‘New’ New Orleans Saints likely playoff bound after Atlanta win

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 18, 2000

NEW ORLEANS – The defense was dominating, the special teams were terrible and the offense played well enough to win. Sound familiar?

The Saints’ 23-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday was a typical game for the New Orleans Saints this year. What isn’t so typical is the Saints’ 10-5 record, a mark good enough to bring the team as close to postseason play as it has been since 1992, the last time New Orleans made the playoffs.

&uot;These are a bunch of guys that go to work every week,&uot; said All-Pro defensive tackle La’Roi Glover, one of the few longtime Saints on the roster. &uot;We fought our butts off. We deserve this.&uot;

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Glover and the rest of the Saints’ defense turned in one of the squad’s best performances of the season, allowing no offensive points and holding Atlanta to just 163 yards of total offense.

Atlanta quarterbacks Doug Johnson and Chris Chandler were sacked five times, twice by Pro-Bowl-bound defensive end Joe Johnson. The Saints’ defensive line, bolstered by the return of defensive tackle Norman Hand, helped hold Falcons running back Jamal Anderson to 53 yards on 18 attempts.

But the greatest impact was made by the New Orleans secondary, which forced three Atlanta turnovers, two inside the 20-yard-line and one interception returned for a touchdown.

The Saints held a precarious 3-0 lead early in the second quarter when safety Sammy Knight stepped in front of a Johnson pass intended for Terrance Mathis and streaked 31 yards untouched for the score.

Later, in the third quarter, the Falcons threatened to cut the Saints’ 20-17 lead after Anderson caught a short Chandler pass and rumbled 55 yards to the New Orleans’ 18.

On the next play, Chandler tried to float a pass to Mathis in the corner of the endzone, only to have cornerback Alex Molden make a leaping interception for a touchback.

&uot;It was the best play I’ve ever seen him make,&uot; said Saints coach Jim Haslett. &uot;He had the presence to knock it down and then make the catch.&uot;

On the next Falcons’ next possession, Atlanta managed to drive to the New Orleans 17 before cornerback Kevin Mathis stripped Anderson on a short outside dive. Linebacker Keith Mitchell recovered the fumble, effectively ending Atlanta’s hopes of a come-back.

&uot;This was probably the best week of practice we’ve had all season,&uot; Haslett said. &uot;From the start, I didn’t think this team had a chance against us.&uot;

Atlanta’s only points came on the opening kickoff of the second half when Derrick Vaughn returned Toby Gowin’s kick 88 yards for a touchdown.

New Orleans responded with its longest drive of the day, a nine-play, 75-yard trip that ended with a 2-yard Terry Allen touchdown run.

Saints kicker Doug Brien made three of three field goal attempts from 20, 46 and 47 yards.

Second-year Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks completed 24 of 35 pass attempts for 285 yards in his fourth NFL start.

His favorite target was Joe Horn whose seven catches for 116 yards upped his season total to 89 receptions, a Saints record.

&uot;Joe Horn is a guy that had never started in the NFL,&uot; Haslett said of the free agent acquisition brought in this season primarily as a deep threat. &uot;He was a gamble. I thought he’d break all the Saints’ records.&uot;

&uot;We’re not the New Orleans Saints,&uot; said Horn, who also broke a club record for yards (1,280) this season. &uot;We’re the new New Orleans Saints. We’re good and we deserve respect.

&uot;But that respect won’t come until we win a playoff game,&uot; a feat the Saints have never achieved.