CLUELESS IN SEATTLE
Jeff Duncan is the papers reigning optimist, if he complains you know it's bad.
CLUELESS IN SEATTLE
Saints' mistakes enable the Seahawks to reel off 24 points in the second quarter
Monday September 08, 2003
By Jeff Duncan
SEATTLE -- The Saints were right. They weren't as bad as they looked in the preseason.
They were worse.
The porous defense and mistake-prone offense the Saints insisted was just a product of their exhibition indifference didn't magically disappear in the regular season, after all.
They were both on full display -- along with a flurry of penalties, dropped passes, turnovers and missed tackles -- during an ugly 27-10 loss to Seattle in the regular season opener Sunday at Seahawks Stadium.
Officially, the Saints lost three fumbles, threw one interception and committed 11 penalties for 114 yards. Unofficially, they dropped a half-dozen passes and missed at least that many tackles on defense.
The self-destruction resulted in the Saints' worst loss since the ugly end of the 2001 season.
"Turnovers. Penalties. Dropped balls. That sums it up," said Deuce McAllister, one of the few bright spots with 99 rushing yards and 35 receiving yards. "You can't turn it over on your end of the field, and you can't have penalties in the red zone. You can't win Pop Warner like that."
And you certainly can't beat an inspired Seahawks team that played as if it had picked up right where it left off from a 4-1 finish last season.
Seattle (1-0) took advantage of the Saints' ineptitude to score 24 consecutive points during a 15-minute stretch of the second and third quarters and send a opening-day crowd of 53,250 home happy.
"Good way to start the season," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said.
On a cloudy, overcast day, the Saints played as if they were in a fog from the first quarter.
The offense committed a penalty or a turnover on nine of their first 10 drives. The only drive that wasn't marred by a mistake was a two-play, 17-second series just before halftime that ended with a harmless Hail Mary attempt.
"I hate to say it in a manner of, 'I kind of saw it coming,' but I don't think we practiced as well as we should have during the course of the week," said Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks, who passed for 274 yards but also lost two fumbles and threw an interception. "This was very uncharacteristic of this offense. We're a much better team than this offensively."
The Saints led 3-0 early, but a pair of untimely penalties kept the margin from being greater. A false start called against Kendyl Jacox spoiled a fourth-and-inches try at Seattle's 11-yard line and forced the Saints to settle for a dispiriting 33-yard field goal by John Carney in the first quarter.
Another promising drive in Seahawks territory at the start the second quarter was squandered by a false start penalty on Joe Horn followed by a sack that took the Saints out of field-goal range.
"That killed us," Brooks said. "We kept putting ourselves in bad situations."
The game turned, fittingly, on a broken play.
The Saints' defense held Seattle to one first down in its first three series and appeared to have the Seahawks offense off-balance. But then a series of missed tackles kick-started the Seahawks from their lethargy and sparked a furious three-touchdown blitz to end the half.
The first missed tackle proved to be the most costly. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, on a play designed to go to tight end Itula Mili in the right flat, passed instead to Darrell Jackson, who had slipped behind Dale Carter in the right flat. Jackson took the reception, broke a tackle attempt by strong safety Jay Bellamy and raced down the right sideline for a 29-yard gain, igniting the crowd.
"New Orleans played it perfect," Hasselbeck said. "If I had thrown the ball (to the primary receiver) it would have been a big hit and a big play for them. I think that was really the play on that drive that got us going."
After a 26-yard pass interference penalty against Dale Carter on the next play, the Seahawks were threatening the in Saints' red zone. Six plays later, Shaun Alexander scored on a 1-yard run for a 7-3 Seahawks lead, and the game had turned.
The momentum continued on the Saints' ensuing series when Antonio Cochran recovered a fumble by Michael Lewis on an end-around play and returned the ball to the Saints' 38. That set up a quick-strike 35-yard touchdown pass from Hasselbeck to Koren Robinson, who busted through safety Tebucky Jones and cornerback Ashley Ambrose at the 10 and scored easily.
The Seahawks scored again just before halftime on a 10-yard swing pass from Hasselbeck to Alexander. The 77-yard scoring drive began on a missed open-field tackle by Jones on Mack Strong's 20-yard run.
"Everything just broke down for us in the second quarter," Ambrose said. We didn't make those tackles, and they got a little confidence. Sometimes when a team gets confidence like that its tough. They probably gained 50 yards, or maybe even more, because of those missed tackles."
It didn't get any better for the Saints in the second half. Their first two drives ended with turnovers: an interception that deflected off the hands of DontÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â© Stallworth and a fumble after a botched shotgun snap to Brooks.
"I've got to play better," said Stallworth, who estimated he dropped five passes in addition to his eight receptions for 101 yards. "We know what kind of team we've got. I don't think that was us out there at all today."
No one enjoyed the day more than Seattle defensive tackle Norman Hand. Hand, who was traded from the Saints to the Seahawks in April for a sixth-round draft pick, brandished a triumphant smile as he left the field among well wishes from his former teammates and coaches.
"It's real sweet to beat your old team the way we did," Hand said. "There was yapping before the game, and I told them, 'We'll see at the end of the game.' I doubt they are going out tonight."
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Jeff Duncan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 826-3405.
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