Saints keep winning, but lose Ricky

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 12, 2000

The Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Ricky Williams hit the 1,000-yard rushing mark, then broke his ankle Sunday in the New Orleans Saints’ 20-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers.

Williams, who needed 93 yards to hit the century mark, got there on a 1-yard rush with a little over six minutes to play. But he broke his left ankle on the run and will miss 6-8 weeks.

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No matter. The Saints (7-3) were fine without him, thanks to their stalwart defense.

”He is a good player, a good back, I mean he got 1,000 yards today,” Saints coach Jim Haslett said . ”But he is out and we will have to move on.”

Keith Mitchell returned a fumble 90 yards for a touchdown and the Saints forced five turnovers and had eight sacks. New Orleans, which has the third-best defense in the NFL, recovered three fumbles and intercepted Steve Beuerlein twice. The Saints held the Panthers (4-6) to 311 total yards, only 53 rushing.

The game was similar to their first meeting, when the Saints defense had eight sacks in a 24-6 victory.

Despite New Orleans’ dominance, it was still a close game until Mitchell’s third-quarter return.

The Saints were clinging to a 7-3 lead when Beuerlein, stuck in a quickly closing pocket, had the ball knocked out of his hand by Sammy Knight. Mitchell scooped it up at the 10 and plodded down the right sideline untouched for the score that put the Saints up 14-3.

It was the longest fumble return for a touchdown in New Orleans history.

Mitchell again came up big on the next series. Willie Whitehead sacked Beuerlein, who coughed up the ball and Mitchell recovered on the 35. The Saints turned it into a 17-3 lead on Doug Brien’s 40-yard field goal.

Carolina made it close with a 12-play scoring drive, capped by Beuerlein’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad that cut it to 17-10 with 8:44 to play. It was the Panthers’ first touchdown in more than seven quarters against the Saints.

Brien added a 42-yard field goal with 3:23 to play.

New Orleans dominated the first half, but miscues prevented the Saints from pulling away.