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saint5221 11-04-2003 09:31 AM

Saints' bye comes at good time

Saints' bye comes at good time
Nakia Hogan / The Times
Posted on November 4, 2003

METAIRIE - Given the emotions of the past few weeks, the recent surge of inspired play and the assortment of lingering injuries, Saints coach Jim Haslett couldn't think of a better time to be facing a bye week.

With his team having just gone on the road and defeated the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17-14, Haslett figures a week to heal and gather his troops for a stretch run that'll decide if the team is playoff worthy or a mere disappointment will do plenty of good.

"I'm glad we're off. It's always good to go into the bye with a win,' Haslett said. "But with the situation with our team, the rest will help us.'

With the time off, the Saints can concentrate on recovering from a horde of injuries, including several that occurred Sunday.

At his Monday news conference, Haslett read off a list of banged up players that'll leave the team's training headquarters looking more like an infirmary than a football facility.

Among the injured: wide receiver Donte' Stallworth (quadriceps), defensive tackle Kenderick Allen (knee), guard LeCharles Bentley (knee), cornerback Dale Carter (quadriceps), running back James Fenderson (foot), offensive tackle Wayne Gandy (groin), defensive end Darren Howard (wrist), guard Kendyl Jacox (knee), offensive tackle Victor Riley (ankle) linebacker Darrin Smith (groin) and linebacker Sedrick Hodge (knee).

The injuries caused the Saints to have to use several reserves to defeat the Bucs for the third straight year. But Haslett said he is pleased with how his backups performed.

He is even happier with the 4-5 record his team now has after starting the season with losses in four of their first five games. Since then, though, the Saints have beaten Chicago, Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Their only loss in that span was an overtime setback to NFC South-leading Carolina.

"Our goal going into the bye was to try and be 5-4,' Haslett said. "We fell a game short. We wanted to win four in a row. When you start out 1-4, I know people were down on us. But our guys still believed we could win four games in a row. We won three of four. That's something to build off of.

"We are in a good situation. We are not in a perfect situation by any means. We would have liked to be 5-4 or 6-3 like everybody else. But we are still in the middle of this. The positive thing coming off the bye week is that we open with Atlanta, a team we played well against earlier.'

Haslett said over the course of the final seven games, it would be important for the Saints to continue to improve. He said the offense must become more efficient and the defense more opportunistic.

If that happens, the Saints can make a run at the postseason. They have games remaining against all four NFC East teams, along with rematches with Atlanta and Tampa and a contest at lowly Jacksonville.

"We play all the teams that stand in our way: Washington, Philadelphia, the Giants, Dallas and Tampa.' Haslett said. "We really hold our own fate in our hands. I think we can get better.

"I like the way we played physically (Sunday). We played with a lot of passion on the road after a tough loss to Carolina. That says a lot about your team. If we can build on those areas that I talked about, get some poise on defense, eliminate some things on offense, then hopefully we can put a string together.'

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