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JOESAM2002 10-01-2003 09:39 AM

High Hopes........

High hopes breed bigger heartbreak

Tuesday September 30, 2003

John DeShazier


The Saints don't have a bye week to heal their deep physical and mental wounds, so the best they can do is to forget as quickly as possible, and move on.

Except forgetting isn't always as easy as it's made out to be. Especially when the Sundays begin resembling one another, Groundhog Day-style, the only difference being that each ending is more brutal than the previous one.

But that's where the Saints are, hoping they can rid their minds of the most recent debacle, a 55-21 loss to Indianapolis in front of a national television audience and sold out Superdome.

"We're taught just to play the next play, forget what happened," said offensive tackle Spencer Folau. "Move on."

Let's hope the lesson is learned, because we've seen what can happen when these Saints remain in the same place or, worse, regress.

It has been as perplexing to watch an offense full of weapons sputter as it has been frustrating to witness the lack of growth and improvement on defense. One unit is going to have to play close to perfect to cover for the sins of the other, then hope that the special teams troops don't blow it.

"You start losing, everything becomes a problem," guard LeCharles Bentley said.

Which means the Saints -- 1-3, lopsided losers to Seattle, Tennessee and Indianapolis and headed to Charlotte, N.C., to face the Panthers (3-0) Sunday -- have many, many problems and a dearth of visible solutions.

Forgetting all that has happened -- including a victory over Houston that looks more like fool's gold than the real thing -- and, hopefully, beginning anew is the only choice they have. It's the only reasonable option if anything is to be made of a season that is so far removed from what was expected that you barely can recognize the principals involved.

Besides running back Deuce McAllister, it's work naming a Saints player who consistently has played to an acceptable level. The good news is that a turn can be made. It's possible.

But outside the locker room and players' homes, who honestly can say they believe that's on the horizon? Even inside the locker room, few have taken part in such a turnaround. A handful of Saints remain from the team that began 1-3 in 2000 and rebounded to win the division and post the first playoff victory in franchise history. And the mood surrounding this team and that one, Coach Jim Haslett's first, is nowhere near similar.

Then, all was shiny and new, there were no expectations, every success was celebrated and every near miss was a moral victory.

Several years into the regime, exhibiting a more critical eye is natural. As each draft pick has been touted as a steal and each free agent signing has been trumpeted as a missing link, the logical leap has been to expect more. Which has made the first quarter of the season all the more disturbing to watch.

The battle cry is that it's not over and, mathematically, there's no argument. Twelve games remain, anything can happen.

"In Baltimore, the offense went five games without scoring a touchdown," said Folau, a member of the Ravens' 2000 team that won Super Bowl XXXV. "We went 2-3 in that span. That defense never pointed fingers once. We got closer from it. We went to Cincinnati and kind of broke open (on offense in a 27-7 victory)."

But here, there seems nothing more than a team breaking down.

"On offense, we have a lot more tools (than in Baltimore)," Folau said. "This is an explosive offense. It's kind of weird that we're not putting up points like last year. But this is not last year."

Last year's production would be best forgotten. And so, too, would the first four games of this year.

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