Bouman Gets His Shot

Former Vikings quarterback Todd Bouman will get his shot at becoming a starter for New Orleans this weekend following a trying week for the weary Saints.

The Saints have been wobbling ever since Hurricane Katrina forced them to leave New Orleans in late August, but the wheels really came off the struggling 3-10 team this week.

First, quarterback Aaron Brooks criticized NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in a radio interview that was played on national television, lambasting Tagliabue for the way he handled the team's situation in the wake of the hurricane and taking a shot at team owner Tom Benson as well.

The next day, the Saints were embarrassed on "Monday Night Football" as they dropped a 36-17 decision to the Atlanta Falcons. The loss was the Saints' ninth in their last 11 games and assured sixth-year coach Jim Haslett of his worst season ever, topping the 7-9 mark he has in 2001.

On Wednesday, Brooks was benched and replaced by career backup Todd Bouman, who will start Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers (9-4) in Baton Rouge, La. Also, Haslett denied an NFL Network report that he will resign after the season and that he asked Benson to fire him.

While it was an overwhelming week, the biggest news was Brooks' benching. He had started 82 straight games and had thrown for at least 3,500 yards and 20 touchdowns in four consecutive seasons.

But this season, he has more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (13) for the first time since becoming the Saints' starter late in the 2000 season and has a career-worst 70.0 passer rating.

Brooks has been erratic and his decision-making has been questioned by media and fans for several years, although Haslett said the benching had more to do with the Saints' record than Brooks' performance.

"It's not an indictment of Aaron whatsoever," Haslett said after practice Wednesday. "It's an indictment on our record."

Bouman, an eight-year veteran who has made just three NFL starts (all in 2001 with the Minnesota Vikings), will open under center for the Saints when they go against the Panthers and the NFL's third-ranked defense on Sunday.

"I think the team will rally around Todd," Haslett said. "This was the time to see if Todd could handle the situation."

Brooks said he didn't argue when told of Haslett's decision.

"I just took it like a man," said Brooks, who likely will be released by the Saints this offseason because he's due base salaries of $6.25 million in 2006 and $7.5 million in 2007. "I accept it. Ain't nothing I can do about it anyway.

"If I don't take another snap for the New Orleans Saints, I've done some tremendous things for this organization."

Meanwhile, Haslett said he hasn't discussed whether he will return as coach of the Saints next season. But he said he would like to know his contract status before the end of this season.

"I haven't talked to Mr. Benson about any of that at all," said Haslett, who has one year remaining on a contract that pays him $3 million annually. "I haven't talked about those possibilities yet. I would like to know something before the end of the season. But that's up to him."

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