Davis, Panthers take season sweep of Saints

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

NEW ORLEANS &045; Watching Stephen Davis run downhill is like sitting in the stirrups of a Seabiscuit or a Secretariat &045; a thoroughbred with great heart who thrives on staring you in the eye, winking and kicking into another gear.

Every move, every step so effortless. At no time does one get the feel of panic, chaos or the need to be in a hurry when saddled aboard Davis.

Three weeks ago in Carolina’s 19-13 of New Orleans, the 6-0 230-pound stallion displayed those equine characteristics with 159 yards on 30 carries.

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If Oct. 3 was the Belmont, then Sunday was the Derby, as Davis was even better in a NFC South rematch in New Orleans. Thirty-one times he powered through Saint defenders with the grace of Baryshnikov, accumulating 178 yards and the team’s two touchdowns as Carolina ripped the Saints’ hearts out 23-20 in overtime.

&uot;We were going down the hill and hitting him in his mouth, but he kept coming and coming,&uot; New Orleans defensive end Charles Grant said. &uot;He’s a warrior.&uot;

Davis’ 34-yard charge, in which he trotted several yards before flashing his horsepower behind a wall of blockers, to the Saint 11 with less than 11 minutes left in overtime put Panther placekicker John Kasay in line to knock through the 31-yard game-winner.

&uot;We call that ‘power rapid,’&uot; a still fresh Davis said. &uot;Everything I did in overtime was what I do normally. It just shows you how much will and character we have on this team.&uot;

Throughout the afternoon Saint defenders appeared to have won the line of scrimmage, penetrating into the backfield for a shot at Davis, only to see the eight-year veteran from Auburn shrug them off as if they were harmless gnats.

&uot;We had one game this year that we got taken out of (giving the ball to Davis),&uot; Carolina head coach John Fox said. &uot;Today that was the game plan &045; give a heavy dose of Stephen. He started fast and finished fast.&uot;

Davis spoiled the party at a festive Louisiana Superdome where 68,370 saw the Saints score 17 unanswered points after falling behind 10-0 on a 24-yard field goal off the foot of Kasay and a 1-yard dive by the party pooper.

But when Davis added his second plunge from a yard out with 3:46 left in the fourth, New Orleans (3-5) needed kicker John Carney to connect on a 42-yarder, and he obliged to send the game into overtime.

&uot;I thought we did a great job of getting down there (for the field goal),&uot; said Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks, who finished 20 of 33 for 187 yards, an interception and a touchdown. &uot;This was a very emotional game. The chips just didn’t fall our way.&uot;

The Saints won the toss for overtime and were sitting pretty after kick returner Michael Lewis went 53 yards &045; his best effort all season &045; to the Carolina 46.

With the crowd chanting &uot;Deuce, Deuce,&uot; in reference to running back Deuce McAllister, New Orleans adhered to its fans’ command on two of its first three plays in the extra frame. However, when McAllister came up short on a delayed draw on third down, head coach Jim Haslett had some options with 4th and 1 at the Carolina 37.

&uot;We talked about kicking a field goal, which would have been around 55 yards, or running a naked (bootleg) with Aaron,&uot; Haslett said. &uot;We made the call to give it to Deuce.&uot;

In turn, McAllister went airborne, got popped by Carolina’s Julius Peppers and coughed up the rock, which Panther Kris Jenkins recovered at his 38.

&uot;I told Jim to give me the ball. That’s what you want. You want the ball in critical situations,&uot; said McAllister, who got loose for his fifth straight 100-yard game (26-101). &uot;The only time I remember hurting this bad was after my brother passed away.&uot;

The turnover, and subsequent field goal, spoiled a sparkling game for New Orleans wide receiver Joe Horn.

A black-and-yellow banner christened &uot;The Joe Horn Section&uot; is draped over the salmon-colored wall in the southeast corner of the Louisiana Superdome terrace.

They ought to replace it with one of those loud marquees that sits out in the hills in California.

The eight-year veteran, who has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three years as a Saint, rose to the occasion in the first half, catching two touchdown passes from Brooks for a 17-10 lead at the break.