NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints remain the only team in the NFL that's winless in playoff games, and yesterday in their covered back yard, they were done in by one of their own.
The Atlanta Falcons beat the Saints, 27-20, in an NFC wild-card game when wide receiver Michael Haynes, a track man who played the trumpet rather than football for Joseph Clark High School in New Orleans, caught a 61-yard touchdown pass with 2:41 remaining in the Louisiana Superdome before 68,794.
"I was a Saints fan as far back as I can remember," Haynes said after carrying the Falcons (11-6) into a second-round playoff game with the Washington Redskins on Saturday. "When I was a Saints' fan, they weren't doing very well and they were never in the playoffs."
The Redskins will never admit it, but it's clear they like the prospect of playing the Falcons. Had the Saints won, Washington would have faced the winner of today's game between the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears.
Washington beat the Falcons, 56-17, during the regular season, and even though cornerback Deion Sanders and quarterback Chris Miller were injured in that game, the Falcons' style of defense is easy for the Redskins to exploit.
The Falcons like to blitz and leave their cornerbacks one-on-one against the receivers. Since the Redskins' offensive line was able to pick up the blitz during the regular-season game, Mark Rypien was able to beat the Falcons for six touchdown passes.
Immediately after the Falcons game ended, Redskins coaches gathered at Redskin Park to work on their game plan. The players, who worked out Friday and yesterday, won't practice until Tuesday.
Jim Hanifan, the offensive line coach, said he expected the Falcons to use the same blitzing strategy.
"Atlanta is still saying, 'Hey, if you're going to beat us, you're going to have to throw the football,' " Hanifan said.
It's not the Redskins' style, though, to say they have an advantage. Coach Joe Gibbs prefers to build up the team's opponents.
Earlier in the week, cornerback Darrell Green set the tone for the Redskins by saying they didn't have a preference to meet the Falcons.
"You're not going to say, 'Well, I know we're going to beat this team,' " he said. "That's not going to happen."
The Saints have advanced to the playoffs three times in the past four years, but all three times they have been left at the starting gate.
"This leaves a bitter taste in my mouth," said Saints running back Dalton Hilliard, who had given New Orleans a 20-17 lead at the start of the fourth quarter. "We had the opportunity to make this year very special."
Haynes, however, continued to bedevil the Saints. He had caught a 15-yard touchdown pass to send the Nov. 24 game in New Orleans into overtime, and then he had caught a 57-yarder to set up Norm Johnson's 50-yard winning field goal.
On this trip back home, he caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Miller in the third quarter to give Atlanta a 17-13 advantage, and then he came back to victimize his buddy, Saints cornerback Milton Mack.
"When I come down I hang out with him," Haynes said. "He had played off me and I 'hitched.' I came back to the ball and then just went around him."
Haynes, who has raced against Carl Lewis, left Mack behind to contemplate their friendship. "Haynes' touchdown was the fastest touchdown I've ever seen," Atlanta coach Jerry Glanville said.
As he closed on Haynes, Mack collided with teammate Sam Mills. Safety Vencie Glenn arrived a moment too late.
"I had him alone," Mack said. "I thought I could have tackled him, but [Mills] came over and knocked me off him."
tTC The Superdome went quiet, but the Saints had one more push. They took possession at their own 17 and advanced to the Falcons' 35-yard line with 1:10 to play.
New Orleans quarterback Bobby Hebert looked for his favorite receiver, Eric Martin, but instead found Atlanta's Tim McKyer. McKyer intercepted the pass, ran right and then flipped a pitch to teammate Deion Sanders, who ran for a while before throwing it to teammate Joe Fishback.
Fishback went the remaining distance for a touchdown, but after instant replay officials took a look, they ruled Sanders' lateral an illegal forward pass and took away the points.
"I don't care if it was forward or backward," Sanders said. "The whole world saw it. And it was beautiful."
Glanville, who has directed Atlanta to its first winning season since 1982, said, "We like to live on the edge, but they pushed it a little to the extreme there."
McKyer has stood tall in victories in San Francisco and Miami. When the 49ers and Dolphins tired of his act, Glanville came calling and it was a marriage waiting to happen.
"Don Shula wouldn't even let me put on a Walkman," McKyer said. "I mean have you ever been in a locker room where they play Hammer? If this was a corporation, we'd all get fired. It's great playing here, because I can be Tim. I don't have to worry about clashing with the head coach and his ego."
Hebert was well on his way to being the toast of Bourbon Street. But then he never saw McKyer. "I got fooled," he said. "It's just too bad we didn't do it, too bad we didn't win."
Instead, Atlanta and the Saint fan that got away did.
"Hey man," backup quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver yelled to Haynes, "thanks for the extra $10,000 [playoff money]."