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saint5221 09-16-2003 09:08 AM

After empty half, Saints show full potential

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After empty half, Saints show full potential

Tuesday September 16, 2003

Dave Lagarde

I had one question for Jim Haslett on Monday in the wake of Sunday's 1:45 p.m. wake-up call for his Saints.

What in the world took so long to wipe the sleep from the players' eyes?

"It's not like we were playing the Little Sisters of the Poor," Haslett said of the vanquished Houston Texans. "They're a good football team, a well-coached team with a good scheme on defense."

Fine. Houston is dandy.

But why weren't the Saints prepared to offer maximum effort last week in Seattle, when the aggressive and efficient Seahawks obviously were?

Why weren't they ready to perform like they meant it in the first half against the Texans?

Why did this team come ever so close to collectively pushing a city over the edge? Again!

And exactly what instrument did the head coach employ to roust his troops into drastically changing their level of play from awful to awesome, an improvement that left the Who Dats impressed rather than depressed?

A bell?

A buzzer?

A bugle?

A stun gun?

A cattle prod?

The excruciating horror flicks from the final three games of 2002 and the first three halves of 2003?

Actually, the coach said his team "responds to challenges."

In that case Haslett should keep a stern challenge handy, producing a creative one during his pre-game address to his team. This challenge strategy should be repeated Sunday when the Saints travel to Tennessee to meet a talented team that played as poorly in Indianapolis on Sunday as the Saints did in Seattle. For no other reason than the challenged Saints finally got in sync where previously they were in a serious stink.

"We were holding ourselves back," quarterback Aaron Brooks said in the most telling remark to come out of the Saints' post-game locker room.

Brooks' assessment was correct, considering the boatload of mistakes committed through the first six quarters of the season. Most Saints wounds were self-inflicted by penalties, drops, mental lapses and some of the worse tackling this side of a co-ed Powder Puff league.

But things can change quickly in the NFL. Obviously fortunes did for the Saints in the 12-minute halftime break Sunday. Just as they did in the six-day span between last Monday and Sunday for the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Bucs shamelessly spanked the Philadelphia Eagles 17-0 like so many petulant children before the wide eyes of a football nation Monday night. It took approximately a New York second for pundits to proclaim the Bucs would be the NFC representative in Super Bowl XXXVIII. All that was left to be determined in the next 18 weeks was Tampa Bay's Super opponent.

"Teams ought to be afraid, very afraid," defensive end Simeon Rice gloated afterward.

The Carolina Panthers didn't cower. And they did a little more than merely cover as 9 ½-point underdogs. They traveled to Tampa Bay, stunningly blocked two fieldgoal attempts and a crucial extra-point attempt -- with no time remaining in regulation -- and surprised the Bucs 12-9 in overtime in Sunday's biggest shocker.

Such is life in the ultra-competitive NFL. The point is, it's a long time between now and Feb. 1, the date the NFL champion will be determined in Houston.

"It's a long haul," Haslett said. "You have to take it day to day. Nobody plays the perfect game any more."

If truth is told, the Saints have played one almost flawless half. That's one out of four. Or looking at the glass optimistically it would be one-quarter full. That's not good enough to get where they want to go in 2003. But maintaining perfect focus for 30 minutes is a start.

The idea now is to challenge the Saints to keep it.

. . . . . . .

Dave Lagarde can be reached at or (504) 826-3811.

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