Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter
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NEW ORLEANS In their first statements since the NFL unloaded the full brunt of its investigative forces on them, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton issued a joint statement Tuesday, apologizing to owner Tom Benson and taking responsibility for allowing the pay for performance program to take place under their watch.

'We acknowledge that the violations disclosed by the NFL during their investigation of our club happened under our watch,' read the statement, Loomis and Payton's first public comments since the news broke Friday afternoon. 'We take full responsibility.'

'This has brought undue hardship on Mr. Benson, who had nothing to do with this activity. He has been nothing but supportive and for that we both apologize to him.'

The NFL investigated the Saints for a pay-for-performance bounty program that had former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams putting money into a kitty and handing it out for plays that included 'cart offs' and knockouts.

That specific activity is barred from the NFL.

Loomis and Payton said in the statement that they understand the severity of the issue and promised that it won't happen in the future.

'These are serious violations and we understand the negative impact it has had on our game,' Loomis and Payton said. 'Both of us have made it clear within our organization that this will never happen again, and make that same promise to the NFL and most importantly to all of our fans.'

These are the first public comments from the two highest profile personnel within the Saints organization other than Benson.

According to the NFL, Loomis was twice confronted with the issue, both times giving him the possibility of stopping the program. In 2010, the NFL said it asked him about it and he denied knowledge. Then during the playoffs this year, the NFL said that they notified Benson of the bounties and the owner asked Loomis to halt it.

The NFL says there's nothing showing that Loomis ever attempted to end the practice of paying players for big hits or injury-inducing ones.

Payton, meanwhile, knew about Williams' tactics and didn't do anything to stop it, the NFL said.

Their contrition might be too little, too late.

Loomis and Payton both flew to New York last Thursday to find out first-hand from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about the findings, which were released publicly a day later.

And while Benson and Williams both put out statements quickly after the release on Friday, Loomis and Payton waited nearly 96 hours to say anything.

Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated, ESPN and other national outlets have been out front, detailing the minutiae of the program, including what some players put in the pool and which plays the past three years could have resulted from the extra incentive.

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