Back to the future: A glimpse at 2003
2002 record: 9-7
2002 finish: Third in NFC South
Preseason: Philadelphia, at N.Y. Giants, at San Francisco, Miami
Division games: Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay
Home: Dallas, N.Y. Giants, Houston, Indianapolis, Chicago
Away: Philadelphia, Washington, Jacksonville, Seattle
For the second consecutive year, New Orleans suffered a late-season collapse. All the Saints needed was one win in their final three games to make the playoffs, but it wasn't meant to be in 2002. But there were some bright spots. Quarterback Aaron Brooks was very effective under center, Deuce McAllister was among the league leaders in rushing, and rookie receiver Donte' Stallworth led the team in touchdown catches. Special teams was a success as well, with the league's second most accurate field-goal kicker in John Carney and return specialist Michael Lewis.
As far as improvement, the Saints will look to upgrade at linebacker and the defensive backfield. But overall, the team's main components should remain intact. Six of seven defeats last year were by a touchdown or less and were lost in the fourth quarter. To counter possible fatigue factors, New Orleans hired a new assistant strength-and-conditioning coach, Jerry Palmieri, who will assist Rock Gullickson in all facets of the program. If the Saints can maintain their composure at the end of games, they could be playing at home in the playoffs in 2003.
"Obviously it's disappointing, especially after the start. We started out 6-2 at the break. It raises expectations. It raises the level, especially with the fans and the media. I think that is the big thing. We raised expectations and we didn't live up to them. We were 2-2 in the third quarter and 1-3 in the last quarter. That is probably the most disappointing thing because we ended up 3-5 in the second half. It was a lot of good football early."
-- Head coach Jim Haslett, talking about his team's performance in 2002
"I would tell our fans that you got a good, young football team with a lot of skill people and I think you're going to see a lot of good things. I really do. I think you got a heck of a running back, the best running back in the NFC. I think you got a heck of a quarterback, skill people that you can go to. You've got speed. You've got a good offensive line. Charles Grant's going to be a heck of a player. Darren Howard's going to be a heck of a player, James Allen, Sedrick Hodge. You got a good group of young football players."
-- Haslett, explaining why there's reason for Saints fans to be optimistic
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