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Punt? Why bother for Morstead as Saints set scoring records?

November 23, 2018
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File-This Oct. 28, 2018, file photo shows New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead against the Minnesota Vikings during an NFL football game in Minneapolis. Morstead isn't about to complain about what could be a record lack of opportunities to perform this season. He's having fun watching from the sidelines as Drew Brees and Co. threaten to score the most points in a season in NFL history. Morstead says the main challenge is staying sharp and ready. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King, File)

Saints punter Thomas Morstead isn’t about to complain about what could be a record lack of opportunities to perform this season. He’s having fun watching from the sidelines as Drew Brees and Co. threaten to score the most points in a season in NFL history.

Morstead says the main challenge is staying sharp and ready. And because he serves as his own agent, he’s also keenly aware he’s getting paid more per punt, which only increases pressure to strike the ball with the right power and precision whenever New Orleans does need him to come through.

“You sharpen your sword by continually being tested, and when you don’t get opportunities to get tested, it’s hard to keep your sword sharp,” says Morstead, who has punted just 24 times in 11 games. The record for fewest punts in a season is 34 by 1990 the Houston Oilers, known for their prolific run-and-shoot offense.

Morstead calls punting so infrequently “a major challenge.”

“I’m just always staying ready, being patient,” Morstead says. “I’m not rooting to punt a lot. It’s good that we’re scoring and it’s been a lot of fun to be a part of this team.”

This past offseason, Morstead signed a five-year extension worth about $20 million, with $9 million guaranteed. If he plays out the entire contract, it’ll average about $4 million per season. So if the Saints wind up punting a record-low 33 times, he’ll have been paid about $121,000 per punt this season.

For the first time in his career, Morstead has gone two entire games in the same season without punting — and that was just in the first nine games. In the first of those games, against Washington in Week 5, Morstead’s personal kicking coach, Jamie Kohl, had traveled to New Orleans from Iowa to see the game.

Twice this season, Morstead has “lost” punting opportunities when third-string quarterback Taysom Hill, a regular on special teams, converted fakes.

In his previous nine NFL seasons combined, Morstead went a total of three games without punting.

Last Sunday against Philadelphia, he had not punted in the equivalent of more than six quarters when he nailed a 50-yarder that landed on the sideline for no return in the middle of the second quarter. His only other punt covered 49 yards and the Eagles lost 2 yards on the return, so Morstead finished with an elite 50.5-yard net punting average for the game.

“We give him a hard time,” coach Sean Payton says of the good-natured ribbing Morstead sometimes gets for his lack of action. “I will say this: last week (against the Eagles), he hit two that were huge.”

LOOKING BACK

The shootout Monday in Los Angeles stirred memories for Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase.

He watched the telecast of the Rams’ 54-51 victory over Kansas City, and was asked the following day if he had ever seen a team score 50 points and lose.

“Close,” Gase said slyly. “I saw Dallas score 48 and lose.”

Against?

“Against somebody,” Gase said.

Against Denver in 2013 — when Peyton Manning was the Broncos’ quarterback, and Gase was their offensive coordinator. Because Gase pretended to be fuzzy on the details, someone tried to jog his memory.

How many did Denver score in that game? “I don’t know — 51?” Gase said.

SOCIAL JUSTICE GRANTS

The Philadelphia Eagles’ Social Justice Fund has distributed its first grants totaling $190,000 to Philadelphia-area nonprofit organizations: Philadelphia Community Bail Fund (PCBF); Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC); Police Athletic League of Philadelphia (PAL); and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.

Established early this year, the Eagles Social Justice Fund was formed to provide grants to organizations that work to reduce barriers to equal opportunity. The focus is on education; community and police relations; improving the criminal justice system; and other initiatives targeting poverty, racial equality, and workforce development in the greater-Philadelphia area.

The Eagles Social Justice Leadership Council, comprised of a collection of players and club executives, works to identify potential grant recipients and secure contributions to the fund. The fund has amassed nearly $500,000 in donations to date; additional grants will be announced in December.

Players on the council include Nelson Agholor, Derek Barnett, Michael Bennett, Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long, and Rodney McLeod.

“It’s a large responsibility because our teammates care about so many things. At the end of the day, we want to make sure as a team, a collective whole, we’re making a positive difference in this world,” Agholor says. “We look at the different areas in terms of reform, education, and re-entry — when people are coming back from jail and being back in everyday life. You have to find ways to give people the best advantage to live life.”

The fund will provide the United Way with a grant of $40,000 to support early grade literacy reading programs in Camden, New Jersey.

The $50,000 grant to the PAL will help build a 20th recreational center in Philadelphia.

PCFB, which received a $50,000 grant, works to provide empowering individualized support to the people it posts bail for by offering transportation services and providing resources for food and housing needs.

And OIC, which received a $50,000 grant, is dedicated to the elimination of poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy to ensure a meaningful quality of life for families and individuals within Philadelphia.

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