NEW ORLEANS -- The struggling New Orleans Saints, who had completely forgotten how to win, overcame their frustration last night in a big way to beat the Los Angeles Raiders 27-0.
The victory clinched the sixth and final NFC playoff spot for the Saints (10-5), eliminating the San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles from the wild-card chase, making next Monday night's game between the Chicago Bears and 49ers of no interest to the 49ers.
The loss by the Raiders (9-6) also made the Denver Broncos champions of the AFC West. The Raiders were the only team that could have caught them.
The Raiders already had clinched a playoff spot and will play the Kansas City Chiefs next week to decide home field for an AFC wild-card game the following week between the Chiefs and Raiders.
"Someone tell me how to act after a win; it's been a while," Saints coach Jim Mora said. "Awesome display of character, great gut-check win. It's been a very tough four weeks. Things were bleak around here."
With Bobby Hebert back at quarterback, the Saints snapped a four-game losing streak and a collapse that followed a 7-0 start. They finish next week in Phoenix against the Cardinals while NFC West co-leader Atlanta finishes against the Cowboys in Dallas. The Falcons hold the tiebreaker, so the Saints will be rooting for the Cowboys.
Hebert set a career record of 320 yards passing on 28 completions in 39 attempts. He threw for no touchdowns, but controlled the ball for 40 minutes, 36 seconds as the Saints outgained the Raiders, 475 yards to 117.
"As soon as Bobby was announced as quarterback, you could see the attitude of the defense change," linebacker Rickey Jackson said.
Hebert was making his first start since Oct. 27 against the Bears, when he suffered a bruised rotator cuff and a re-sprain of his right shoulder. He was 7-1 as a starter; replacement Steve Walsh was 3-4.
"When I pull up to a gas station or convenience store, fans would ask me, 'Are you playing this week?' I told them I was, and then they said, 'Good, we'll win for sure.' But hey, I'm not a magician. I'm not a miracle worker or savior," Hebert said.
"Probably the most pressure I received was from my 9-year-old [daughter Ryan]. When she found out I was playing she said, 'Daddy, you better not lose this game because when I go to school I'll be embarrassed.' "
The Saints' defense, which had blown fourth-quarter leads in all five of the team's losses, entered the final period with a 10-0 cushion against mad bomber Jay Schroeder.
Instead of folding, the Saints got their last 17 points in the final 3:35 on a 42-yard field goal by Morten Andersen, a 2-yard touchdown run by Gil Fenerty and a 31-yard interception return by Brett Maxie off backup quarterback Vince Evans.
They had scored on a 37-yard field goal by Andersen in the first half and a 1-yard run by rejuvenated halfback Dalton Hilliard in the third quarter, but the 10-0 lead looked vulnerable until the final minutes.
Evans had to replace an injured Schroeder in the first half. Schroeder returned despite an ankle sprain, but Evans finished. The shutout was the first against the Raiders in five years.
Hilliard ran for 49 yards on 11 carries in his strongest performance since a knee injury more than a year ago. His return is a huge boost to New Orleans playoff hopes.
The Saints sacked Schroeder three times and Evans once after failing to apply pressure during their losing streak. Pressure against the Raiders was vital because the Saints were playing with cornerbacks Mark Lee and Milton Mack after sustaining four injuries at the position.
"We'll be something to be reckoned with in the playoffs," linebacker Pat Swilling said. "We're going for the NFC West title. We're fired up now."
Despite the domination, the Saints clung to only a 3-0 lead at halftime after one of the worst two-minute drills ever witnessed.
In a demonstration of the frustration of the last month, they wasted three timeouts after passes of 2, 1 and 2 yards. After a fumbled snap and a sack, they threw over the middle short of the end zone as time ran out, blowing a chance for a field goal.
The Raiders admitted they had played poorly.
"We already knew we're in the playoffs," cornerback Garry Lewis said. "I don't think any of us played as hard as we should. I know I didn't. This was a team we should have beat."
"No doubt we struggled offensively, and, personally, I had the worst game I've had in a long time," Raiders guard Max Montoya said. "You have to take your hat off to them, though. They have a great defense."