Returning from his six-game suspension this week, Joe Vitt joked that his wife, Linda, deserved to win the NFL’s Ed Block Courage Award for helping him through the exile.
It did not pass quickly.
But now, for the rest of the season, he’s in charge.
Vitt, a Syracuse, N.Y., native and career assistant who’s been with the Saints since the start of the Sean Payton era, rejoined the team in Tampa, Fla., last Sunday, just after its thrilling 35-28 win against the Buccaneers.
After a week with the team, Vitt will call the shots on the sideline Sunday at Sports Authority Field in Denver, where the Saints face the Broncos.
Of course, when the game begins, the spotlight will turn to two of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks — Drew Brees and Peyton Manning.
If you’re a Saints fan, you surely have great memories of the last time Brees and Manning met. It was in Super Bowl XLIV three seasons ago, when Brees’ Saints rallied to topple Manning and the Colts.
Of course, so much has changed since then.
Tracy Porter, who made the game-clinching interception return for a touchdown, is a part of Manning’s team now.
As for Manning, he’s been through quite a lot since that Super Bowl night in Miami.
He underwent surgery to fuse two vertebrae last year, was cut by the Colts, then signed with Denver. And although he raised some early concerns with his slow, wobbly throws, Manning has already thrown for 1,808 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.
In other words, with Manning and Brees on the field, Sunday’s game ought to make for quite a show.
WHERE THEY STAND
The New Orleans Saints are 2-4 after back-to-back wins against the Chargers and Buccaneers. They are third in the NFC South, a half-game behind second-place Tampa Bay and four games behind first-place Atlanta.
The Saints face the Broncos at 7:20 p.m. Sunday in Denver. After that, they host the Eagles on Nov. 5 and the Falcons on Nov. 11.
JOB WELL DONE
FS Malcolm Jenkins
What he’s done: In case you missed it, Jenkins made what might have been the most inspiring play of the season last week, running down Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson at the 1-yard line after a 95-yard play in the third quarter. That led to an impressive, and important, goal-line stand by the Saints defense. Jenkins ranks second on the team with 46 tackles.e_SFlbWhat’s next: Easy Street is nowhere in sight. The Saints still rank 30th in the NFL in pass defense at 304.5 yards per game. Sunday night, they’re playing against this guy named Peyton Manning, whose 105.0 passer rating is second-best in the league, behind only Aaron Rodgers.
ON THE SPOT
DT Brodrick Bunkley
What he’s done: Bunkley, a former first-round pick by the Eagles, was supposed to bolster the Saints’ run defense when he signed as a free agent this offseason. Has he done the job? Well, in six games, Bunkley has 11 tackles. You make the call.
What’s next: Bunkley and the defensive line need to pressure Peyton Manning, but also keep Denver one-dimensional. The Broncos don’t have a great ground game — so if they do establish the run, that’s a sign of trouble.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
4 8 : The Saints have converted on 48 percent of their third downs this season — the second-highest success rate in the NFL, behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers (54).
4,848: Denver quarter-back Peyton Manning is on pace to throw for 4,848 yards this season — a number that would surpass his career high of 4,700, set with the Colts in 2010.
6,793: The 1981 Baltimore Colts hold the record for most yards allowed in a single season.
7,448: The Saints defense is on pace to allow 7,448 yards from scrimmage, which, of course, would be a new NFL single-season record.
“If you are a good football team, it doesn’t matter where you play, who you play or when you play. We are going to prepare all this week to be the best team we can come Sunday night.”
NFC SOUTH: JUDGMENT CALLS
What they’ve done : They had last week off, and their wins aren’t always pretty. But they’re the only remaining undefeated team in the NFL.
What they’ve done: All four of the Bucs’ losses have been by a touchdown or less, and they hammered the Vikings on Thursday night, 36-17.
What they’ve done: The team isn’t very good; the GM got fired; and Cam Newton said he’s open to suggestions. Here’s one: Play better.