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Saints looking to win out, playoffs or not

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Saints looking to win out, playoffs or not

METAIRIE, La. (AP) Saints guard Jahri Evans acknowledges a measure of regret that it took so long - probably too long - for New Orleans to resemble the playoff contender it had been the previous three seasons.

``We knew the talent we had in the locker room and definitely displayed yesterday. We wish could have done that a little bit earlier in the season,'' Evans said Monday, a day after the Saints turned in by far their most complete game of the season in a 41-0 rout of NFC South rival Tampa Bay.

``You definitely saw a glimpse of what we were trying to do going into the season and what we knew we had in this locker room and hopefully we can keep it going, finish strong and take it into next year.''

When the Saints kick off at Dallas next Sunday, they will still be mathematically alive for the last NFC wild card berth, but also facing exceedingly long odds.

To make the playoffs, the Saints will have to win their last two games against the Cowboys and at home against Carolina, and need eight games involving other teams to go their way during the final two weeks.

Specifically, New Orleans also will need the Cowboys to lose their season finale against Washington, St. Louis to lose one of its last two games, and Minnesota, Chicago and the New York Giants to all lose their final two games.

If it happens, the Saints will finish in a five-way tie at 8-8 and incredibly sneak into the playoffs based on a series of tiebreakers.

They would welcome that, of course, but they're certainly not deluding themselves. Rather, they're talking about building for next season as if they've already been eliminated.

``It's sad that it's a little late in the season'' for the Saints to play their best football, said defensive end Cameron Jordan, who had a sack, strip and fumble recovery on the same play against the Buccaneers.

``It's nice to see we're capitalizing on the potential that everybody saw in us this past game, but we should have showed that earlier.

``Most definitely it's a pride issue right now,'' Jordan added. ``I'd love to break even. We're 6-8 right now. Two games left. I'd love to get these last two wins.''

The Saints piled up lopsided wins through much of past three seasons, which including a Super Bowl title, two divisional titles and three straight trips to the postseason. The Saints had 13-win regular seasons in both 2009 and 2011, along with an 11-win run in 2010.

But in the spring of 2012, the Saints became embroiled in scandal, losing head coach Sean Payton for an entire season in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation. General manager Mickey Loomis got an eight-game ban and assistant head coach Joe Vitt six games.

While suspensions for two current Saints defensive captains, linebacker Jon Vilma and defensive end Will Smith, were ultimately thrown out, their legal effort to overturn their punishment hung over the franchise all the way through Week 14.

Now the Saints, who won more games than any NFL team from 2009 to 2011, can't finish better than .500 in the 2012 regular season.

Still, after their rout of the Buccaneers, an 8-8 finish hardly seems out of the question.

The Saints' defense, which allowed 400 yards or more in each of the first 10 games, has not allowed 400 yards in a game since and has posted the first shutout of any Saints team since 1995.

``When you get off to the rocky start we did, it's human nature and I don't blame guys one bit to have a little bit of doubt,'' defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. ``These guys have never given up. ... They've embraced it, even through some down times, because certainly in this business it's all about winning and I don't think anybody here feels like we've won enough. But after yesterday, I would hope that there's a lot more comfort and confidence.''

The Saints' offense also looked as if it was back to its old prolific self, accounting for 447 yards, including 149 on the ground against Tampa Bay's No. 1 ranked run defense, which came in allowing only 78.2 yards per game. Drew Brees threw for 307 yards and four TDs.

``We've got a lot of guys that have a lot of want-to on this team and have a lot of pride,'' Vitt said. ``It was a good team win and we probably put together four quarters as well as we have all year long.''

Now the question is whether the Saints can carry it forward against a Dallas squad in a playoff hunt of its own. As far as Evans is concerned, New Orleans' motivation remains high, regardless of playoff scenarios.

``As long as there are games to be played there are games to be won,'' Evans said. ``It's never too late to play well.''

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Steelers will require fans to wear a mask at Heinz Field, should they be allowed

Steelers will require fans to wear a mask at Heinz Field, should they be allowed

If fans are permitted to attend Pittsburgh Steelers home games this fall, there's one item they can't forget: a mask.

Steelers' director of communication, Burt Lauten, explained the decision to require fans to wear a mask in a statement on Tuesday.

"Our goal is to still have fans at Heinz Field this year with the understanding that social distancing, as well as all fans being required to wear masks, will play a role in the capacity to ensure a safe atmosphere," Lauten said, via ESPN. "We will continue to work with the NFL and public health officials to finalize plans for fans to attend our home games."

Pittsburgh was one of the first franchises to alter its ticketing plans this season, as they decided in May to trim half of their individual game ticket sales due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The news comes just hours after their AFC North rival, the Baltimore Ravens, announced that M&T Bank Stadium will be capped at less than 14,000 fans this fall, should fans be allowed to attend games.

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In June, The Athletic reported that the NFL will not place a limit on capacity at games, allowing each individual team to make the decision themselves.

"Attendance will be a state-by-state, county-by-county thing," an anonymous NFL source told The Athletic. "It will not be a one size fits all."

Additionally, the NFL has said that the first 6-8 rows of lower bowl sections, including field-level suites, will be blocked off this fall to help slow the spread of the virus. Those sections will be covered with tarps, which teams can use to sell advertising, similarly to what the Premier League in England has done.

With training camp still a few weeks away, there are a lot of virus-related questions the NFL must answer beforehand.

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Howard is a finalist for 2021 five-star defensive end Korey Foreman

Howard is a finalist for 2021 five-star defensive end Korey Foreman

The Howard University football program has moved a step closer to landing perhaps its highest-ranked recruit in years, if not ever.

Five-star defensive end Korey Foreman trimmed his college choice to seven on Wednesday evening, and the Howard Bison were on the list. The other six schools were Southern California (USC), LSU, Alabama, Oregon, Clemson, and Georgia.

In Foreman's tweet, he explained why Howard, a historically Black college (HBCU), was included in his list.

"I am a young black man that is happy and proud of my race," he wrote. "The Black Lives Matter movement is and forever will be powerful and definitely never forgotten. These are the schools I will now be focusing on the most. Set the standard and .. be different."

The news comes just a week after the Howard basketball program landed five-star Makur Maker, who chose the Bison over Division I schools UCLA, Kentucky and Memphis. Maker was the highest-ranked recruit Howard basketball has landed in its history. Mikey Williams, a top-five basketball recruit in the 2023 class, has already hinted about potentially playing at an HBCU as well.

Foreman, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound defensive end, is projected to commit to USC, according to 247Sports. Foreman is ranked the No. 2 overall prospect on 247Sports recruiting rankings for the 2021 class.

However, if the last few weeks are any indication, Howard can't be ruled out.

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