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Saints arrive in England, explain football to curious Londoners

  • By Associated Press
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WATFORD, England -- Ambassadors for the NFL, the New Orleans Saints couldn't have expected to have to explain the basic rules of the game in London.

But there was jet-lagged Saints coach Sean Payton on Monday, outlining to a British reporter just what the American version of football is about.

"I think the basic premise is trying to advance the football into the opponent's end zone," Payton patiently described. "You only get three downs, or four downs to do it, to make 10 yards. And if you can't get it to the end zone, you have the option of kicking it through the uprights."

When the reporter asked what a "down" was, Payton sighed.

"You're tough," he said with a laugh. "I'm going to send you a book."

More pressing for New Orleans is finding a way to regroup from its worst defeat of the season, the loss of running back Reggie Bush and an irate outburst from tight end Jeremy Shockey.

"I don't know if it's good morning or afternoon or what not," Payton said after the team arrived in a rainy England to start preparing for Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers at Wembley Stadium. "We have to lick our wounds here in a short time, and get ready to have a good week of practice."

That means putting the London sightseeing on hold, instead staying in a five-star country estate northwest of the city to make sure they have what Payton called "a normal work week."

"This is a good location, in regards to eliminating some of the distractions, rather than downtown, which would be more difficult," Payton said. "But I think we have a pretty mature group of guys. I think they understand the importance of this game."

The players get Tuesday off before resuming practice on Wednesday, but linebacker Jonathan Vilma said the team was more interested in resting than seeing the sights.

"I just want to get out of the hotel for a little bit and have a look around," he said.

The Saints (3-4) are still reeling from Sunday's 30-7 drubbing by the Carolina Panthers, which was made worse by Bush leaving with a knee injury that forced him to miss the England trip.

"We haven't had a lot of time to digest what happened yesterday," quarterback Drew Brees said. "Our three previous losses were all games that we had opportunities to win at the end. This was the first one that we were beaten decisively. ... That was more disappointing than anything."

And it made for a very long trans-Atlantic flight.

"I watched the film (of the game), I popped an Ambien and then sat there and thought about it for 30 minutes until I fell asleep," Brees said. "And then I've just been thinking about it all morning. ... That's not the kind of loss that we're accustomed to and that we ever want to get used to."

After the game, Shockey lashed out at the team over how his hernia injury had been treated, saying he may have come back too soon from having surgery.

Payton defended the tight end Monday, saying the complaint was just an expression of frustration.

"We're talking about a player who is used to excelling at a certain level and I've seen that, and certainly he knows what that level is," Payton said. "We discussed this a little bit last night even on the flight of how difficult it is when you expect to play at a certain level and this injury is keeping him from being 100 percent."

Shockey was not available to media on Monday, but Payton said he expected him to play against the Chargers.

"I do think he's moving forward, I do think he's getting better," Payton said. "But he's an emotional guy and that's one of the things I like about him. I like the fact that it's so important to him."

Punter Ben Graham joined the team in London after being signed as a replacement to Steve Weatherford, who was waived after Sunday's game.

"It's always difficult to cut a player that you've had for a while and to release a player like Steve," Payton said. "But I just think that in the end it became a challenge with consistency. We just felt like it hadn't gotten any better and it had actually dropped off."

Bush's absence is a loss both for the Saints and the NFL, as it robs the British crowd the chance to see one of the headline stars for the game. But for all of the Saints' woes, Payton said it was not a bad time to go on an ambassadorial trip.

"We're all excited, I know the players are excited," he said. "All of us are honored to represent the league and come over here and play, and we look forward to it."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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