Saints, Rams face off

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 16, 2001

The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS – The Rams are in familiar territory. This will be the third time this season St. Louis, with the best offense and one of the best records in the NFL, has played on Monday night.

The New Orleans Saints, still trying to shake off their image as league doormat, are making their first Monday night appearance since 1994.

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”I think it’s great for the city that you have a chance to show your team,” Saints coach Jim Haslett said. ”And you’re playing probably the best team in the National Football League on Monday night. Two teams that probably don’t like each other that much.”

It will also match two teams with a lot riding on a victory.

The Rams (10-2) will clinch their third consecutive playoff berth with a win or tie. St. Louis also needs a victory to keep them on track for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. A loss might allow Chicago, Green Bay and San Francisco to gain ground. The Saints (7-5) are currently have the sixth-best record in the NFC – one-half game ahead of Tampa Bay – and only six teams from each conference go to the playoffs. A loss would drop New Orleans back into a tie with Tampa Bay, and possibly leave Atlanta and Washington in the hunt for the final playoff spot.

New Orleans has beaten St. Louis three of their last four games, including in the playoffs last year and early this season when the Saints rallied from a 24-6 deficit for a 34-31 victory.

Competing in the same division started the rivalry, Saints defensive lineman Norman Hand said. It was fueled by the close games in the past two years – all of which were decided by seven or fewer points.

”It’s what both teams are after that is going to make this a great game,” Hand said. ”We see each other as being in the way.”