As he handed out turkeys to New Orleans families two days before Thanksgiving, New Orleans Saints receiver Joseph Morgan acknowledged he had plenty to feel blessed about in his life as a football player.
Saints owner Tom Benson had recently made an $11 million donation meant to help pay for renovations to the stadium outside the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, where the high school (McKinley) and college (Walsh University) Morgan attended before coming to the Saints in 2011 hold their home games.
“I’ve been playing there since I was 7 years old,” said Morgan, a Canton native. “It’s going to be something guys (there) can really benefit off of.”
Monday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, during a nationally televised game and in only the third game he’s gotten on the field for the Saints this season, Morgan led his team in combined yards from scrimmage thanks to a 62-yard reception and a 67-yard run off an end-around.
Yet Morgan knew better than to be completely happy. The way he saw it, his lengthy rush should’ve been a 69-yard touchdown, and it wasn’t only because he couldn’t outrun a Baltimore cornerback who illegally tackled him by the collar at the Ravens’ 2-yard line.
The penalty moved the Saints up to the 1, but New Orleans soon turned the ball over on downs and failed to score any points from Morgan’s run, the team’s longest play from scrimmage this season. The Saints eventually lost 34-27 and fell to 4-7 on the season.
“I’ve just got to get in the end zone — point blank,” Morgan said Wednesday during an event at New Orleans’ Dryades YMCA in which local families in need met Saints players and picked up Thanksgiving dinners. “It’s all about finishing, and that’s something that we’ve got to focus on — not only as individuals, but as a team.”
Nonetheless, Morgan’s performance proved to be one of a small sampling of positives in the Saints’ loss.
Heading into the game, questions surrounded the Saints about whether anyone on the roster could emulate the role rookie receiver and first-round draft choice Brandin Cooks manned before fracturing his thumb in a Nov. 16 setback at home against Cincinnati.
Mostly running vertical and outside pass routes, Cooks trailed only All-Pro Jimmy Graham in receiving yards (550) and catches (53) for the Saints and was tied for No. 2 behind the team’s star tight end in touchdown grabs (three).
He had also gained 73 yards and a score on seven carries, which mostly had him coming in for handoffs from his spot at receiver.
Morgan isn’t identical to Cooks, but it was tantalizing to see the impression of sorts he delivered Monday night, when receiver Robert Meachem was also ruled out with a hurt ankle.
Morgan’s 67-yard near-score occurred on the Saints’ second offensive snap.
Then, on the Saints’ third possession of the game, Morgan slipped behind the Ravens’ secondary to haul in a pass that took New Orleans from its 29 to Baltimore’s 9.
Two plays later, Saints quarterback Drew Brees connected with Graham for a touchdown that knotted the game at 7.
The ball wasn’t sent Morgan’s way the rest of the game, however.
Asked Tuesday whether that confused him, he replied, “I don’t call the plays, man. I just do what I’m told.”
Morgan did add “things were clicking” when his targets stopped, noting Brees threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns.
Still, both of Morgan’s plays against the Ravens left his career’s average yards per touch at an almost incomprehensible number — 36.8 — the Saints may want to use to their advantage more.
That’s a total arrived at largely because two knee injuries that sidelined Morgan for all of 2011 and 2013 prevented him from touching the ball much as a pro.
He caught 10 passes for 379 yards and three touchdowns while rushing once for a yard over 14 games in 2012, when Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended in the wake of the bounty scandal and New Orleans missed the playoffs with a 7-9 record. Morgan has two catches for 69 yards as well as his 67-yard scamper this year.
His playing time has been limited, but by all accounts it hasn’t been because of any knee problems.
The coaching staff held him out of six games healthy, and the team suspended him for another two contests for reasons that neither he nor the club would disclose.
Given the difficulty he’s had accumulating appearances since 2012, teammates had no trouble expressing their joy about Morgan’s showing Monday.
“It’s awesome,” fellow receiver Nick Toon said Tuesday. “He’s a part of the wide receiver family ... and (we’re) always excited to see anyone in the room go out and have success.”
Though he insisted all that mattered to him had been beating Baltimore, Morgan couldn’t deny “it was exciting” for him to metaphorically wind the clock back to before his second knee injury.
From the deafening roar at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after Morgan’s second touch Monday, more than 73,000 spectators in the stands agreed.