Saints stumble to another defeat

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 8, 2003

New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks fumbles after being hit by Tampa Bay linebacker Ryan Nece during the second quarter of the Saints’ 14-7 loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday.(Jenny Sevcik The Vicksburg Post)

[12/8/03]NEW ORLEANS Sunday was turn back the clock day at the Superdome.

The New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent the better part of four quarters dropping passes, blowing assignments, missing field goals, fumbling the football, and looking more like their dreadful 1970s-era incarnations than a playoff contender and a defending Super Bowl champion.

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The only things missing were the Bucs’ creamsicle-orange throwback uniforms and paper-bag clad Saints fans although, judging by the boos cascaading from the rafters throughout the second half, the latter may return soon.

Tampa Bay sacked Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks seven times, forced three fumbles, and scored two touchdowns in a one-minute span late in the first half both off of New Orleans miscues to beat the Saints 14-7.

“The defense did an outstanding job against their offense,” said Saints wide receiver Joe Horn, a former Itawamba Community College standout. “They gave us ample opportunities to make plays, and we didn’t make plays when we were called upon to make plays.”

It was the first win for Tampa Bay (6-7) against New Orleans in four tries, and probably knocked the Saints (6-7) out of playoff contention.

It was also the first time in the last nine games that Saints running back Deuce McAlister had been held under 100 yards rushing. McAlister, a former Ole Miss star, was held to 69 yards on 22 carries.

“We just set out to stop Deuce today because the one constant in our three losses to them is that he’s been a bull,” said Tampa Bay defensive lineman Warren Sapp, who didn’t have a tackle but did catch a touchdown pass. “So we just achieved what we set out to do, and that was to shut him down and we did it.

“We know he was trying to make history and all that, but we just said not to us.”

The Saints dominated the first half, but had only seven points to show for it. Brooks, who completed nine of his first 10 passes, hit tight end Boo Williams for a 31-yard touchdown pass with 1:39 to play in the first quarter.

The Saints were driving toward another score late in the second quarter when the roof caved in.

On the first play after the 2-minute warning, Horn beat his man deep down the right side. Brooks hit him perfectly in stride as Horn crossed the goal line, but the ball clanged off of Horn’s hands to the Superdome turf.

“You can catch a hundred balls, but the one you drop could have probably put a dagger in their heart mentally. That’s how I feel, personally. That could have really changed the game. I should have made it 14-0, and I didn’t,” said Horn, who finished with nine catches for 118 yards.

On the next play, Brooks dropped back to throw again and the ball slipped out of his hand as he started his throwing motion. Tampa Bay defensive back Jermaine Phillips scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the New Orleans 37-yard line.

Thomas Jones ran for 9 yards on the following play, and a 15-yard facemask penalty moved the ball to the 14-yard line. From there, Brad Johnson found Ken Dilger open at the 5, and Dilger ran into the end zone for the tying score.

Michael Lewis returned the ensuing kickoff to the 44-yard line, but the Saints were unable to move the ball. They lined up to punt with 25 seconds to play in the half, and Tampa’s David Gibson blocked the kick.

Ronde Barber gathered it in near the sideline and returned it to the 1-yard line, setting up a touchdown pass from Johnson to Sapp who was in on offense as a tight end on the next play.

“In a minute-forty we had a dropped touchdown, two fumbles, a blocked punt, two penalties, and missed tackles for a touchdown,” Saints coach Jim Haslett said. “Twenty-eight minutes before that, we played good football.”

The errors continued for both teams in the second half, but the scoring didn’t.

Tampa Bay passed up a chance to kick a 50-yard field goal early in the third quarter and running back Michael Pittman was stuffed on a fourth-and-one run.

New Orleans kicker John Carney missed a 49-yard field goal later in the period that would have cut it to 14-10, and Tampa Bay’s Martin Gramatica missed two field goals in the second half. Gramtica’s second miss, which would have iced the game, was a 35-yarder that was blocked with just over two minutes to play.

“I don’t know what it is,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said of the Bucs’ kicking game. “When we look hard (at the film), I think there was some protection leakage. A free dark jersey was in position to make a play. All I can say is we expect him to … make those kicks.”

Gruden had nothing to worry about.

Saints linebacker Orlando Ruff picked off Johnson’s pass after it was deflected, giving the Saints the ball at the Tampa Bay 34 with 10:02 to play. Brooks hit Horn with a pair of passes to move the ball to the 6, and the Saints were knocking on the door again.

On second down, however, Brooks was flushed from the pocket and stripped of the ball by Tampa’s Greg Spires. The Bucs’ Chartric Darby recovered at the 9-yard line.

“We shot ourselves in the foot. We had a lot of opportunities, but we couldn’t come through,” said Williams, who caught four passes for 59 yards and the one touchdown. “It’s real frustrating, when you have five turnovers and still lose 14-7.

“It’s real frustrating.”