Costly mistakes too much for Brooks to overcome
Monday October 27, 2003
The drive that might have galvanized a team and saved the season swirled and trickled down the drain, gone as if it never happened.
What might have been a comeback on the shoulders of Aaron Brooks ended in angst. The Saints just could not capitalize on a spirited drive that led to a field goal to force overtime, Brooks and his offense unable to overcome two critical turnovers that had the game in overtime in the first place. One mistake led to a Carolina touchdown, while the other likely prevented one for the Saints.
Just like that, the Saints (3-5) fell back in the hole they'd clawed out of to a large degree. Just like that, Brooks went from directing a 10-play, 44-yard drive to tie the score and give the Saints momentum to another game where his numbers were nice (20-of-33 for 187 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception), but not quite good enough to win.
"We gave an overall effort," Brooks said. "I think the best way to look at it is, as a team, how did you play? As individuals, did you do enough to help the team win?"
On Sunday, the answer to that was clear: Panthers 23, Saints 20, in overtime.
Take away the two mistakes -- Brooks' first-quarter fumble and his third-quarter interception -- and it would've been another clean showing by the young quarterback. This one would've been even more impressive than last week's near-perfection because the Panthers' defense isn't nearly as helpless as the Falcons' unit Brooks shredded.
Take away the errors, and perhaps today is different, the Saints reflecting on a needed victory and a winning streak extended to three games.
But the errors can't be erased.
They nearly were, partly due to Brooks' resolve and his ability to maintain composure and lead a team that expects him to make the kinds of plays he made on the drive that tied the score at 20 at the end of regulation.
He was 5-of-7 for 41 yards on the march that led to John Carney's 42-yard field goal with 41 seconds left, and no throw more was important than a 16-yard bullet to Jerome Pathon on fourth-and-10 on the Saints' 31-yard line with 2:35 left.
"They dropped (into coverage) and left the middle of the field wide open," Brooks said.
"I thought we did a great job getting down the field and taking it to overtime."
But the job wasn't finished.
And finishing off the job -- winning a clutch game, rallying from a 10-0 deficit, taking a momentum-swinging field goal and converting it into a victory -- is what separates bad teams from good teams, and good quarterbacks from great ones.
Truth is, neither mistake cost the Saints the game. Their failure to convert on fourth-and-1 in overtime was just as big. Allowing Stephen Davis, seemingly the Panthers' sole offensive threat, to bust through for 178 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries, was even bigger.
But Brooks' fumble did lead to a Carolina touchdown. And the interception -- linebacker Will Witherspoon snatched a line-drive pass intended for Boo Williams, who was behind him, at Carolina's 7 -- erased an almost-certain field goal and a possible touchdown.
"That's probably the only throw I'd like to have back," Brooks said. "The linebacker was running with his back to me. I wish I had put a little more air under the ball."
The pass, just like the season, could've used some extra oomph.
"I don't think (the loss) was a devastating blow," Brooks said. "I think it's a small blow, a shot to the ribs."
Those shots to the ribs are starting to add up.
It\'s really hard to imagine a turn-around here fellas. I mean, when you look at it, the Saints have played two types of teams so far this year. Really good ones, and really bad ones. We\'re 0-for against the good ones and 3-0 against the bad ones. I guess the difference between 6-10 and 10-6 will lie primarily in what we do against the mediocre teams. With Dallas being the only team with an exceptionally good record left on our schedule, and Jacksonville and the Falcons being the two bad ones, everything depends on what we can do against the middle-of-the-road teams - Tampa, Philly, Washington, and New York.
I just can\'t see it happening guys. If we beat Tampa this Sunday it will be a fluke - they\'re a better team then we are. I\'m sure that will give plenty of people on this board hope, and an Atlanta win could have us one game out of the Bye week at .500. Everyone will be all psyched up, running through the playoff scenarios, trying to figure it all out. But this is the Saints. The same team that two years ago was 7-5 and playing Tampa, their main competition for the wild card - we lost by 40. The same team that a year ago lost three games to three last place teams to miss the playoffs. We will lose enough of those games to not make the playoffs. We will. We\'ll end up 8-8, have the 17th pick in the draft and Haslett will stay on... and next year, you can bet your a$$ we\'ll be between 7-9 and 9-7. Man, when are things ever going to change around here?
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