The chance to play in an elite passing offense with quarterback Drew Brees was one obvious factor that brought receiver Ted Ginn Jr. to the Saints.
Multiple opportunities to make the Carolina Panthers pay for letting him walk in free agency was another.
“If they didn’t want to bring me back, I wanted to go somewhere to play against them,” Ginn said this week. “I felt like I did everything I was supposed to do to be there.”
Ginn caught a 40-yard touchdown pass at Carolina in a Week 3 victory and now gets a second shot Sunday with plenty on the line.
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The Saints and Panthers are tied atop the NFC South at 8-3. The winner takes sole possession of first place in the division, but if the Saints win, they’d also hold what could be a crucial head-to-head tiebreaker.
“We are aware what’s happening and what is at stake if we win or lose,” Panthers safety Mike Adams said. “Even though guys say we’re not worried about that, we think about it.”
It’s an ideal stage for the 32-year-old Ginn, who still looks fast – and effective – in his 11th NFL season. Ginn has 42 catches for 641 yards and three TDs this season.
Brees said Ginn was “obviously a great vertical threat everywhere he had been.”
“That seemed to be the way that teams used him, but it seemed to be as the only way teams used him, whereas I feel like he’s come into this offense and really flourished, and I feel like we’ve given him the opportunity to showcase a lot of the other things that he can do,” Brees said. “He’s very savvy and I think he’s been a great addition.”
Ginn, meanwhile, said he was pleased to finally have a quarterback who “really figured out who Ted Ginn Jr. was – and I hate that it took 11 years.”
The Panthers don’t exactly sound like a team that didn’t appreciate Ginn.
“I’m jealous that they have Teddy,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said.
Added Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, “We loved having Teddy on our team. I hate seeing him play in New Orleans.”
“I hate watching that speed over there with Drew Brees, man. It’s crazy,” Davis continued. “There is a lot that Ted Ginn Jr. offers to a football team, and now he’s giving that to the Saints.”
Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan reached the 10-sack plateau with two sacks last week and is having one of his best seasons since the Saints made him a first-round draft choice in 2011. That’s the same year the Panthers used the first overall pick to take quarterback Cam Newton, who is healthier and running a lot more than the first time these teams met in Week 3. Newton has 209 yards and two TDs rushing in his past three games.
“Early on in the year, he was trying to be more of a pocket passer, and now he’s back to running that high-octane, read-power-option stuff and it’s clearly working,” Jordan said. “We’ve got to be disciplined.”
The Saints have allowed 300 or more yards passing in each of their past two games. A big reason has been the absence of rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who hurt his left ankle in the first quarter of the Saints’ Week 11 win over Washington. While the timeline for Lattimore’s return to form is unclear, fellow starting cornerback Ken Crawley said he expects to return from a one-game absence with an abdomen injury that he conceded is still bothering him.