METAIRIE, La. — It’s not that Curtis Lofton harbors any ill will towards the Atlanta Falcons for not re-signing him as a free agent linebacker this offseason.
No, he chose to come to New Orleans even as the Falcons offered him a handsome contract.
But if you know Lofton, you know that his allegiance lies firmly with his current teammates, that he’ll be spitting vinegar and fire at those he used to play alongside on Sunday when the Saints (3-5) host the Falcons( 8-0), his first time playing his former team.
“No, I mean, when I was with the Falcons I hated the Saints,” Lofton said. “Now I’m with the Saints, I hate the Falcons. Both of these cities hate each other and there’s no love lost. So, it’s a divisional game and we’ll get it on. That makes it fun.”
His changing allegiance within the division was easy once he visited New Orleans, he said. The Saints organization gave him the respect and leadership position for which he was yearning.
“I mean, (Atlanta) offered me and they wanted me to stay, but I just felt better,” Lofton said. “I wanted to go to a team that celebrated me, not tolerated me. That’s the way that I felt. I’m happy that I’m here and I’m excited for this game.”
The 6-foot, 241-pound middle linebacker out of Oklahoma has been a revelation for a franchise that, for the past nine months, has been a punching bag. He’s what went right when it seemed like everything was going wrong the past nine months.
Of the players brought in this offseason to help shore up the defense, he has been the most consistent. He leads the Saints in tackles with 76, has one sack, four tackles for a loss, three passes defensed, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
None of this surprised Mike Smith, his former coach in Atlanta.
“He’s still a tackling machine,” Smith said. “You see that every week. Probably 90 percent of the games that have been played this year, he is probably the leading tackler. That was a trait that he had here, he was a very active player on defense.”
But while Lofton was a key part of Atlanta’s defense the past four years, he doesn’t feel like he can give his new teammates any inside information on the Falcons.
At least, nothing the Saints don’t already know.
“The only thing I can help them out with is personnel,” Lofton said. “But like I said, this is a divisional game and we know them, they know us and it’s going to come down to who’s playing better on that day.”
Lofton sees in Atlanta an offense that’s efficient thanks to a quarterback he knows well and weapons he has seen debilitate opponents’ defenses.
“They have a ton of guys and you start with Matt Ryan,” Lofton said. “He’s probably playing the best of any quarterback in the league right now and then you look at the weapons, you’ve got Tony Gonzalez, a Hall of Famer, and Roddy White and Julio Jones and Michael Turner and all of those guys.”
While the Saints’ defense hasn’t been terrific in 2012, Lofton has, bringing the same efficiency to New Orleans that the team was hoping for when it signed him.
“I said this in the spring, one of the things you don’t know that you’re getting until they get here is what kind of person he is,” Saints linebacker coach Joe Vitt said. “He grinds film, he’s dependable, he’s durable, he’s played every snap for us, he’s very stable, he’s not up and down with his play, he’s really a good teammate, and he’s earned the respect of our players in this locker room.
“So this has been a real good acquisition for us."