NEW YORK — Sean Payton is back as coach of the Saints.
Payton's season-long suspension for his role in the team's bounty program was lifted by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday, nearly two weeks earlier than expected.
The decision lets Payton attend Saturday's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Payton, assistant head coach Joe Vitt, general manager Mickey Loomis, and four players including Jonathan Vilma were suspended after an investigation found the club had a performance pool offering cash rewards for key plays, including big hits. The player suspensions eventually were overturned.
"I clearly recognize that mistakes were made, which led to league violations," Payton said in a statement. "Furthermore, I have assured the commissioner a more diligent protocol will be followed."
The suspension was scheduled to end after the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, but was moved up after Payton and Goodell met on Monday.
"Coach Payton acknowledged in the meeting his responsibility for the actions of his coaching staff and players and pledged to uphold the highest standards of the NFL and ensure that his staff and players do so as well," Goodell said in a statement.
Payton recently agreed to a contract that runs through the 2017 season at more than $8 million a year.
BRAIN ISSUE: Researchers have discovered images of a protein that causes football-related brain damage in living former players, which could help experts diagnose chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in living patients. "It is the holy grail of CTE research to be able to identify those who are suffering from the syndrome early, while they're still alive," said the study's author, Dr. Julian Bailes, director of the Brain Injury Research Institute. CTE was found in dozens of deceased former players, including linebacker Junior Seau, safety Dave Duerson and defensive back Ray Easterling, all of whom committed suicide in recent years.
BREAK-IN: Two masked men forced their way into the Colorado home of Patriots defensive back Derrick Martin during Sunday's AFC title game. Police haven't identified any suspects in the home invasion robbery in the Denver suburb of Aurora.
STADIUM TECH: The first-down line that viewers have seen on TV for several years could come to stadiums, but the league isn't sold on it. "We have not been convinced that it would work for us, but we are open to further discussion after the season," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told AP. Alan Amron, with financial backing from former NFL player and broadcaster Pat Summerall, developed the First Down Laser System.
PRO BOWL: The NFL hopes to decide the fate of the all-star game by April — and executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson said the decision largely rest on how much effort this year's participants put into it. Also, Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph (NFC) and Kansas City's Justin Houston (AFC) were added for Sunday's game in Honolulu.
COWBOYS: Owner Jerry Jones said coach Jason Garrett might give up play-calling duties on offense, but stopped short of saying a decision had been made. … Defensive lineman Jay Ratliff was arrested and charged with DWI in Grapevine, Texas, espndallas.com reported.
JAGUARS: Mike Mallory was named special teams coordinator.