NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Curtis Lofton has rarely left the field this season for the Saints defense.
Why would he?
After all, the middle linebacker is doing what he always knew he could do here and had done elsewhere in the NFL. He's accomplishing it all as part of a resurgent Saints defense, solidifying his reasoning for departing the Atlanta Falcons two offseasons ago for their NFC South rival.
Lofton's journey to become the man in the middle of the NFL's sixth-ranked defense has included plenty of trials, tribulations and tackles. Last season's unit ended a 7-9 campaign as the leakiest defense in league history, allowing a record amount of yardage. It cost coordinator Steve Spagnuolo his job and created plenty of doubt about the franchise's immediate future.
Such doubt has receded. The turnaround has occurred with many of the same players — save for cornerback Keenan Lewis, rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro and healthy linebacker David Hawthorne. That made the winning ways even sweeter.
The Saints are 10-3 entering Sunday's game at St. Louis (5-8), and Lofton is enjoying the ride.
"I knew we were going to have something special," he said of the 2013 defense, headed by new coordinator Rob Ryan. "In my mind, I already knew I made the right decision, but just the way we've played all year, it kind of solidified all the naysayers that were (deriding me for leaving Atlanta)."
Outside of defensive end Cameron Jordan (team-high 11.5 sacks), there may not be a Saints defender playing as well or as consistently as Lofton, who's now in his sixth NFL season. Tough against the run and more than capable on passing downs, Lofton's career-high 108 tackles lead the team. He has four double-digit tackle games this season, including 10 during Sunday's 31-13 win against Carolina.
"I think Curtis is playing at a Pro Bowl level," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said before the Saints' 17-13 win at the Georgia Dome.
Solid. Far from flashy yet consistent. One of his favorite attributes has been his ability to line up the defense and make the players around him better.
"He's a good tackler," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "There is not a lot of leaky yardage. He's thick. He's strong. He has good instincts on gamedays. ... He has good leadership skills, and I think he's distinctively a good inside linebacker."
Lofton's next challenge is St. Louis and its 19th-ranked offense. While the Rams started the season slow, their offense has averaged 141.9 rushing yards since Week 5, second-most in the league. Running back Zac Stacy (721 yards) ranks second among rookies.