Found November 22, 2012 on
There will never be normalcy for the 2012 New Orleans Saints.
Not without an end in sight to the bounty scandal that surfaced in the offseason.
Not with an interim head coach replacing the suspended Sean Payton and the questions that have developed about the latter's future in New Orleans.
Not following an 0-4 start that has the Saints scrambling to become only the second team in NFL history to dig its way out of such a hole to make the postseason.
But just the fact New Orleans has overcome all this to remain in the playoff hunt entering the FOX America's Game of the Week against San Francisco (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday) is yet another chapter in the most unusual season in franchise history - and that's saying something considering everything that has transpired with the Saints over the past 46 seasons.
"We've had an interesting 10 months," Saints right tackle Zach Strief told FOXSports.com with a laugh.
That's one way to put it.
Those who believe the Saints (5-5) deserve every bad thing that has come to them will point to karma. The NFL alleges New Orleans ran an illegal bounty program offering financial awards for injuring players between 2009 and 2011. The purported ringleader was defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, whose final pre-game speech to his unit stressed targeting specific 49ers players -- and body parts -- in last January's second-round playoff matchup.
Regardless of whether Williams was speaking literally or metaphorically, the pep talk didn't do the trick. The Saints lost, 36-32.
Almost two months following his subsequent Saints dismissal based upon performance, Williams and other key players and members of the Saints organization were charged by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The punishments that followed were severe. Williams received the harshest sentence of an indefinite ban from coaching (he had become defensive coordinator in St. Louis after being replaced in New Orleans by Steve Spagnuolo).
Besides the stripping of two second-round draft choices and a $500,000 fine levied against the Saints, Payton (one year), general manager Mickey Loomis (eight games) and assistant head coach Joe Vitt (six) were suspended to varying degrees. Two defensive starters still with the team -- linebacker Jon Vilma (one season) and defensive end Will Smith (four games) -- faced the same fate.
Led by Vilma, the four players involved fought the suspensions through both lawsuits and NFL appeals. The matter remains unresolved. Yet another league hearing is scheduled to begin Tuesday headed by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue since Goodell has recused himself from the process.
The bounty fallout stuck with the Saints like a Bourbon Street hangover. All of the controversy, negative attention and media questions that ensued prevented New Orleans from quickly resuming the status quo while preparing for the 2012 campaign.
A 40-32 season-opening loss to Washington at the Superdome -- a place where the Saints were unbeaten in 2011 -- foreshadowed the problems to come. The offense wasn't clicking as usual under quarterback Drew Brees, who generated his own headlines during the offseason with a lengthy contract holdout that may have negatively affected his unit's rhythm. The defense was horrendous under Spagnuolo.
"Everything that could've gone wrong went wrong," Brees said earlier this week following practice.
A winless September followed under temporary head coach Aaron Kromer, who had the unenviable task of being the interim to the interim during Vitt's suspension. About the only thing missing was a return of the paper bags from the 'Aints days of the early 1980s.
"It would have been very easy in a lot of locker rooms to fold up this season and say, 'Hey look, they dealt us bad cards. You can only play bad cards so well,'" Strief said.
The Saints, though, finally caught some winning hands. The offense returned to high-powered form. The defense is still bleeding yards at a league-record pace but finally began to make big plays and stiffen in the red-zone. Vitt's return to the sideline after the Saints had improved to 2-4 provided a further boost.
"The best thing we did was stay together," Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins told FOXSports.com. "We can't complain about it. We've just got to play the best we can. I think everybody has embraced that role and realized we're going to need a little bit more from everybody to make it work."
Although a 5-1 stretch has put the Saints squarely back in the playoff hunt, staying there won't be easy. The remaining schedule is among the NFL's most difficult starting Sunday with the visiting 49ers (7-2-1).
There also are more non-football matters forthcoming that can potentially prove disruptive starting with the pending bounty hearings and rulings. The Saints would be without Vilma and Smith if their suspensions are reinstated.
Payton's coaching future with New Orleans remains uncertain since news leaked that he isn't under contract after this season. And based on what else has transpired this year, who knows what other headaches await?
"It's been a roller-coaster, man," Jenkins said while shaking his head.
But no matter what happens, Strief believes this time the Saints are ready for any dips that may come.
"We've been dealing with outside distractions for nine months now. It's become the norm," he said. "We've been through difficult times before. We've been 0-4 with this group. When you're in those situations, it gives you confidence that you can deal with them and move on."
And maybe even up.
"If we were worried about the way that other people perceived us, I think we'd be in trouble as this whole thing has gone on," Brees said. "We know we're a great team. We have great character and leadership. We do things the right way. It's just been a matter of putting that all together and making sure the result reflects the process.
"Now we're starting to catch some breaks."
BEST OF MAXIM
AROUND THE WEB
His recent 56-yard touchdown jaunt against Atlanta was one of the NFL's top highlights this season.
But the most important runs New Orleans Saints running back Chris Ivory made were ones nobody ever saw.
The jogs came at 2 a.m. in the snow while he attended Tiffin University, a private college in a small northern Ohio outpost. Tiffin was nothing like Ivory's hometown of...
Of all the NFL's elite players, few have traveled a more curious path than New Orleans Saints right guard Jahri Evans.
He attended a Division II program -- Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania -- on an academic scholarship. He never played organized football until reaching high school. Even then, Evans was forced to miss his senior season because of an injury.
And now? Evans...
New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles is listed as probable to start against the visiting San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. Sproles has missed the last three games after having surgery to repair a broken hand. Mark Ingram, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas have been combining for carries in place of Sproles.
Last week: 15 (+3)
The Saints are red hot right now, but they’ll need to go at least 5-1 to make the playoffs. The NFC is loaded. If the playoffs started today, there would be two 6-4 teams outside of the playoffs (either Tampa Bay, Seattle, or Minnesota). The Saints are only in 9th place at best in the NFC right now (tied with Dallas). Looking at the rest of their...
Saints linebacker Jon Vilma says he's disappointed that the new schedule for bounty hearings virtually prevents him from being able to personally confront his accusers.
Vilma says he wanted to be present for witness interviews with former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo, who assisted the NFL's investigation into the...
Saints rookie right tackle Bryce Harris is so grateful to have a chance to play in the NFL he isn't about to complain about the timing of his first career start, which is likely to come this Sunday against a San Francisco defense featuring some of the best pass-rushers in the NFL.
''I'm just glad to have the opportunity to start,'' Harris said following practice...
In case you missed it, here's Drew Brees on Persont to Person, a CBS special, late yesterday evening. Worth checking out.
Saints tailback Darren Sproles practiced Wednesday. He is questionable for Sunday's game against San Francisco.Fantasy Spin:Sproles was a late scratch last weekend, but they will need him when facing the formidable 49ers' defense. Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory will handle the running back position if Sproles is inactive.
The New Orleans Saints are back in the playoff hunt after an 0-4 start, and nobody should really be surprised.
It was expected to be a shootout between the Oakland Raiders and the New Orleans Saints last Sunday, when the teams collided at the O.Co Coliseum. Well, at least one side did their part and, unfortunately for the Raider Nation, it wasn’t the Silver & Black. The offense led by Carson Palmer could not keep up with Drew Brees and [...]
Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue will finish hearings in the NFL bounty investigation by Dec. 4 and then issue a ruling soon thereafter. According to multiple reports Wednesday, Tagliabue informed league officials and players involved in the case of his plans. He also directed the NFL to make key witnesses available in the New Orleans' Saints' cash-for-hits bounty...