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saint5221 12-01-2003 08:37 AM

A win is fine, but higher level of play still elusive for N.

Sums it up pretty well.

A win is fine, but higher level of play still elusive for N.O.

Monday December 01, 2003
John DeShazier

LANDOVER, MD. -- They do just enough, these Saints, to win a game, to prevent the official labeling and placing of a headstone on their 2003 season, to continue being able to legitimately talk about the playoffs without being labeled delusional.

They're about where you'd expect them to be after Sunday's 24-20 victory over Washington.

New Orleans owns a 6-6 record, signifying that it's an average team in a bad conference, the ups evenly matching the downs stride for stride.

Can't write 'em off for the season. Can't write 'em on.

So there's no use taking a four-point win over a bad Redskins team at FedEx Field for more than the individual achievement it was. No use attempting to project it as the beginning of something more because, Lord knows, these Saints have operated as if Miss Cleo charts the course and Rain Man does the driving.

"It doesn't have to be beautiful," cornerback Ashley Ambrose said after contributing three tackles, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery to as ugly a victory as the Saints have had in a fairly unattractive season. "The 'W' is the most important thing.

"We knew if we could just hang in there, grind it out, we know what we're capable of doing."

What they have been incapable of, so far, is winning enough clumps of games to ascend from the role of the hunter to the hunted. What they haven't done is beat any team that currently has a better-than-.500 record, when one or two such victories would have them looking at the four games in December as opportunities to improve playoff positioning.

But at least they're alive, a status that undoubtedly would be preferable to the expiration dates that have been stamped on Atlanta, Detroit, San Diego and Washington.

"The situation we're in, three out of four (games) at home, we've got to lay it all on the line," safety Jay Bellamy said. "It's exciting to be playing for something in December."

The mood, obviously, would've been decidedly different if the Redskins hadn't folded in the fourth quarter for the third consecutive game.

The perfect opponent on the perfect day, Washington outgained the Saints 392-310, returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown and watched John Carney miss two field-goal attempts, then gagged and regurgitated the prosperity with three turnovers and eight penalties for 120 yards.

It's the kind of reciprocity that can't be counted on every week, especially from opponents who also have done just enough to keep playoff hopes mathematically alive and likely are to be a little less accommodating.

If any opponent ever catches up to Deuce McAllister, whose ninth consecutive 100-plus yard rushing day (165 on 30 carries, plus 31 on a team-high four receptions) continued to remove any doubt that he's the best all-around back in the league, the Saints are lost. Because nothing else about the offense has been as consistent or as reliable.

"He's a big, strong country boy," Ambrose said. "He's hard."

Alas, the Saints haven't been nearly often enough.

Up and down, up and down, not a shred of consistency when level play this year might have been worth eight wins already and a little peace of mind.

"We have to go and prepare for Tampa Bay (on Sunday) and focus on our goal we set before the season," cornerback Fred Thomas said.

That, of course, would be advancing to the playoffs. And so far, the Saints have done just enough to keep the flame burning. But sooner or later, they have to know that just enough won't be good enough.

A higher plateau must be reached, one that, so far, the Saints haven't shown they can locate.

. . . . . . .
John DeShazier can be reached at or (504) 826-3410.

WhoDat 12-01-2003 12:51 PM

A win is fine, but higher level of play still elusive for N.
This article says it all about as well as it can be said.

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