Saints left tackle Arm­stead re­turns to prac­tice

El Dorado News-Times - - Sports -

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — The New Or­leans Saints are closer to get­ting back their sec­ond-high­est-paid of­fen­sive player as they try to re­bound from a first loss in more than two months — and lock down a play­off berth.

Start­ing left tackle Ter­ron Arm­stead re­turned to prac­tice Wed­nes­day, mark­ing his first time in pads since his pec­toral in­jury at Cincin­nati in Week 10. The in­jury cost Arm­stead three games, in­clud­ing New Or­leans' loss last Thurs­day night in Dal­las, when the Cow­boys' de­fen­sive line con­sis­tently pres­sured quar­ter­back Drew Brees and lim­ited the Saints' ground game to 65 yards — the fewest since Week 2.

"He's a dif­fer­ence maker for sure and big con­fi­dence when he's there on the left side," Brees said of Arm­stead, who has been a starter since late in his rookie sea­son in 2013, but who also has been be­set by var­i­ous in­juries much of his ca­reer.

Arm­stead, listed as "lim­ited" on the club's prac­tice re­port Wed­nes­day, said his re­cov­ery has been "go­ing pretty well" and that he might be ready to play Sun­day against Tampa Bay.

"Time away, that's never great. You get in a rhythm so much with your guys up front — my tech­nique, my tim­ing — so that will be a learn­ing curve and ad­just­ment," Arm­stead said, adding he at least hopes the rest of his body ben­e­fited from re­cent rest as high-stakes games ap­proach.

"I've been bat­tling in­juries for a long time, so def­i­nitely hard to find pos­i­tives in an in­jury for me," Arm­stead said. "But just think­ing of it ... my body def­i­nitely has some things, some bumps and bruises, and I took the time and ben­e­fited off of it for sure. But I would much rather have been play­ing."

Right guard Larry War­ford said Arm­stead's re­turn to prac­tice was good for morale, even if it's not yet clear when he'll be ready.

"I'm just happy that it seems that he's mak­ing progress," War­ford said. "He's one of the best, if not the best, left tackle in the league. Un­for­tu­nately, he's had in­juries hin­der him through­out his ca­reer."

The Saints would win the NFC South with one more vic­tory, or a loss by Carolina, who New Or­leans plays twice in the fi­nal three weeks of the reg­u­lar sea­son. Whether the Saints re­main in con­tention for one of the cov­eted top two seeds in the con­fer­ence and re­ceive a first-round bye, de­pends on how they re­spond to their first loss since Week 1.

In New Or­leans' locker room, play­ers pre­dicted that the 13-10 loss in Dal­las, which halted a 10-game win­ning streak, was more likely a brief stum­ble than the be­gin­ning of a slump.

"Some­times you have to lose a bat­tle to win the war and you learn a lot from some­thing like that," Brees said. "I just think we had a bad day. You turn on the film and it's glar­ingly ob­vi­ous where we failed and we have to make sure that doesn't hap­pen again."

On New Or­leans' de­fense, con­fi­dence is

surg­ing af­ter a seven-sack, two-take­away per­for­mance in Dal­las that also marked the fourth straight game hold­ing an op­po­nent to 17 or fewer points.

Against the Cow­boys, the Saints' nor­mally pro­lific of­fense was the unit which strug­gled most.

But since of­fense-minded coach Sean Pay­ton and Brees joined forces in New Or­leans in 2006, that side of the ball rarely has stag­nated for more than a rare game.

Brees said the op­por­tu­nity to clinch the NFC South for the sec­ond straight year is "sig­nif­i­cant," and would be a "first step" to­ward more lofty post­sea­son goals.

He said the Saints' com­mand­ing four-game lead in the divi­sion with four games left speaks to the qual­ity of foot­ball they played dur­ing their win­ning streak, when they be­came the only team to beat the Los An­ge­les Rams and won sev­eral other games by wide mar­gins.

"That was a great run. We gained a ton of con­fi­dence, a ton of mo­men­tum," Brees said. "We had a ton of guys step up and play re­ally well — guys that we're go­ing to need down the stretch.

"We re­ally es­tab­lished an iden­tity for our­selves as an of­fense and a de­fense," Brees added.

"We know how to play win­ning foot­ball."

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