6-0 Saints shut down Eagles, 13-6 Mora's homecoming is defensive success

October 14, 1991|By Jack McCaffery | Jack McCaffery,Special to The Sun

PHILADELPHIA -- The locker room the New Orleans Saints used yesterday at Veterans Stadium is still painted bright red and school-bus yellow.

To Jim Mora, that was a reminder that, in some ways, he was back home.

Mora was coach of the Philadelphia (and later, Baltimore) Stars of the United States Football League, when the team colors were primary, and so was the commitment to winning.

Yesterday, six years later, Mora returned to Veterans Stadium as coach of the Saints. And as his team defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, 13-6, he proved again his ability to fashion a football winner.

In prevailing, the Saints improved to 6-0. By losing, the Eagles fell to 3-4, taking a three-game losing streak into an open date next week.

The Eagles, as they have since Jim McMahon followed Randall Cunningham to the sidelines, lacked a potent offense. Rookie Brad Goebel started and surrendered four interceptions in 22 passes. Pat Ryan relieved when Goebel incurred bruised ribs and demonstrated once more why he had been out of football for more than a year.

The Saints, too, needed two quarterbacks yesterday. Starter Bobby Hebert suffered a concussion late in the first half, but backup Steve Walsh completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Hilliard in the third quarter and the New Orleans defense had enough to win.

"We don't get six turnovers every week," said Mora, who used a 3-4, bend-don't-break defense. "In fact, we've intercepted more balls, with the ones we got today, than we did all of last year. But we've always been tough to run against; a couple of years ago we led the league in rushing defense. So, we've always been a team that's been solid defensively.

"We try not to give up big plays. We try to get take-aways and make people work for everything they can get."

The Eagles did not uncork a rush longer than 9 yards; they did not have a pass completion for more than 32. And, for the third consecutive week, the Eagles did not score an offensive touchdown.

"We've just got to work our way out of this when we get back to working on improving things in practice," said coach Rich Kotite, who turned 49 yesterday. "We're in a little hole at 3-4, but this team certainly doesn't raise the white flag. We've had a lot of things happen to us in these seven games. Historically, a lot of teams hit adversity and turn it down a notch, but not so with this outfit. They play harder and harder every week."

The Eagles commanded superior first-half field position that was good enough for a 6-3 halftime lead.

Rod Harris supplied a 40-yard punt return to place the Eagles at the New Orleans 41 with 3 minutes, 24 seconds left in the first quarter. Philadelphia used the rest of the period to creep to the 31, settling for a 48-yard field goal by Roger Ruzek.

Ruzek added a 41-yard field goal on the next Eagles possession, which included a 24-yard reception by Fred Barnett.

The Eagles defense was bottling the Saints, who needed a turnover to have their only real first-half scoring opportunity. Linebacker Pat Swilling sacked Goebel deep in Philadelphia territory, forcing a fumble. Rickey Jackson recovered, returning to the 4.

But Jerome Brown and Clyde Simmons sandwiched Hebert for a 13-yard loss on second down, giving him a concussion. Hebert was replaced by Walsh, who threw an incomplete third-down pass, and the Saints settled for Morten Andersen's 36-yard field goal.

Hebert was cleared to play in the second half. Mora, however, chose to continue with Walsh, for precautionary reasons.

As for the Eagles, they switched quarterbacks after their only two third-quarter possessions were snuffed by Saints interceptions.

Ryan was no better than Goebel. Goebel, a free-agent rookie who was making his second NFL start, completed 12 of 22 passes for 106 yards; Ryan was 6-for-12 for 74.

"Well, I've seen better situations," Ryan said. "I don't think anybody expected it to be the level of play that they would have seen with Randall in the game, or when Jim was playing. But regardless, we should be able to do better than we've been doing."

Hilliard's touchdown reception, with Seth Joyner trailing the play, gave the Saints a 10-6 lead with 7:28 left in the third.

A 32-yard pass from Ryan to Roy Green sent Philadelphia to the New Orleans 27 with just under five minutes to play. But Ryan responded to a tremendous rush with a fluttering pop-up that was intercepted by Gene Atkins, who returned it 59 yards to the Philadelphia 11.

And though the Eagles defense stayed stingy, Andersen's 26-yard field goal gave the Saints a seven-point lead with 2:39 left.

On this day, like many others Jim Mora could remember in South Philadelphia, that was enough for his defense.

"It's always nice to come back here," said Mora, who has a 2-1 record against the Eagles. "We spent a lot of time in this locker room. I've always thought this was a special stadium and a special city."

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