Saints GM returns from bounty suspension

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Saints GM returns from bounty suspension

From Comcast SportsNetMETAIRIE, La. (AP) -- Now that New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis has returned to work, the Saints need his crisis-management skills to be sharp.The organization continues to be rife with unsettled issues, some of which have made its fan base uneasy.So there was no time for Loomis to ease back into a routine Tuesday after serving his eight-game suspension in connection with the NFL's bounty probe of the Saints.His immediate tasks include clearing up the status of Sean Payton's contract extension through 2015, which NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has so far refused to approve since the coach signed it in 2011.Recent revelations that Payton is still not officially under contract beyond this season have only pushed anxiety-ridden Saints fans closer to panic. New Orleans has struggled while Payton has served his season-long bounty suspension, which, in the minds of many, has only strengthened the fiery and innovative coach's value.Loomis also will have to oversee contingency plans in the event that defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma have to serve their own bounty suspensions, which so far have been delayed by legal moves.The GM kept a low profile on his first day back.The Saints did not make him available to reporters and he did not immediately respond to requests for comments about his return to his Saints duties.Assistant head coach Joe Vitt said even he did not have much time to chat with Loomis when they met Tuesday morning, but Vitt stressed that people throughout the organization were comforted by knowledge that the GM was back for the last half of what has already been an extraordinarily eventful season."Listen, Mickey and Sean are the leaders of this building. It's not only great for Mickey to be back for our players and our coaching staff, but every person in our building," Vitt said. "Slowly but surely we're starting to get people back. Everybody knows here what Mickey means to me, but he also means just as much to everybody else in our building and our football team."Vitt also sounded skeptical of the idea that Payton would leave."Our football team loves Sean Payton. Sean Payton loves this football team," Vitt said. "Sean Payton loves this city. And this city loves Sean Payton. That goes a long way. That's what I know."At 3-5, the Saints are playoff longshots as they head into next Sunday's showdown in the Superdome with undefeated NFC South Division leaders Atlanta (8-0). Yet a sense of hope permeated team headquarters after a 28-13 victory over Philadelphia on Monday night that marked New Orleans' third victory in four games."I love this football team. I love the resolve. I love the togetherness. I love their work habits," Vitt said. "All that being said, we've got to get better this week."If the Saints are to get better, such strides will have to be made in an environment of uncertainty.Two people familiar with Payton's contract situation told The Associated Press that the Saints and Payton still see nothing wrong with a provision in the coach's extension that would allow Payton to opt out of his contract if Loomis -- who hired Payton in 2006 -- were to leave the club. The people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the NFL and Saints have declined public comment on the matter, say the Saints and Payton believe the provision is similar to one that allowed Bill Parcells to leave his post as executive vice president with Miami if ownership changed.Goodell has not publicly specified his problem with Payton's extension, which pays more than 6 million a year. The NFL has said the commissioner has not made a final determination about Payton's contract status for next season. Goodell has said, however, that he has discussed his concerns with the Saints and asked the club to rework part of the deal.Although Payton is suspended, he and the Saints currently may address Goodell's concerns with the extension, providing some hope of resolving the matter before the coach effectively becomes a free agent.Another major area of uncertainty involves ongoing challenges to players' bounty suspensions.Although Goodell has recused himself as arbitrator for four current or former Saints players' appeals of their bounty suspensions, the players -- Smith, Vilma, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove -- objected to Goodell's decision to appoint former commissioner Paul Tagliabue to handle the matter. The players say Tagliabue has a conflict because he works for the law firm that has represented the NFL in bounty-related matters. Tagliabue has given no indication he intends to step down, leaving the matter for a federal judge in New Orleans to decide.In the meantime, Smith and Vilma keep playing, and Saints coaches make weekly game plans on the assumption they'll have the two defenders in the lineup."You have to have a little bit of foresight should something happen. We've kind of just been under that thing all year long," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. "Once we know the week is set the way the week is, we just move on and worry about the opponent we're playing."The Saints won't want to lose Smith and Vilma, given their leadership roles on a unit that needs help. The Saints are last in the NFL in yards allowed (471.3 per game) but did come through with clutch plays against the Eagles, including Patrick Robinson's interception return for a touchdown, a fumble recovery and seven sacks. Smith had two sacks and Vilma had two tackles for losses.If the suspensions are upheld, Smith will have to serve four games and Vilma the rest of the season.Saints linebacker Scott Shanle said he hopes that won't happen, but added that the Saints know worrying about it won't do any good."We're at the point now where it seems like every week there's something new to distract us, so people are like, The hell with it. We'll wait to figure it out when the time comes,'" Shanle said. "We're trying to fight our way back into something and with all the distractions we've had week in and week out, I think guys just kind of put blinders on."

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics put on defensive clinic in second half

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics put on defensive clinic in second half

This season the Boston Celtics have shown flashes for a few minutes here and there that they were an elite team defensively. 
 
But what they did in the second half to the Orlando?
 
Boston (13-9) put on a defensive clinic that overwhelmed the Magic on every level imaginable as the Celtics cruised to a 117-87 thumping of Orlando.
 
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has been even-keeled when it comes to discussing his team’s play, win or lose. 
 
But even he couldn’t contain how pleased he was to see the way his players defended in the third and fourth quarters. 
 
“On defense, the second half was as good as we’ve guarded all year,” Stevens told reporters afterwards. “Really focused, really urgent. I felt good about that.”
 
Setting the tone for the Celtics was Avery Bradley who certainly was impressive with his scoring. 
 
But as much as he knew the team would need a boost offensively with Isaiah Thomas (right groin) out, that wasn’t his approach to the game. 
 
“I had a defensive mindset coming into tonight’s game,” Bradley told CSN’s Abby Chin following the win. “Just trying to get my teammates to playing the right way so we could come out and get the ‘W’ tonight. I’m happy with how all the guys played. We all played hard, and we played as a team.”
 
Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Wednesday night’s game.
 

STARS
 
Avery Bradley

Bradley picked up the scoring with Isaiah Thomas (right groin) out for Wednesday, leading the team with a game-high 23 points to go with four rebounds and three assists.
 
 
STUDS

Jaylen Brown

Arguably the biggest spark off the bench for Boston, Brown had one of his best games as a Celtic. He finished with 13 points which included a dunk over Nikola Vucevic that quieted the Amway Center crowd and just as important, provided a nice energy boost for Boston.
 
D.J. Augustin

He had the hot hand at the end of the second quarter, but was a non-factor in the second half as Augustin finished with 15 points – all of which came in the first half. 
 
Terry Rozier

This was a great confidence-booster for Rozier as well as his teammates to see him have a big game and make the most of his increased opportunity to play. He finished with a career-high 16 points off the Celtics bench on 6-for-13 shooting with five rebounds.
 
Nikola Vucevic

It doesn’t matter if he starts or comes off the bench. Vucevic is always a double-double threat on the floor. He finished with 12 points off the bench along with 10 rebounds for his 13th double-double this season. 
 

DUDS
 
Orlando second half defense

The Celtics got pretty much whatever they wanted, when they wanted it in the second half against the Magic defense which pulled a major disappearing act. Boston shot 61 percent from the field in the second half, and 45.4 percent from 3-point range. 
 

Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

It came against a rookie quarterback. It came against an offense that averages a league-worst 15.0 points per game. It came against an offense that has fewer yards than any other. 

Still there are signs that Bill Belichick is pretty pleased with where his defense is after beating the Rams 26-10 on Sunday. One came on Wednesday when Patriots.com published its "Belichick Breakdown" for a closer look at a handful of plays from the team's most recent win.

Belichick called his team's third-and-eight stop with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter "probably one of the best good, team defensive plays we've had all year."

The Patriots show a five-man front, but linebacker Kyle Van Noy feigns a rush only to drop into coverage.

"Van Noy in here does a good job on the rush," Belichick said, "and also on the coverage on the back. Just good team defense. Good pass coverage down the field. The quarterback really doesn't end up having a lot of time, but there's no one to throw it to right away."

Belichick noted that all four rushers -- Chris Long, Trey Flowers, Dont'a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich -- all are able to pressure Jared Goff on the play. Combined with strong coverage in the secondary, the Rams nver really had a chance.

Belichick said it looked like a "tidal wave" of defenders bearing down on the quarterback.

"Long wins here . . . on the inside spin," Belichick said, "and Trey Flowers and Hightower both win on the little twist game inside. Then that's Rob with good speed-to-power on [Rams tackle Rob] Havenstein on the outside. Four good rushers. Plus a fifth guy...Van Noy getting that two-for-one on the guard and the back.

"Good team defense. That's great to see. A lot of hard work an execution on the practice field to make that happen."