BARRY WARNER'S VIEW

Off the top of my bald head: Welcoming back the cheater Brian Cushing

Brian Cushing had help building those arms. Tim Warner/Getty Images

Whippee dipppee doooooo.

The return of the Prodigal Son.   

With a straight face at his Monday press conference, Bill O’Brien was asked ”How can ILB Brian Cushing add value to the defense? Specifically, with all the injuries, can he be an impact player?”

O’Brien’s answer: “Absolutely. His leadership, number one, his knowledge of our defense, his experience playing in our defense, his toughness. All of those things could definitely help our defense.”

No doubt the defense will be introduced, with the last player being No. 56, ten-year veteran Brian Cushing, coming off his 10-game PED suspension, the second of his career.  There is no question, when healthy, he was one of the top inside linebackers in the NFL.

But one question always came up, from his high days at Bergen Catholic in New Jersey to freshman USC and the Texas.  Like one of the Beatles Classics was he doing it with a classic from Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band:

Oh, I can get by with a little help from my friends

Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends

Mm, going to try with a little help my my friends

In his case, steroids.

Let me refresh your memory.

Cushing put himself in exalted territory after his rookie season when he first got popped.

With the blessing of Texans naive owner Bob McNair, the linebacker declared himself a victim of a previously unknown medical condition:

Overtrained athlete syndrome.

I am not making this up!

Cushing failed a drug test, played the entire NFL season, was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and then -- and only then -- was suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the following season.

He tested positive for Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, and yes, the first two syllables of the last word indicate he was trying to get some testosterone buildup going after a cycle of steroid use. That's what the NFL thinks, anyway.

I keep waiting for an athlete to use the addiction defense. Why hasn't this happened? It's foolproof and way more plausible than the fantasies we're being fed. Addiction is way more socially acceptable -- and medically backed -- than OTAS.

For one, Cushing is the only guy in the world who has been diagnosed with OTAS, so that might work against him in the arena of public opinion. 

How did the commissioner keep a straight face?  McNair sat across from Goodell and asked that Cushing's suspension be lifted because of the previously unknown condition OTAS.

In the process of defending and believing Cushing, McNair issued one of the most ill-informed statements on steroid use in the history of bloated athletes: "His weight hasn't changed appreciably since he's been with us," McNair told Peter King of Sports Illustrated.

Other owners and league suits just laughed behind McNair’s back.

I’ve always admired Cushing and his work-ethic but I have to admit that I’ll definitely view him a bit differently as time goes on.  I won’t go to the extreme and say that he’s a fraud because you still have to be talented to get into this league.   However, in a sport that’s so hinged on being the utmost of competitive, he may have cheated a bit to get to where he was.

Due to his numerous surgeries, he was never the same three down linebacker.  Watching him in pass coverage was hard, as he lost a couple of steps.

In this day and age of sport, where teams have multiple trainers and interests, there is no excuse for any player to put anything into their body without first checking.

There is a specific list of banned substances.

Period.

Even in a league with many semi-literate former “student athletes,” there should never be any excuse.

Treating Cushing like some hero coming back from multiple injuries is disingenuous. Taking reps away from rookie inside backer Zach Cunningham is just plain stupid.

He let his team down, again, costing himself close to $4 million in salary.

Bill O’Brien is forced to parrot the party line.

Welcome home cheater.

Soak it all up.

You will not be a Texan next year.

Chirp!

Drew Brees and the Saints escaped with an ugly win. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Saints have effectively wrapped up the NFC South with their 25-14 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs. Here's how I saw things:

The Good

-Michael Thomas got himself going this week after a subpar performance against the Cowboys last week. He finished with 11 catches for 98 yards. More of note was his record of most catches in first three seasons. He surpassed Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry on his second catch, his 289th of his career. I hope people take notice and realize how great of a player he is.

-Taysom Hill once again proved his worth as just a football player. He blocked a punt the Saints recovered at the Tampa 30 yard line. It helped set up their first touchdown. Hill is listed as the third string quarterback, but plays running back, wide receiver, and special teams. He also drew a double team penalty on a kickoff.

-Drew Brees is known for his pinpoint accuracy throwing the ball. However, his athleticism is underrated. He notched his fourth rushing touchdown on a 4th and goal play in which he leapt over the line and extended the ball across the plane. The Saints took the lead early in the fourth quarter on that play.

The Bad

-Right before the half, Brees threw an interception that set up Tampa's second touchdown. When this team is rolling, they are the ones scoring before the half when they're getting the ball back after the half.

-They totaled just three rushing yards in the first half on nine attempts. The longest run was from fullback Zach Line at four yards. Another component of this team's success is predicated on the run game.

-Alvin Kamara was held in check. He was limited to 87 yards on 17 touches. His 76 yards on three kick returns were a help, but this team needs him to get going running and catching passes in order to operate at full capacity.

The Ugly

-This was the second game in a row that the Saints failed to score a touchdown in the first half. It could be a sign of teams catching up to them, or it could be a sign of a team that's feeling complacent. Either way, they need to get their offense going again to start games. 24 plays and 104 yards of offense that produced only three points in the first half.

-On their opening possession of the second half, Brees was stripped in the pocket and the Bucs recovered. The pressure came from the left. Missing starting left tackle Terron Armstead is becoming more and more of a glaring issue.

-Brees was limited to less than 270 yards passing, while they also totaled less than 130 yards rushing. Being held below their season averages on offense and still winning is the definition of winning ugly.

The Saints are now 11-2 and firmly in second place in the NFC. Now, they sit back and hope the Rams drop another game down the stretch. They own the tiebreaker over the Rams and need to finish with the same record to get homefield throughout the NFC playoffs. Saints fans will be Bears fans tonight, as well as Eagles, Cardinals, and 49er fans the rest of the season. This is what happens when you drop games you should've won.

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