Saints ain't up to playoff task, again

January 04, 1993|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints are still the Ain'ts. They are still the only one of 28 NFL teams that ain't won a playoff game.

Po' Ain'ts.

Four playoff appearances. Four first-round losses. Who Dat?

The Saints continued their playoff futility yesterday. They blew a 13-point lead they held midway through the third quarter. They tried to be liberal when they should have been conservative. New Orleans quarterback Bobby Hebert threw three second-half interceptions that led to two Philadelphia Eagles touchdowns and a field goal.

The Saints were blitzed for 26 fourth-quarter points and lost, 36-20, to the Eagles in an NFC wild-card playoff game before 68,893 at the Louisiana Superdome.

While the Saints (12-5) failed to shed their chokers tag, Philadelphia (12-5) did by advancing past its first playoff game after four straight opening-round losses.

"It's a tough situation for them," said Eagles cornerback Eric Allen, whose team meets the Dallas Cowboys Sunday. "You got a whole off-season to think about it. You don't want to watch any more football."

It could have been the last time a lot of the Saints played together. Nose tackle Jim Wilks is 34, and so is linebacker Rickey Jackson and offensive tackle Stan Brock. Tight end Hoby Brenner, defensive end Frank Warren and linebacker Sam Mills are 33.

"Time is ticking down on this team," said Mills. "I thought this was our year to get it done. I'm tired of watching the Super Bowl laying on the couch."

Certainly, it was a game the Saints should have won. Give the Eagles some credit. They turned up the pass rush a little bit in the second half, and receiver Fred Barnett was exceptional with four receptions for 102 yards and two touchdowns. So was running back Heath Sherman, especially in the second half. Sherman finished with 105 yards rushing on 21 carries.

But New Orleans easily could have put this game away by the end of the third period. The Saints were inside Philadelphia territory on five of their first six possessions.

They were beating Philadelphia with short passes over the middle, delays and trail routes in the flats. The Saints had 250 yards of total offense compared with 121 for the Eagles, and led 17-7 at the half, thanks to a 1-yard touchdown run by fullback Craig Heyward, a 7-yard touchdown pass from Hebert to wide receiver Quinn Early and a 35-yard field goal from Morten Andersen.

The Saints opened the third period strong, too. Hebert passed to running back Vaughn Dunbar on a short crossing pattern over the middle that Dunbar turned into a 35-yard gain to the Eagles' 34.

On third-and-one from the 25, Dunbar seemed to dive to get the first down, but the officials ruled he had been stopped for no gain. The Saints had to settle for a 42-yard field goal by Andersen that put the Saints ahead 20-7 with 6:28 remaining in the third period.

"I thought I had the first down and got a bad spot," said Dunbar. "It seemed kind of meaningless at the time, because we got the field goal. Now, in hindsight, it could have been that final nail in the Eagles' coffin."

New Orleans stopped the Eagles in four plays. But then Hebert, in one of the few times he has thrown long all year, overthrew Early by about 15 yards on a deep post pattern. It was picked off by Allen and returned to the Eagles' 38.

How badly was it overthrown?

"Jim McMahon walked up to me and said, 'Nice pattern,' " said Allen.

Hebert didn't want to talk about the interceptions.

"I'm not going to comment because a lot of people will play with what I'm saying," said Hebert. "There are things that I see which other people don't, and I won't comment until I see the film."

Allen's interception set up Roger Ruzek's 40-yard field goal that brought the Eagles within 20-10 with 1:01 left in the third period.

"We're down 10," Philadelphia head coach Rich Kotite said to his players. "What's the big deal?"

On the Saints' next possession, on third-and-one at their 24, Hebert threw behind Martin on a slant-in pattern. A strange call for conservative Saints coach Jim Mora.

"It was my audible," said Hebert. "They had eight men on the line of scrimmage. I thought it was open."

It was. Bad pass. Then it was time for Barnett. With 10:37 left in the game and facing a third-and-10 at the Saints' 35, Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham lofted a pass down the left sideline.

Barnett out-leaped Saints cornerback Reginald Jones, and safety Gene Atkins got there too late for support. Saints 20, Eagles 17.

"Just great timing," said Barnett. "He's not throwing to me. He's throwing to a point. He gave me a chance to catch it."

"I'm happy for Randall," said Joyner, who intercepted Hebert on the Saints' next possession, leading to another Philadelphia score and the Eagles' first lead of the game, 24-20.

"I get sick of hearing our quarterback can't win the big ones. I'm tired of hearing that the Philadelphia Eagles can't win the big ones. Maybe they'll can that nonsense now."

It got worse for the Saints. Hebert was sacked for a safety by defensive lineman Reggie White 1:12 later. Then, with 2:17 left in the game, Allen picked off another Hebert pass and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown.

"It was like dying by inches," said defensive end Frank Warren of the Saints.

"You look at our season and you say, 'Great job,' " said Mills. "You look at our postseason and you say, 'Disgusting second half.' I felt like this was the best team of our four playoff teams. To let it get away like this, that's just unbelievable."

"This loss doesn't hurt any more than the others," said Hebert. "They all hurt the same."

In the Saints locker room, no one cried, no one threw a chair. Another playoff game, another loss for the Ain'ts.

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