Finaly, Saints have good news on injuries

Updated: October 14, 2003, 5:34 PM ET

NEW ORLEANS -- After enduring an early rash of injuries that depleted their starting defense, the Saints exited Sunday's victory against the Chicago Bears in relatively good health for the second consecutive week.

Coach Jim Haslett reported no new injuries, and said two injured defensive starters are making strides toward returning soon.

Defensive end Darren Howard, who suffered a broken right wrist in the opener against the Seattle Seahawks, was not due back until December but now hopes to return Nov. 16 against the Atlanta Falcons. And strongside linebacker Sedrick Hodge is recovering from a broken right leg suffered against the Houston Texans.

"They're both ahead of schedule," Haslett said.

Return specialist Michael Lewis, who has missed the past two games with an injured groin, remains questionable for Sunday's game at Atlanta.

"Michael will start working this week, but he's 50-50," Haslett said. ^------<

DID YOU KNOW? The Saints have the best third-down conversion rate in the NFL. They have made first downs on 44 of 86 third-down plays -- 51.2 percent. ^------<

BIG FOOT: Saints punter Mitch Berger is tied with Oakland's Shane Lechler for the best net average in the NFL at 40.5 yards per punt. ^------<

RIGHT ENDS: After six games, Saints tight ends Ernie Conwell (21) and Boo Williams (5) have combined for 26 catches. Saints tight ends had nine receptions after six games in 2002 and 27 the entire season. ^------<

PERSONNEL MATTERS: Lewis recently signed a two-year contract extension, keeping him with the Saints through the 2005 season. Counting the current season, Lewis is scheduled to make annual base salaries of $375,000, $455,000 and $540,000, plus an $800,000 signing bonus. The contract includes numerous incentives tied to performance and playing time. Including likely-to-be-earned incentives, the deal is valued at $3.07 million, according to NFLPA documents. ^------<

TICKET UPDATE: Approximately 6,800 tickets remain for the Saints' next home game, Oct. 26, against the Carolina Panthers, who are unbeaten and lead the NFC South.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index