streak with 23 straight completions. 3rd and 10 screen pass to Kamara is stopped in the backfield, Saints will punt.

Titans offense back onto the field, Corey Davis beats Eli Apple for a first down. Dion Lewis on a screen pass gains 19 yards, to the Saints 41. On play action Tannehill finds Jonnu Smith for a 41 yard touchdown, Saints blew coverage on the completion and followed that up with poor tackling after the catch.

NO: 0 – TEN: 7
Deonte Harris takes the kickoff to the Saints 43 yard line. Holding penalty against the Saints puts them into 2nd & 18. Drew Brees is sacked saints don’t convert on 3rd & 18 and will punt.

Tannehill finds Jonnu Smith again for a first down. On and end around to AJ Brown, he takes it to the crib for a 49 yard rushing touchdowns. Eli Apple is down on the field after the play. Saints defense missing assignments and tackles early and often.

NO: 0 – TEN: 14
Kamara takes a big hit on 1st & 10, lose 1. On 2nd & 11 Brees finds Cook for 7 yards. 3rd & 4 Brees finds Thomas for a 1st down. Josh Hill false start sets the Saints back to 1st & 15. Brees finds Thomas for a big gain of 19 yards. Taysom Hill checks in and keeps it on a read option for 7 yards, 3rd & 1 coming. Murray moves the chains to the TEN 32.

False start for the Saints to start the 2nd. Saints already have 4 penalties for 30 yards. Brees can’t connect with Cook but pass interference will give the Saints the first. Saints false start again, 1st & 15 on the TEN 20. Screen to Kamara for 7 yards, 3rd & 8. Brees is sacked by Casey, they’ll settle for a field Goal
NO: 3 – TEN: 14

Titans block in back on 1st down, they’ll back up to 1st & 15. Patrick Robinson is in for the injured Eli Apple. On 2nd & 11 Tannehill throws the ball away for his first incompletion of the game. Titans can’t convert on 3rd and 11, they’ll punt. Saints defense forces a 3-and-out.

Saints will start their drive on the TEN 45 yard line. Brees finds Thomas for 15 yards, move the chains. Josh Hill holds and will put them back to 1st & 20. Brees finds Thomas and Kamara to set up 3rd & 7. Brees finds Hogan but not enough for a first. They’ll punt the ball back to the Titans.

Tannehill is sacked by David Onyemata but hands to the face is called on the defensive tackle and wipes out the play. Titans will face a 3rd & 5 false starts sets them back 5 more yards 3rd & 10. Klein gets to Tannehill for a sack, Titans will be forced to punt.
Saints will start on the TEN 48 with 7:38 left in the half. Saints hold on 2nd down and will face 2nd & 20. Brees finds Murray out of the back field and get some back, 3rd & 13. Brees’s pass is short to Michael Thomas. Saints will punt again. Saints line up illegally for their 9th penalty.

Tannehill scrambles for 8 yards on 1st down. Dawkins is stopped short on 2nd down, Titans convert 3rd and 1 to Corey Davis. on 1st down Cam Jordan gets to Tannehill for a sack, (14.5 sacks for Cam). Dion Lewis rushes for 10 yards and face 3rd and 1. Demario Davis sacks Tannehill on 3rd and 1, there 4th sack of the game. Titans will punt back to the Saints with 2:45 left in the half.

Saints drive will start on their 38. Drew Brees finds Jared Cook for a 61 yard Touchdown! Blown coverage for the Titans, great block by Alvin Kamara down field. Cook finds the endzone on the first play of the drive.

On the kickoff Titans get to the 40 but holding pushes them back to their 8 yard line. On 3rd & 6 Titans convert. Two minute warning. Titans have 1st and 10 on their 24 yard line. CJ Garden-Johnson and PJ Williams are in at safety with Marcus Williams in the medical tent. Titans run three straight times to chew the clock, they don’t get the first, Titans will punt with 26 seconds let.

Saints take over with 18 seconds left in the half. Saints draw to Kamara to run out the time of the first half. Saints will receive the 2nd half kickoff.

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The New Orleans Saints injury report listed star cornerback Marshon Lattimore as questionable to play in Sunday’s game with the Carolina Panthers, but NFL Network reports now suggest Lattimore will be sidelined another week while managing a hamstring injury.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported early Sunday morning that Lattimore was not expected to play against the Panthers, but he could return on the following Thursday for the Thanksgiving headliner with the Atlanta Falcons. Tiffany Blackmon, also reporting from NFL Network, was assigned to cover the Saints-Panthers game from the sidelines and later added that Lattimore will not suit up.

While the Saints probably wanted to get a look how Lattimore’s hamstring responds during pregame warmups, it makes sense to let him rest until Thursday’s kickoff. Starting nickel corner P.J. Williams held his own while filling in for Lattimore a week ago against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he should have another opportunity to put up good game film against Carolina’s lackluster receiving corps.

With Williams on one side, Eli Apple on the other, and rookie C.J. Gardner-Johnson in the slot, the Saints are enjoying rare depth in the secondary. They’ll have tough decisions to make in the spring when Williams, Apple, and starting strong safety Vonn Bell each test unrestricted free agency.

We’ll know for sure whether Lattimore is playing today when the Saints release their inactive report later Sunday morning. So keep an eye out for official confirmation from the team.

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Thomas Morstead’s played several games where he’s felt under the weather.

He had a stomach bug that kept him out of a practice in Week 4 ahead of the Dallas Cowboys, and then battled what he called a “respiratory” issue for a brief while after that.

Playing in those two games don’t compare to the worst he’s felt.

During a preseason game in 2017, Morstead was throwing up on the sidelines because of an illness. He played through it, punting the ball eight times against the Houston Texans for an average of 45.4 yards per attempt. Two punts landed inside the 20.

“It sucks,” Morstead said of playing sick. “Your job is to get your body primed to be ready to play game time and you have a fever, and you’re dehydrated. When you’re dehydrated, you risk injury because of that dehydration, and also, it can set you back for weeks, because you kind of get behind the eight ball and you can’t catch up because you’re always depleting yourself. It’s just a really hard thing to deal with.”

Morstead’s far from the only NFL player who’s played while sick, either this season or in their careers.

Sitting out because of an illness is a rarity. Most players, because of the sport’s nature, do their best to suffer through it.

One notable illness absence was when New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold missed three weeks with mononucleosis earlier this year. According to ESPN, Darnold was one only two quarterbacks have been known to have mono during the season, joining former Oilers signal-caller Chris Chandler in 1995.

Additionally, the New England Patriots took two separate planes to Houston for their Week 13 game against the Texans after an illness swept through the locker room. Ten players showed up on the injury report with the flu. Only one of them was declared out before the game.

As for New Orleans players, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was under the weather during the preseason game against the Chargers. And several Saints, including tackle Terron Armstead, played while battling the flu against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 10. All of them played.

“The situation with being sick is a lot different than an injury or something that’s bothering you,” Armstead said.

When Armstead had the flu, he said he was out for the three practice days the Saints had. He said he didn’t see his teammates until Sunday morning.

He’d lost some weight, lost some sleep, and couldn’t prepare in the manner in which he’s used to.

During his 7-year NFL career, Armstead’s played in several games while feeling less than 100%. One game, he doesn’t remember the opponent, he had an upset stomach.

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New Orleans Saints defensive back J.T. Gray went to the locker room after blocking a punt on the Bears’ opening drive.

He spent most of the first quarter in the locker room before returning to the sideline. Gray finished out the first quarter riding a stationary bike.

It is not yet known what prompted his trip to the locker room.

Gray’s blocked punt led to the first score of the game for the Saints, a safety.

Gray, a second-year player out of Mississippi State, plays on special teams for the Saints, lining up on 60 to 80% of that unit’s plays so far this season.

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The Tennessee Titans were looking to drive down the field late in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

This is when Ryan Tannehill hit Kalif Raymond on what would have been a huge first-down gain in a game that stood at 31-28 in favor of the Saints.

Unfortunately for the Titans, Raymond fumbled after an obviously illegal hit on Saints defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.

That’s some horrible stuff right there. How in the world did officials miss this? It was a game-changing missed call.

It could also have wide-ranging implications in both the AFC and NFC Playoff races. Tennessee is trying to edge out the Pittsburgh Steelers for the final wild card spot in the AFC.

Meanwhile, New Orleans is battling with multiple teams for home-field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs.

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G Larry Warford (Knee) and S Vonn Bell (Knee) are the only Saints who didn’t practice on Thursday.

S C.J. Gardner-Johnson (Concussion), G/T Andrus Peat (Forearm), LB Kiko Alonso (Quadricep), CB Patrick Robinson (Calf), T Ryan Ramczyk (Knee), and T Terron Armstead (Ankle) were all limited.

WR Adam Humphries (Ankle), CB Adoree’ Jackson (Foot), and RB Derrick Henry (Hamstring) missed practice for the Titans. Jackson and Henry were limited on Wednesday.

WR Corey Davis (Ankle) and RB Dion Lewis (Ankle) were limited. Lewis is a new addition to the report.

Everyone else, previously listed as limited was full on Thursday.

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The New Orleans Saints claimed cornerback Janoris Jenkins on waivers from the New York Giants on Monday.

Jenkins was expected to join a playoff-bound team and will do so with the Saints, who enter Monday night’s game against the Colts at 10-3 and in first place in the NFC South.

The Saints are taking a bit of a risk by adding a strong personality such as Jenkins with two weeks remaining in the regular season. But they are banking on getting him at his most motivated.

Although Jenkins has battled some inconsistency, he has been a standout player for much of his eight-year career, starting 111 career games and making the Pro Bowl in 2016.

The Saints will owe Jenkins two weeks of salary at $597,000 per week — just under $1.2 million for the remainder of this season, along with a 2020 contract that is scheduled to pay him $11.25 million.

The Giants waived Jenkins Friday, two days after he made an inappropriate remark to a fan on Twitter. Jenkins called a critical fan a “retard” when taking exception to questioning about why the stats Jenkins was using to showcase his effectiveness weren’t contributing to victories.

Jenkins, 31, said Thursday that the usage of the word was “slang” that is “just part of my culture.”

Giants coach Pat Shurmur met with Jenkins on Wednesday and said in a statement Friday that Jenkins’ refusal to admit that what he did was wrong led to his release.

This is now the second straight year the Saints have added a cornerback from the Giants in the middle of the season after they traded fourth- and seventh-round picks for Eli Apple last year. And now Jenkins and Apple could wind up competing for the Saints’ No. 2 cornerback job alongside Marshon Lattimore.

Jenkins started all 13 games for the Giants before his release — primarily as an outside corner. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder did move inside to the slot last week, however, and played well in that role. So the Saints could also consider using him inside.

Apple, who is scheduled to be a free agent after this season, has played well for much of his tenure in New Orleans. However, he has struggled over the last two weeks against Atlanta and San Francisco. The Saints allowed 354 passing yards in their 48-46 loss to the 49ers last week, the most they had allowed since a Week 3 win at Seattle.

New Orleans’ defense has taken several significant hits due to injury in the past week. Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and defensive end Marcus Davenport were placed on injured reserve. And in the secondary, safety Vonn Bell and cornerbacks Patrick Robinson and Johnson Bademosi were previously ruled out for Monday night’s game.

Since New Orleans has yet to play its Week 15 game, the Jenkins claim won’t be made official until Tuesday.

The Saints also put in a claim for longtime Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, who was released by the Arizona Cardinals on Friday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported.