Interim coach Joe Vitt: It's been difficult without Sean Payton

New Orleans Saints interim head coach Joe Vitt New Orleans Saints interim head coach Joe Vitt of the New Orleans Saints watches a play against the San Francisco 49ers at The Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (Nov. 25, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty

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The latest appeal hearings in the NFL's bounty investigation wrapped up on Monday, but the Saints believe that no decisions will be announced until after they have played the Giants and that linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith will be available to play in Sunday's game.

Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue will decide whether suspensions of Vilma and Smith will be upheld, reduced or lifted.

"The kind of commissioner Paul Tagliabue was and the man he is, I'd be shocked if something came this week," Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said on Wednesday's conference call with New York reporters. "I think he truly understands what a workweek is like and I think any decision that comes from his office would probably come at the conclusion of this game probably, or the players' day off on Tuesday."

A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that Tagliabue expects to rule by early next week.

Even with the season winding down, the bounty investigation may not end with Tagliabue's decision. If he upholds the suspensions, the players could still seek relief from a federal judge in New Orleans.

The Saints have played the entire season without coach Sean Payton, who was suspended for the year. Vitt, too, was suspended for a portion of this season before returning as interim coach.

"It's been very difficult," Vitt said of having no contact with Payton this season. "Number one he's my friend first and number two he's my head coach. Nothing has taken the place of my relationship with him. It's like a giant hole in my chest."

Payton will be allowed to resume his place as Saints coach after the Super Bowl.

"I think we both look at the calendar and see that there are four weeks left in the regular season and he's due to come back here at the conclusion of the playoffs," Vitt said, "but it's been extremely difficult . . . I can't even imagine what he's gone through. I did it for seven weeks and it was hard on me. What he's going through I can't imagine."

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