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Saints' Conwell unable to come back from knee injury

NEW ORLEANS -- Saints starting tight end Ernie Conwell, who
played for the first time in more than a month last weekend, was
placed on injured reserve Wednesday, ending his season.

Conwell suffered a bone bruise and medial meniscus tear in his
right knee in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 14.
After sitting out several weeks, he played in Sunday's game against
the Atlanta Falcons, but for only about a dozen plays.

"It's just not progressed as quickly as we had hoped," Saints
coach Sean Payton said. "The soreness and where he's at
physically. It's hard to say that it's going to be better maybe at
the pace we had hoped it would and that's kind of where we're at
with that."

Conwell, now in his 11th year, played in seven games this
season, starting five. He had eight catches for 57 yards and a
touchdown.

The tight end said he did not re-injure his knee when he
returned to action in Atlanta last Sunday and was despondent after
finding out his season was over.

"It came as a surprise," Conwell said. "I feel heartbroken.
It's hard to put as much time and energy as you do into a football
season and into a career and then to have it all of a sudden be
over with. It's tough. It's a hard pill to swallow. But I've been
around long enough. I understand this game, this business. You
really just have to defer to your coaching staff and management.
They've got an ultimate plan of what they want to do with this team
and where we need to fill spots.

"I'm just going to stick around and try to be a good leader, a
good veteran, and encourage guys and help as much as I can,"
Conwell said. "That's really all I can do right now."

The Saints moved quickly to fill Conwell's roster spot with
defensive end Trevor Johnson, a 2004, seventh-round pick of the
New York Jets who was released late September of this season. Johnson,
who played in 25 games in two seasons with the Jets, was acquired
the same day Saints starting defensive end Will Smith missed
practice with a knee bruise.

Smith, however, said he believed he would play Sunday and wanted
to practice Wednesday but was ordered to rest by the coaching
staff.

Conwell played seven seasons with the St. Louis Rams before
coming to New Orleans as a free agent. He played in the Rams' past
two Super Bowls appearances in the 1999-00 and 2001-02 seasons. He
has 203 catches for 2,188 yards in his career, which he said may be
over, depending on both how he feels in the offseason and family
considerations.

"I'm not going to think about that right now," Conwell said.
"It's too early for me to think about next year and my future.
It's really something for my wife and I to sit down and talk about
and contemplate. And it's not just my decision. There's a decision
on this team to be made."

One of the hardest parts of being placed on injured reserve now,
Conwell said, was knowing that he would no longer play an on-field
role in what he found to be a compelling story in the Saints'
return to New Orleans and their surprising run into late-season
playoff contention.

"I'm thankful I've been part of this team and part of this
great season. It's been such a fun run. And the other thing is
there's been such a price paid for this team to be where it's at,"
Conwell said. "This team didn't just fall into this position. This
wasn't luck. These men put a lot of time and sacrifice into this."