You don't need to listen long to Dannell Ellerbe before a theme emerges.
He's rabid for "team," all in to such a degree that he barely can go two or three sentence in a response before he gets around to mentioning it.
When he was inactive the first three games of the season while he recovered from a turf toe injury, the major lament was that he wasn't there for the team.
So it was dog-bites-man material that when he posted his most productive game of the season – and one of the most productive in his seven-year career – Ellerbe was more concerned with what it meant for the Saints than what it meant for Ellerbe.
In a little more than three quarters of work in New Orleans' 31-21 victory over Atlanta, Ellerbe posted 13 tackles (11 solo) and in the second quarter, he forced a fumble that teammate Brandon Browner recovered at the Saints' 9-yard line, and recovered one at the Saints' 17.
"Basically, I was just out there trying to help the team win," Ellerbe said. "I got to play a little bit more this game, got to play a little bit in regular and passing situations. I felt like I did all right but I know I've got a lot to improve on."
Ellerbe missed most of preseason and was eased back into the lineup because of his toe. He didn't start in his first game back, against Dallas, when he was credited with one tackle.
But he was in the starting lineup against the Eagles and finished with seven tackles and a pass defensed, and against the Falcons, he displayed the versatility and athleticism that the Saints were expecting when they acquired him in the trade that sent receiver Kenny Stills to Miami.
Last year, Ellerbe injured his hip in the season opener for the Dolphins and was placed on injured reserve. In 2013, he had a career-high 101 tackles, two interceptions, five passes defensed and two fumble recoveries.
"He is one of our most athletic linebackers," Coach Sean Payton said. "The challenge for him, and for us, was just being patient with his toe. He had a pretty significant turf toe (injury).
"I think many kind of didn't see the vision for him. We felt like, when he was going to be healthy, he was definitely going to be an impactful player for us. It was great to see (Thursday) night. He moves well, he's got really good football instincts, and that is a big plus when you are playing at linebacker. His effort on the one caused fumble and then the recovered fumble, he was very good."
The caused fumble was a case of Ellerbe's athleticism and instincts – he chased down Falcons running back Tevin Coleman during a 17-yard run and had the presence to strip the football on a play that would have given Atlanta first-and-goal from the 9.
"He had the ball away from his body, so I just punched it out as I was getting in on the tackle," Ellerbe said. "The (fumble recovery), I don't know what (Atlanta center James Stone) was doing – he just didn't put it in (quarterback's Matt Ryan's) hands and I saw it. I was actually adding to my coverage responsibility and I saw the ball on the ground."
Ellerbe's hustle helped produce two of New Orleans' three turnovers, and it fit in well with his resume.
He had an interception, fumble recovery and four passes defensed in his rookie year with the Ravens in 2009, and in his fourth (and final) season with Baltimore, he produced a career-high 4.5 sacks and two passes defensed.
So he was eager to get back on the field, to play the game he loves and to show what he can do.
"It's always gratifying to get on the field, just to help the team win because we're trying to turn this thing around and get a winning streak," he said. "So hopefully, this will be the game to turn it around. It's always great to be out there playing and doing what you love to do.
"When you're doing what you love you're going to be energetic, you're going to be happy to be out there. For me, it's just being a part of this team and helping this team win. I felt like we were kind of down and we were just trying to turn it around and get some positive things going, especially for us on defense.
"Every game is a big game but being the fact that I've been fighting injury and coming back from injury this year and coming off my surgery, a lot of the guys around here are young and they haven't seen me play before. The older guys know that played against me and they know the type of player I am. But as far as the guys that have never seen, I just wanted to show them what I can do and where I can help."