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franklin county times

Saints' collapse complete

By By Richard Dark / EMG staff writer
Dec. 30, 2002
NEW ORLEANS Ironically, in the end, the New Orleans Saints wound up getting the help they needed. As has been the story with this franchise not only throughout the end of this year or last, but their entire history, they could not, would not and did not help themselves.
An Atlanta loss, coupled with a win over the last place Carolina Panthers would have given the Saints an NFC wild card berth.
Well, the Falcons left the door wide open, losing 24-16 in Cleveland, but the Saints finished up in their own trademark grand style, losing to the Panthers 10-6 in one of the most abysmal offensive performances in recent memory which left the 66,946 in attendance booing lustily throughout every failure and shortcoming. And there were many.
There are a lot of things the Saints fans may not understand today. Namely, why Haslett did not insert backup quarterback Jake Delhomme in favor of starter Aaron Brooks, whose poor play continued Sunday. On the way to a dismal 12-of-31 showing that included only 145 yards passing and two interceptions, the fans stopped the booing just long enough to chant "We want Jake!"
But in the face of that, Haslett still defended his starter, whose rating was a mere 26.9.
How it came about Sunday may not be as important as the sum total of failings. The numbers reflect the complete collapse from a team once on top of the league, but could be found staggering to the finish line by losing six of their final nine contests.
Sure, for the first time all season the much-maligned defense finally held the opponent below 20 points, but it wasn't enough to spark an anemic offense that could do nothing except settle for a pair of John Carney field goals.
The first one came after Grady Jackson recovered a fumble by Panther running back Nick Goings. The 30-yarder was the result of four offensive plays that went nowhere. The second was a 38-yarder after a 10-play drive stalled out the opposing 20.
Sandwiched around that was a late first half 15-yard touchdown strike from Panthers qb Rodney Peete to fullback Brad Hoover. And to their credit, even though they had nothing to play for but pride, the Panthers responded after the latter Carney kick pulled the hosts to within 7-6.
A late third quarter drive ended after 38 yards when Shayne Graham booted a 50-yarder. It was the first time all year the Saints offense failed to score a touchdown.
And against the NFC's fourth-ranked defense, Deuce McAllister also seemed to only get his yards in scattered fashion. McAllister finished the season as the conference's top rusher by scraping up 117 yards on 28 carries.
The turnover battle was a wash, with both teams fumbling three times and losing the ball once and Peete throwing two picks as well.
Saints safety Sammy Knight, who led the team in tackles with 10, hauled both of those in, but the offense could not capitalize either time. His Panther counterpart, Terry Cousin had two picks off his own, his second one ended the game and the season for the Saints.
How bad did things get for New Orleans? During one sequence midway through the fourth quarter, the Saints defense had pinned Carolina into a punting situation deep in its own territory. It looked as if speedy Saint return man Michael Lewis would have good field position fielding the ball at his own 32. Instead he inexplicably threw an illegal forward pass to no one across the field and was penalized five yards.
Still, starting field position was not the problem, as he again was the teams bright spot, returning the ball nine times on special teams for a total of 201 yards.
The Panther qbs, Peete and Chris Weinke combined for a 20-of-32 effort for 203 yards. Peete was sacked three times, while New Orleans gave up four sacks.
Penalties didn't prove to be a factor, as the Saints only committed four for 27 yards, while Carolina had three for 19.
The Saints squandered their only two red zone scoring opportunities, despite trailing the visitors by only one minute in total time of possession. Longtime veteran Jerry Fontenot put the performance and the season into perspective in a tearful summation.
Many would agree with that final adjective.

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