Saints More Dangerous Than Their Record Indicates

The New Orleans Saints may be closer to a one-loss team than their record would indicate. It's a team with talent that was only a few plays away from a better record.

Two plays that could have turned a six-point deficit into a one-point lead and a possible victory in Sunday's game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers show what kind of season it has been for the Saints.

Those two plays turned out to be the difference in the Saints' 20-17 loss to the previously winless Bucs. The setback came one week after the Saints were defeated by the previously winless Arizona Cardinals.

For two weeks, the Saints have talked about not doing the "little things" it takes to win games. Things like missed assignments, dropped passes and the pre-snap penalties they've committed in crucial spots.

Things like the pass Aaron Brooks threw to tight end Boo Williams down the middle when the Saints trailed 20-14. If Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly had been a split-second late with his break on the ball, Williams likely would have caught the ball and sailed to the end zone.

Minutes later, the Saints had a chance to match the defensive touchdown the Bucs put up on the scoreboard in the first half.

Defensive end Charles Grant, who had two of the Saints' four sacks, penetrated the Bucs' backfield and lowered the boom on quarterback Brian Griese as he tried to throw. When Grant leveled Griese, the ball popped free and was lying on the ground waiting to be picked up. Rookie defensive end Will Smith tried to scoop it up on the run and missed, giving Griese the opportunity to recover.

Smith, the most athletic of the Saints' defensive linemen, had clear sailing to the end zone if he had picked up the ball cleanly. Even if he'd just fallen on it, the Saints would have had possession at the Bucs' 29. When they got the ball back, they had to settle for a John Carney field goal and a three-point deficit.

But after that, they never got their hands on the ball again. And a second straight loss to a team that hadn't won a game helped the frustration build.

"First of all, it's frustrating just to lose," said weak-side linebacker Derrick Rodgers. "That's the most frustrating part of it. We're losing games that we should be able to win."

But instead of being 4-1, with two wins against those winless teams, they're 2-3 going into Sunday's game with the Minnesota Vikings.

"I've heard this many times before, but it's true — this is a humbling game," Rodgers said. "I said it last week and I'm going to say it again this week, we've got to stop making these mistakes that put us in this position.

"I think this is a much better team than what we've shown," he added. "But it doesn't matter what I think. We've just got to find a way to stop losing."


  • MLB Orlando Ruff, who started for the first time this season against the Bucs, took responsibility for a blown coverage that allowed tight end Ken Dilger to score a 45-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

    The touchdown was magnified on the Bucs' final possession when they made two first downs and ran out the clock after the Saints pulled to within 20-17 with less than four minutes to play in the game.

    "It didn't come down to that last series," said Ruff, who started in place of an injured Courtney Watson. "It was the blown coverage on my part. They had a tight end wide open and he scored a touchdown.

    "It was a blown assignment. I can't make a mistake on it, and I did it. You can look at the last series, but we gave them things throughout the course of the game that we shouldn't have."

  • WR Joe Horn moved into a tie for second place on the club's all-time list for touchdown receptions when he caught a 3-yard scoring pass from quarterback Aaron Brooks against the Bucs.

    Horn now has 37 TD catches in his career with the Saints, which ties him with Danny Abramowicz (1967-73). Eric Martin has the most touchdown catches in Saints history with 48 from 1985-93.

  • Two-time Pro Bowl RB Deuce McAllister rushed for 102 yards against the Bucs and cracked the 100-yard mark for the first time since he gashed the Washington Redskins for 165 yards on Nov. 30, 2003. McAllister has 18 100-yard rushing days since becoming the Saints' starting halfback in 2002.

    McAllister, who played this week for the first time since spraining his ankle on Sept. 19, came out of the game against the Bucs in good shape and should be ready for Sunday's matchup with the Minnesota Vikings. "He came out of it pretty well," coach Jim Haslett said. "He was really sore, but he did well."

  • Backup RB Aaron Stecker had to receive five bags of intravenous fluids and nearly didn't play against his old team after contracting food poisoning Saturday night.

    Stecker did not participate in pregame warmups but he was able to work out individually for Saints coach Jim Haslett and offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy about 20 minutes before kickoff.

    "They wanted to make sure I was feeling all right and I could still run," said Stecker, who had four rushing attempts for 27 yards and four receptions for 15 yards as well as one kickoff return for 14 yards.

    Haslett said it was not known if Stecker had food poisoning or the flu but reported that he felt a little better Monday.

  • PK John Carney scored five points Sunday on a 47-yard field goal and two PATs to give him 1,471 points for his career. That moved him past Pat Leahy and into ninth place in the NFL's all-time scoring list.

  • WR Talman Gardner missed his second straight game Sunday with a sprained right ankle. Gardner, who plays mainly on special teams, might be available for Sunday's game with the Vikings.

  • CB Mike McKenzie was inactive for Sunday's game with the Bucs because he's still learning the Saints' defense, but he will play against the Vikings. Coach Jim Haslett said he'll know later in the week whether McKenzie will start. He said McKenzie's hamstring isn't 100 percent yet but said it should be by the end of the week.

  • MLB Courtney Watson, a rookie who started the first four games, was inactive Sunday because of a sore right knee. Watson had fluid removed from the knee last Wednesday and will likely play Sunday.

  • SLB Sedrick Hodge, who was reinstated to the roster on Oct. 4 after serving a four-game suspension for a repeat violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy, played for the first time this season against the Bucs.

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