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franklin county times

So it's all come down to this

By By Richard Dark / EMG staff writer
Dec. 29, 2002
NEW ORLEANS So it's all come down to this.
A once promising season that saw the New Orleans Saints put together one of their best starts in history has been squandered.
Well, nearly. In a sick twist of irony, the Saints will have to get help from their biggest rival, the Atlanta Falcons today if they are to make the postseason Super Bowl tournament.
The Saints also have to defeat another NFC South foe in the Carolina Panthers in today's season finale. The New York Giants (10-6) locked up one of the final two remaining NFC playoff spots with a 10-7 home overtime win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Now, the Saints have to hope that the Cleveland Browns, who are also barely breathing in the AFC wild card race, can prevail over the visiting Michael Vick and the Falcons. That game also kicks off at noon today and both games will be televised on FOX.
But just Jim Haslett and the Saints insist they won't be scoreboard watching inside the sold-out Louisiana Superdome today. Instead, they'll have their hands full with the Panthers (6-9) who would love nothing more than to themselves eliminate an opponent who has beaten them five straight times.
If they are to do that, then they will most assuredly have to get better production from quarterback Aaron Brooks, who finished up last week's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in poor fashion, fumbling the football three times and not hitting the mark on his last seven passes.
"Everyone is very motivated for this game. At this point you need to win and possibly be in or lose and definitely be out," Brooks said.
If that same subpar level is displayed by the starting qb today, don't expect Haslett to take any chances. Don't be surprised if the coach pulls Brooks, who does not seem to have gotten over a nagging injury to his throwing shoulder, in favor of gutsy backup Jake Delhomme.
Those may be the types of things Haslett has to worry about today, because again in his words, scoreboard watching won't be in his thoughts.
"I'm not going to worry about the playoffs. I think the most important thing is that our team goes out and tries to win a game. If we win and we make the playoffs then that is fine. If we don't, then that is something that we will deal with."
Dealing with it may prove to be tough, as the entire organization continues to draw heavy fire from the entire region for a collapse that could be even more infamous than the ugly one of last season, when they dropped their final four games, getting outscored 160-52.
"This is nothing like last season," an irritated Haslett said earlier this week. "I won't even comment on that."
The Panthers are just the opposite of New Orleans, with an anemic offense, but bruising defense.
"We know they are very aggressive defensively,: Saints running back Deuce McAllister said. "They going to come right at us and try and stop what we want to do."