Saints Close But Not Close Enough

The New Orleans Saints came up just a few yards short at the end of a wild day for football fans. In a game that appeared to be out of hand early, the Foxborough faithful headed for the exits. Then things got interesting. Aaron Brooks and crew almost pulled off the unthinkable. They were one play away from forcing overtime. Unfortunately, as has usually been the case with this team, the Saints were unable to wrest victory away from the jaws of defeat... again.

The immediate future doesn't look bright for the Saints, but there were some encouraging signs in their 24-17 setback to the New England Patriots on Sunday.

While the Saints (2-8) can only look forward to a Sunday night tussle with the New York Jets (2-8), they'll be able to draw something from their loss to the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Patriots on the road.

The Saints trailed 14-0 after the Patriots' first two drives and 24-7 with just under eight minutes to play, but they succeeded in throwing a scare into Bill Belichick's injury-riddled team.

In losing for their sixth straight, the Saints made things respectable down the stretch after a woeful start. The six-game losing streak is the longest for the Saints since they dropped seven in a row in 1999, Mike Ditka's final season.

"I thought we played hard," Saints coach Jim Haslett said. "We hung in there until the end, we fought until the end and had an opportunity to get back in the game and tie it up at the end. Things just didn't work out."

That's the way it's been all season for the Saints, who have routinely given games away with turnovers or failed to make key plays in critical situations -- particularly on offense in their past two games.

On Sunday, it was a third-and-1 play that was stuffed which led to a 91-yard Patriots drive. Tom Brady capped the march with a 60-yard scoring pass to Andre Davis. The play came after Patrick Pass converted a third-and-8 from the New England 9 into a 31-yard run.

That sequence, Haslett said, was the hardest thing to take from the crushing loss.

"The lapse in defense right there, and not converting the first down, was the most disappointing thing about the game," he said.

CLOSER LOOK

The Saints had a chance to tie the game and force an overtime after driving to the Patriots' 22 in the final 1:36, but New England showed why it has won the last two Super Bowls.

The final two pass plays from Aaron Brooks to Donte Stallworth and Joe Horn were thwarted by the Patriots with tight coverage as they held on for the 24-17 win.

Brooks' pass to Stallworth in the back of the end zone was caught out of bounds as rookie cornerback Ellis Hobbs bumped the receiver while he came down with the catch. Then, Brooks was intercepted by free safety Eugene Wilson as he and cornerback Artrell Hawkins bracketed Horn in the end zone.

"That's the champs, that's what good teams do," Brooks said. "They gave up a lot of yards, but they came up with plays when they had to have them."


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