Holidays turn south for Saints

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 23, 2001

Holidays in South Florida leave a little to be desired for the New Orleans Saints …

With everything on the line in Sunday’s matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Saints brought plenty of gifts to the Christmas party at Raymond James Stadium.

And in turn, it was the hosts who went home happy, destroying the Saints, 48-21 in front of 65,526 rabid fans.

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Leave to the young Saints, to not fully realize the magnitude of this football game.

Leave it to a team supposedly known for tough defense to allow an offensively-ill squad to tie a team record for scoring in a contest. The Bucs’ did their best imitation of Ebeneezer Scrooge, as far as helping the playoff aspirations of Super Bowl 36’s host club.

It’s now officially over for Jim Haslett’s football team, who will have to settle for watching both the playoffs and the big gala in their own stadium, on TV. They are in a one-game ditch with two left to play.

And it simply won’t happen, as the inept play of the Saints gave a Tampa Bay squad desperately looking for some identity, a shot in the arm. They’ll continue to push forward and even if they falter a little, it won’t be enough to get New Orleans (7-7) in, based on Sunday’s head to head debacle.

The Saints would have to win their final two games in the Superdome, against 6-8 Washington, and 11-3 San Francisco 49ers, and have the now resurgent Buccaneers trip up at home against the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens (9-5) and the NFC-East leading Philadelphia Eagles (9-5).Don’t bet the farm on that happening, since those Pirates are 12-1 in the month of December at home.

It’s funny how desperation breeds performance.

Several Tampa area newspapers questioned whether Tampa coach Tony Dungy and his staff should be retained if the Saints would have been the victors.

Maybe some of that heat should be directed toward the Saints players.

Despite the final numbers, no one, save for safety Sammy Knight, came to play on this day.

And to add insult to Knight’s mental injury, his decent play was overshadowed by Bucs’ safety Rond\u00E9 Barber who hauled in a career-high three interceptions. Sure, quarterback Aaron Brooks’ 248 yards, pushed him to nearly the 3,600-yard mark for the season. But does that really mean anything?

The Saints had to throw for the entire second half to try and make up for a first quarter embarrassment that included only one first down and a measly 34 yards of total offense.

Once again, when they really needed him, running back Ricky Williams was a non-factor, rushing for only 26 yards and receiving just 15 more.

And where was Joe Horn in this one? Not even the return of &uot;the beer man&uot; Michael Lewis could put a spark in the horrible special teams play, whose breakdown in the game’s opening play set the tone for the beatdown.

&uot;I got lucky on some of those,&uot; Barber said of his three picks.

You know what they say about lucky … It’s better to be lucky than good and on this, the weekend before Christmas, the Saints were neither.

Ho, Ho, Ho.

Richard Dark is a sportswriter for The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at (601) 445-3633 or by e-mail at