We’ll get ’em next year, Saints

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 6, 2001

Ouch. The Saints’ dream season is over, and the Vikings made sure we knew it with a definitive 34-16 beating Saturday.

The Vikings’ game plan was simple and obvious – let the best receivers in football beat a Saints secondary that has sustained more injuries than the Soviet western front in World War II.

Dennis Miller-esque historical comparisons aside, the outcome of the game shouldn’t be as surprising as the Saints’ success this season. Winning as many games as this team did after losing a starter in virtually every skill position is as great an accomplishment as winning that first playoff game.

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But something had to give. The Saints had fourth-string nickel back Fred Thomas covering Randy Moss and 5-foot-8 Kevin Mathis on Chris Carter. For the first time this season, the Saints back-ups looked like back-ups. It was bound to happen sooner or later.

We grew so used to the heroics of Aaron Brooks, Brian Milne and Willie Jackson that we forgot they rode the pine before injuries put them on the field. There’s usually a reason a team’s reserves don’t start in the first place. We were just blessed this year with reserves who played well enough to win the important games and earn New Orleans a playoff win.

But as any true fan would do, I’m already looking to next year. A few back-ups will certainly be starters, a few starters will be back from injury to reclaim their positions, the team will have incredible depth with everyone healthy and – for the first time in two years – the Saints will have an entire draft.

Look at what general manager Randy Mueller and coach Jim Haslett did with the few picks they had this year.

Darren Howard, a second-round defensive end, finished second in AP defensive rookie of the year voting.

Fullback Terrell Smith was the unsung hero of the Saints’ running game. He helped Ricky Williams to 1,000 yards, and after Ricky’s injury, the Saints’ running game trucked along until he went down with back problems. The Saints running backs did not rush for 100 yards in a game in which Smith did not start.

Chad Morton, thought by some too small for the NFL, provided a spark on offense and special teams. His statistics would have been a lot better this year if holding calls had not nullified several long runs.

And don’t forget Austin Wheatley. The rookie long-snapper never had his name called in a game. As any offensive lineman can tell you, that means he’s doing a perfect job.

I can’t wait to see what the front office is going to do with a few early-round picks.

What excites me most about next season, though, is the return of Haslett and his staff. I agree with the AP for once – Haslett is the best coach in the NFL.

Look at what he did in one year. I have to believe he has a long-term plan for the team. That plan undoubtedly includes a Super Bowl.

If he is as successful with that plan as he was in his rookie year of coaching, this front page will look a little different next year.

I’ll just save this &uot;Super Bowl bound&uot; headline until then.

Nick Adams is sports editor of The Democrat. He can be reached at 445-3632 or by

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