Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter
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METAIRIE, La. ― Jonathan Vilma admits he felt a bit 'rusty' when he returned to the field this past weekend when the Saints took down Detroit.

If that's the case, the Saints can't wait for the rust to be fully knocked off.

Vilma led the team with 10 tackles, including six solo stops, and nearly intercepted a pass early in the game, his first one since having surgery to clean up his left knee.

'All those games I didn't play, I was still preparing like I would play,' Vilma said. 'So mentally I was still in it.'

New Orleans' standout middle linebacker originally injured his left knee on Sept. 18, when the Saints beat Chicago at home.

He was inactive a week later against Houston, but returned for the Oct. 2 game at Jacksonville. He wasn't the same and never finished a game with more than seven tackles.

But teammates could tell something wasn't right with Vilma in games against the Jaguars, Panthers, Bucs, Colts and Bucs again.

'We know JV plays hard and he plays fast and he plays physical,' fellow linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. 'But it's good to see him actually run and not grimace when he runs and know that he's not in pain when he's playing. The guy was doing whatever he can to play.

'It's heroic of him but it's also nice to see that he's out there and he's doing what he wants to do and what he loves to do and it's not really killing him to do it.'

New Orleans went 4-0 without Vilma, including three straight during this current four-game winning streak. Don't think for one second that point wasn't brought up to Vilma, at least in jest.

'No, not funny at all,' Vilma said. 'Not at all. No.'

Said Dunbar, 'He hates those jokes. JV is so competitive and he takes everything a little serious sometimes. It feels good anytime you can get up under his skin and you know you're bothering him because he usually doesn't let people under his skin. It was fun. We'd all mess with him.'

Vilma says he's near 100 percent now and had to be told not to play until he was near full health.

Having the surgery was a tough decision, he said.

'Especially my mindset, I get focused in on just that week and what I have to do to get ready that week,' Vilma said.' That was the hard thing, to look at the big picture, the big perspective of the whole season. And not only just this year, but three, four years down the road. I want to keep playing.'

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