Angry Saints aim to improve playoff prospects vs. Jets
By BRETT MARTEL
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Saints running back Alvin Kamara dismisses the notion that anxiety is creeping into New Orleans' locker room following two losses in the club's past three games.
New Orleans now has little margin for error in a tight, three-team NFC South race, but Kamara asserts, "We know what our team is made of."
"I don't think there's been a drop-off in the confidence or the energy," added Kamara, who sounds eager to resume his exceptional rookie NFL campaign, during which he has amassed 1,247 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Kamara missed most of last week's loss in Atlanta with concussion symptoms, but was cleared to practice this week and said he will play when New Orleans (9-4) hosts the New York Jets (5-8) on Sunday.
The Saints sound somewhat angry coming off their 20-17 loss in Atlanta in Week 14. Despite several disputed penalties that went against them, the Saints were threatening to take a late lead until Drew Brees threw an uncharacteristic interception in the end zone.
Soon after, coach Sean Payton drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that deprived New Orleans' defense of any chance to get the ball back before time ran out.
"A lot of guys felt like we should have won that game," Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. "A lot of guys had some real ill feelings toward that game, so definitely add that to our preparation this week."
New Orleans leads Carolina (9-4) in the division by virtue of a head-to-head victories and leads Atlanta (8-5), which visits New Orleans in Week 16, by one game.
The Jets remain alive for a wild-card spot, but are a long shot - two games out with three games left. The bigger story line for New York appears to be whether third-year NFL quarterback Bryce Petty, pressed into his first start this season by an injury to Josh McCown, can salvage his career.
Playing in the Superdome can be tough on opposing QBs when the Saints are playing well, as they have in winning their past five at home. The roof magnifies crowd noise and makes communication tough.
"With a dome, it's going to be loud - we're going to have to stick together," Petty said. "So, for my first start, on the road, that will be a good experience for me. Going against Drew Brees will be awesome."
Here are some other story lines entering the Jets' visit to New Orleans:
Kamara and Mark Ingram could become the first running back tandem to each have 1,500 yards from scrimmage in the same season. Ingram has 1,269, including 971 and all nine of his TDs on the ground. Kamara has 608 yards and seven TDs rushing and 639 yards and four TDs receiving.
"We've got to credit the offensive line. We've got to credit the receivers (for blocking), the coaches for being able to scheme it up," Ingram said. "It's gratifying that we have the opportunity to do something that nobody has ever done in this league."
Petty will make only his fifth NFL start on Sunday. A fourth-round pick of the Jets out of Baylor in 2015, Petty started four games last season and has appeared in six games overall, throwing three touchdowns with seven interceptions.
"He was sitting on the bench watching things to do and what not to do," coach Todd Bowles said. "But you can't take the test until you're out there."
McCown broke his left hand last Sunday at Denver. Bowles said he doesn't anticipate second-year QB Christian Hackenberg playing this season.
Saints receiver Michael Thomas' left eye remained red this week after he was poked by a defender late in the loss to Atlanta. Initially, Thomas' eye swelled shut, but the second-year receiver said there have been no lingering effects. Thomas plans to wear a protective visor, but said his vision is fine. That's good news for New Orleans; Thomas has 85 catches for 992 yards and four TDs.
Brees said Thomas has "innate traits" that made him good as a rookie last season, but has "really matured" in terms of understanding ways to get open, as well as "slight variations to routes based upon a look or leverage or coverage."
The Jets' offense is trying to bounce back from a dud in Denver . New York was shut out - 23-0 - for the first time since falling 31-0 at San Diego in the 2014 season.
New York had just 100 yards of offense against the Broncos, the second-lowest total in franchise history. The only game that was worse was Joe Namath's final game for the franchise in 1976, when they had just 72 yards against Cincinnati.
Former LSU star Morris Claiborne returns to Louisiana on the heels of perhaps his worst game this season.
Claiborne has dealt with an ankle sprain for several weeks and had a setback last week, when Denver's Demaryius Thomas caught eight passes for 93 yards and a TD.
"My performance was an embarrassment to myself and to the ballclub," Claiborne said. "I know I'm way better than what I put out there last Sunday."
AP Sports Writer Dennis Waszak contributed to this report from Florham Park, New Jersey.
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Updated December 14, 2017