Bizarre and cruel ending.......
Bizarre, cruel ending befitting of 2003 Saints
Monday December 22, 2003
JACKSONVILLE, FLA. -- Actually, it all made sense, a wickedly bizarre fit into what has been a wickedly bizarre puzzle of a season. The execution of a miracle play raised hope, the botching of a routine one extinguished it.
That, in a nutshell, was the 2003 Saints, who officially were put down for the season Sunday at ALLTEL Stadium, though alternating games of sleepwalking and solid play already had pretty much assured that New Orleans (7-8) was done weeks ago.
The Saints needed a 42-yard completion and three laterals to go 75 yards for a touchdown to pull to within 20-19 as the final six seconds of the fourth quarter elapsed, then a little less time than that to watch John Carney go Chip Lohmiller on the point-after attempt.
Carney, one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history who hadn't missed an extra-point attempt since 1995, pushed the try wide right, bringing to mind the days of accuracy-challenged Lohmiller, whose kicks were as likely to plunk off the stadium seats as they were to nestle into the net behind the goal posts.
"Fate has a funny way of interfering with different things," said receiver Jerome Pathon, who, as the final leg on the relay, covered the last 21 yards on Deuce McAllister's lateral to give the Saints a feeling of euphoria that ended as abruptly as it began.
"My head is still hurting right now," Pathon said at least a half-hour after the game. "It's a surreal feeling. Right now, I'm just confused."
It's been that kind of season. Making heads or tails of it has been an exercise in futility. Each time you gave up on the Saints, they'd pull you back in until finally, the rope broke.
"It's a shame," Coach Jim Haslett said. "(Carney is) a good kicker, one of the all-time greats."
But Carney also is among the poster children for a season that bent the wrong way from the beginning and never was satisfactorily straightened.
That's something to be explored in the offseason, where the Saints will look to pick up the necessary parts to prevent more of the same in 2004.
Otherwise, there isn't much more to talk about as the Saints enter familiar territory, home and dateless for the playoffs while others get excited and gussied up for the extravaganza.
No need, really, to go too deep into the specifics of Sunday's regular-season finale (Sunday's game against Dallas means no more than a plug nickel). Because on the whole, the scene played out as it has all year in a saga that'd be sad if we hadn't grown immune to it.
The Saints, needing a win, couldn't get it. The Saints, needing a key defensive stop, couldn't get it. The Saints, needing a big offensive play, couldn't get it.
The Saints, needing a clue, couldn't get it.
Not when the Jaguars are allowed to run wild for 243 yards, 194 by Fred Taylor, and the Saints total 61. Not when they can't gain a single first down via rushing and can't turn a critical blocked field-goal attempt into anything.
Sure, it looked like the Saints were royally jobbed on a late call, pass interference in the end zone with 2:07 left that was flagged and then un-flagged after further review.
But to be in such a position of desperation, against a team whose season long has been over, whose rookie quarterback had had the game taken from his hands because he already had thrown two interceptions, takes some of the juice from any defense.
Good teams handle their business. Mediocre ones don't -- not often enough.
"That is why you are in this business, to have an opportunity to make the playoffs," Haslett said. "It's just something we have to deal with. We have one common goal, and that is to win the Super Bowl."
A goal that, again, prematurely has been pushed to next year.
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