By ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2001
MINNEAPOLIS -- In last week's victory against the Rams, the Saints managed to win despite gaining 50 yards on 32 carries. They knew going into Saturday's NFC divisional playoff game in Minnesota that a 1.6-yard average wasn't going to strike fear in the hearts of Vikings defensive players.
With that in mind, the Saints turned to running back Ricky Williams, the 1,000-yard rusher who was injured against the Bears seven weeks ago.
Williams, clearly gimpy on the ankle, gave it his all. He finished with 14 yards on six carries.
"I felt pretty good," Williams said. "It felt good to get out there. (The ankle) was a little sore but nothing I didn't expect. We never got in rhythm. We did make some plays, but not enough."
Following a game-time decision to play, Williams seemed to have the predictable rust on his wheels and produced one meaningful run, a 7-yard bolt off left tackle in the second quarter.
The Saints, however, can't point to his absence as an excuse. Backup Chad Morton filled in admirably for Williams and while he gained 25 yards on five carries, a decent 5.0 average, he was more effective coming out of the backfield as a receiver. He finished with 106 receiving yards and a team-high 13 receptions.
NO SENSE OF SHAME: They may have been blown out by the offensive force disguised as the Vikings, but the Saints likely will return to the Crescent City a proud bunch.
After all, this team was 3-13 last season, wasn't expected to make the playoffs and began the season 1-3.
"Obviously, we struggled a bit and at the beginning of the season we were not considered a very good football team coming off a 3-13 season," Saints coach Jim Haslett said. "There was a lot to be accomplished in a short time, and I thought for the most part we did a pretty good job. I was disappointed today, but I think we are building a good foundation for the future.
"I told them to keep their head up. They should be proud of what we accomplished. We're not done. This is our building block and we've got a way to go. We're disappointed about what happened, but we got beat by a better football team today."
SACK ATTACK?: The Saints finished the regular season with an NFL-best 66 sacks and defensive tackle La'Roi Glover led the league with 17. The Saints never sacked Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper.
"They did a great job of getting things off quick," said Saints defensive tackle Norman Hand. "They hit us with a quick touchdown and that kind of set the tone for the ballgame. The offensive line did a great job of blocking us and controlling the line. We just couldn't make any plays on them. Whatever Minnesota did, they did right and nothing seemed to go wrong for them."
SOME LOCAL FAVOR: As it turns out, someone from the bay area took part in the NFC divisional playoffs Saturday. Saints left defensive end Darren Howard is a product of Boca Ciega High. Howard, a rookie from Kansas State, had two tackles.
Former Bucs tight end John Davis, whose game-winning touchdown catch propelled the Bucs into last season's NFC Championship game, is back as a backup tight end for the Vikings.
A RARE SIGHT: Arguably the most dangerous receiver in the game, Randy Moss seldom drops the ball and always seems to come up with the big catch. He showed a touch of humanity.
With the Vikings leading 10-3 and facing a third and 7 from their own 33-yard line, Culpepper launched a 50-yard bomb down the left side intended for Moss.
Moss, who had beaten cornerback Fred Thomas, nudged shoulders with the defensive back before getting separation but then dropped the likely touchdown. Despite his pleas, no pass interference penalty was called.
BITS 'N' PIECES: Robert Smith's 2-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter was his first rushing score in the playoffs. ... Former Viking Jake Reed, a key figure in the offense until the Moss' arrival, looked like he was going to have a big day against his old team. He had two receptions for first downs and went into the half with two catches for 29 yards. He didn't catch another pass. ... Culpepper's 120.7 quarterback rating set a Vikings playoff record for a game. His 30-yard run was the longest playoff run by a Vikings quarterback.