this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Saints motivated for NFC South leaders Sunday October 26, 2003 By Jeff Duncan Staff writer Leading up to last week's game against Atlanta, Coach Jim Haslett kept hearing his Saints players talk about the Carolina Panthers. He was so worried ...
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|10-26-2003, 09:24 AM||#1|
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Saints motivated for NFC South leaders
Sunday October 26, 2003
By Jeff Duncan
Leading up to last week's game against Atlanta, Coach Jim Haslett kept hearing his Saints players talk about the Carolina Panthers.
He was so worried that his team might overlook the one-win Falcons that he spent the bulk of his pregame speech reminding players that the Carolina game was still a week away.Motivation isn't a problem today.
Carolina visits the Superdome for a noon showdown that will either separate the Panthers from the rest of the NFC South or tighten the race entering the second half of the season.
The Panthers (5-1) have led the NFC South since the opening week. They own a comfortable two-game advantage over Tampa Bay (3-3) and are 2ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â½ games ahead of New Orleans (3-4). They're just three weeks removed from a 19-13 victory over the Saints. The last time they visited the Superdome, they crushed the Saints' playoff hopes with a 10-6 upset in the 2002 season finale.
"The players are excited," Haslett said. "I'm excited. I think it's going to be a heck of a game."
"The whole team is fired up for this one," Saints returner Michael Lewis said.
After a 1-4 start, the Saints put themselves back in striking distance with consecutive wins against Chicago and Atlanta. Moreover, their heralded offense erupted in the 45-17 win against Atlanta after a season-long slumber.
"When you win, you always gain confidence as a football team," Haslett said. "Our guys have done a nice job of sticking together, hanging tight and fighting through the bad times. We are not out of the woods yet, (but) I think we can get out."
Veteran Darrin Smith sees similarities between the 2000 Saints, who won the NFC West title in Haslett's first season, and the current edition. Like 2000, the Saints started slow. Like 2000, they endured a dizzying spate of injuries.
"I see a lot of similarities to the 2000 season, when we started 1-3 and then we just got on a roll," Smith said. "That's what we're looking to do -- try to get some momentum going. We're excited about getting this thing going in the right direction."
Carolina lost its first game last week, 37-17, against Tennessee. Everything that had been going right for the Panthers went wrong against the Titans. The Panthers lost four fumbles. They fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter. Their special teams struggled. And star running back Stephen Davis, who rushed for a season-high 159 yards against the Saints, was held to a season-low 20 yards on 11 carries.
"I didn't have any wild imagination that we were going to be undefeated this season," Panthers coach John Fox said. "Sometimes I think a loss can refocus and recommit. I think (a loss) does do that from that standpoint. I am sure that it will have that effect on us."
Four of the five games between the teams the last three seasons have been decided by a touchdown or less. And the one that wasn't -- New Orleans' 34-24 win last season -- was misleading because the Saints scored two touchdowns in the final minute.
"Carolina is always one of those games that comes down to the last play," Smith said. "The last few years it has been a battle every time."
The Saints are expected to play without two key starters who were injured in last week's win against the Falcons. Wide receiver DontÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â© Stallworth and defensive tackle Grady Jackson did not practice this week. Stallworth has a strained left quadriceps. Jackson has a torn ligament in his left hand.
"This game is important because we lost to them early and we need to get it back," Haslett said. "It would put us back in the middle of the hunt and bring them closer to the pack."
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