Missed extra-point attempt foils Saints' 'miracle' comeback
Monday December 22, 2003
By Jeff Duncan
JACKSONVILLE, FLA. -- As the incredible fire drill ensued, and the Saints weaved and lateraled their way down the field, everyone in ALLTELL Stadium rose to their feet, transfixed by the unbelievable scene unfolding before their eyes.
One person didn't see the wild, last-second 75-yard touchdown that miraculously brought the Saints within an extra point of overtime and perhaps the most unbelievable comeback in club history.
John Carney didn't see DontÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â¨ Stallworth start the four-player, three-lateral parade to the end zone. And he didn't see Jerome Pathon dive into the end zone to complete the score that will be replayed forever in NFL lore.
Lost between the pandemonium on the Saints' sideline and the disbelief in the partisan Jaguars crowd of 49,207, the Saints' kicker quietly and methodically went about his duty, head down, intently kicking a ball into a practice net.
Seconds later, Carney's diligence turned to disaster. And comedy turned to tragedy for the Saints. Carney pushed the routine extra-point attempt wide right, turning what could have been a magical come-from-behind win into a stunning 20-19 defeat that eliminated the Saints (7-8) from playoff contention.
"Utter shock, that's a good way to put it," Carney said. "I can't believe it myself. As far as kickers are concerned, that's as bad as it gets."
The miss was Carney's first of an extra-point attempt in more than four years. It was the first time he'd missed an extra-point attempt without it being blocked in more than a decade. His only two misses since 1993 resulted from blocks -- one in 1995 and another in 1999, both as a member of the San Diego Chargers.
"Everything was fine," Carney said. "I just came out of the kick early and pushed it. There's no excuse for it."
After the ball soared to the right, Carney squatted while raising his hands to his helmet, then turned to stare in disbelief at the field where Mitch Berger had held the mark.
"It's just unfortunate. John is just an unbelievably class guy and an unbelievably good kicker," Berger said. "He's going to make that one 99 times out of a hundred. Unfortunately, that was the one out of a hundred."
Berger's math was almost exact. Before the miss, Carney had made 403 of 408 extra-point attempts in his 14-year career, a success rate of 98.8 percent.
"It's amazing," deep snapper Kevin Houser said. "If there was one guy out there who believed we were going to come back and score a touchdown, it was John. He's a true professional."
Saints coach Jim Haslett, after Carney kicked a winning 47-yard field goal to beat Tampa Bay earlier this season, declared that if he had to bet his life on a kicker to make a kick, it would be on Carney.
"Then I probably would be dead right now," Haslett said. "It's a shame. John is a good kicker, one of the all-time greats. I never would have guessed it."
Carney's teammates equally were stunned.
As euphoric Jaguars players streamed around them in celebration, tackle Wayne Gandy and fellow linemates Jon Stinchcomb, Montrae Holland and Victor Riley stood in shock at the 10-yard line. Gandy didn't move for a full minute after the play.
Tight end Boo Williams ripped his helmet off and slammed it to the ground, waving off a radio interviewer. Fellow tight end Walter Rasby raced toward the stunned Saints sideline, mouthing under his breath to no one in particular, "Oh my God! Oh my God!"
"I have never, ever been apart of something like that," Rasby said in a stunned and sober Saints locker room. "Nothing in the NFL is a foregone conclusion, but c'mon, that's a foregone conclusion. Hell, if John was hurt we probably could have got somebody to line up and kick a straight high school-type extra point."
Incredibly, Carney's miss wasn't even the most improbable play of the day. On the game's final play from scrimmage, the Saints completed a 75-yard touchdown pass that Saints special teams ace Fred McAfee later called "the greatest play in NFL history."
Trailing 20-13 at their own 25, the Saints were down to their last gasp. Six seconds remained when Aaron Brooks lined up in the shotgun for a play called "All Go Special," featuring Deuce McAllister, Michael Lewis and Pathon aligned to the left and DontÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â¨ Stallworth alone on the right side.
Stallworth hauled in the Brooks' pass near midfield, broke a pair of tackles, then reversed field to the left where he lateraled to Lewis at the 33. Lewis ran toward the Saints' sideline, but was cut off by pursuit at the 26, where he pitched the ball to McAllister. He ran five yards before being swarmed by defenders. As he was being tackled, McAllister tossed a spiral to his right that hit Pathon in stride at the 21. Pathon got a key block from Brooks on Hugh Douglas and raced untouched into the end zone.
"We all knew the situation, 75 yards in seven seconds," said Brooks, who completed 22 of 38 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns. "There was nothing to talk about."
"That is something you practice on the sandlot," fullback Terrelle Smith said. "
Officials reviewed the play, but ruled that all three laterals were legal.
"It was very wild," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. "The only thing missing was the band. It was kind of like the Cal game (vs. Stanford in 1982)."
"Thank God for that kicker," said Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, whose season-high 194 rushing yards -- the second-highest total in Jaguars history -- were lost in last-minute theatrics.
The Jaguars (5-10), who dominated both lines of scrimmage and held a 243-61 advantage in rushing yards, won for the third time in four games and for the fourth consecutive time at home.
"We'll take this early Christmas gift," Del Rio said.
The Saints, meanwhile, took their lump of coal and went home. It will be the third consecutive postseason the Saints have stayed home.
"That is why you are in the business, to have an opportunity to make the playoffs," Haslett said. "A lot of hard work goes up to this point, and it's a shame. It's just something we have to deal with."
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