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Saints not missing a beat

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 27, 2002

At the start of the season, much was made of the Saints' loss of talent. Four Pro Bowl players and starting receiver Willie Jackson moved on, leaving questions about how they would be replaced.

It's safe to say the Saints aren't missing those guys. Not when they are 6-1 and on course for a chance at homefield advantage during the playoffs. And not when the offense has 32 plays that gained 20 yards or more this season. That's nine more than it had at this time last season.

The Saints have defeated five teams that reached the playoffs last season, and there's reason to believe they'll finish strong. Their remaining nine opponents are a combined 24-34 (.413).

Coach Jim Haslett acknowledged the offseason personnel losses were significant. The key, he said, has been that the replacements, such as running back Deuce McAllister and rookie receiver Donte Stallworth, are a better fit, even if they aren't necessarily better players.

"We have good football players," Haslett said. "Deuce gives us another dimension. (Quarterback) Aaron (Brooks) has another year under his belt. (Receiver) Joe Horn has been a weapon since he has been here. (Brooks) has more players around him, so that opens up more avenues for him."

* * *

STATE YOUR CASE: The debate about the overtime format is sure to grow with these numbers. Since 1999, the team that wins the coin toss has won 37 of 55 overtime games.

That's more fuel for critics who say a flip of the coin is factoring too heavily into the outcome of games, leaving the team that may never get the ball at a distinct disadvantage.

FIRST DOWN, SECOND DOWN, OOPS: If the Niners get upset by the Cardinals today, check to see how many third-down conversions San Francisco allowed. In the Niners' past two games, they have allowed opponents to convert 20 of 29 third downs. Last week in a loss to the Saints, the Niners allowed New Orleans to convert 10 of 14 third downs. Three of the four times the Saints failed, they kicked field goals.

The Saints, by the way, never punted.

"Terrible, terrible," 49ers outside linebacker Julian Peterson said. "We've got to do a lot better job. We've kind of been struggling all year."

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It's not just (middle linebacker) Brian (Urlacher). This is not Gladys Knight and the Pips, you know. This is everybody. We've got to be like the Temptations; everybody is accountable. It's not like we have a star and everybody else is just backup players and they go "doo-wop, doo-wop.' ' -- Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache on the unit's inability to stop the run.

QUOTE OF THE DAY II: "No, I don't feel nervous ... not right now. I don't know, I may get butterflies (today)." -- Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, when asked last week about his emotions as he sits 93 yards away from breaking Walter Payton's NFL record for career rushing yards.

WELCOME BACK: Cardinals receiver David Boston, who had a huge season in 2001, has been slowed this season by injuries, namely a sore right foot.

Boston had his first full week of practice last week and said it was no coincidence that it led to his first 100-yard receiving day. Boston had six catches for 110 yards. By comparison, he had caught eight passes in his three previous games.

"I am getting back into the groove," Boston said.

IS DOUG WILLIAMS AVAILABLE?: Washington coach Steve Spurrier, who is going back to quarterback Shane Matthews today, sounds as frustrated as fans over the team's quarterback situation, which has seen three changes in four games.

Asked about his repeated fiddling with the quarterback position, Spurrier shot back: "I'm not fiddling. You give me an All-Pro quarterback and I won't have to fiddle around."

TELLING IT LIKE IT IS: First, current players dumped on the Bengals organization. Now former players are getting into the act.

"The franchise is like a flesh-eating virus," former tight end Bob Trumpy said, who played in Cincinnati from 1968-77. "Good players go there and get bad. Bad players go there and get horrible."

DID YOU KNOW?: The Ravens have 19 first-year players. Since the NFL went to 53-man rosters in 1993, no team has had more.

TALKING ABOUT VICK: Haslett, like most in the league, has a healthy respect for Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who today plays against Brooks, his cousin, for the first time as a pro.

Said Haslett: "I don't know if you can shadow this guy. It's like putting a rabbit in a room and trying to catch him. I don't know if you can."

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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