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saint5221 12-23-2003 07:59 AM

It still hurts Hasslet haunted by loss
 
http://www.nola.com/saints/t-p/index...4363143660.xml


It still hurts
Tuesday December 23, 2003
By Jeff Duncan
Staff writer


One day later, pain of a flubbed extra-pointattempt remains haunting to Haslett and his team

The Improbable loss another in a season of disappointments.

The sun rose Monday morning. Jim Haslett's spirits didn't.

John Carney's extra-point attempt still sailed wide right, no matter how many times Haslett watched the game tape of Sunday's wild, improbable 20-19 loss to Jacksonville.

"It was terrible," Haslett said of a fitful, two-hour night of sleep. "You stay up all night thinking about it, thinking about things. It's part of the coaching profession. You come in early and look at the film. It (the outcome) still hasn't changed. It's still unbelievable."

It has been a season of manic Mondays for Haslett. He has spent too many early-morning video sessions scratching his head at the game-deciding blunders of the previous day.

A dropped potential touchdown pass by three-time Pro Bowl receiver Joe Horn against Tampa Bay. A fumbled wind-up by Aaron Brooks a play later. A failed fourth-and-one block by reliable Ernie Conwell in overtime against Carolina. A missed tackle. A blown call.

"Until our team realizes that every game is decided by one or two plays -- it's always the little things that get you over the hump -- we'll be right where we're at," Haslett said. "We've got to be on the winning end of those. If you look at the teams that are in the playoffs right now -- Carolina, for example -- they're finding ways to win games. Right now we're not doing that. We're finding ways to lose games."

The setback dropped the Saints to 7-8 and eliminated them from playoff contention. It's the third consecutive season the Saints have failed to earn a postseason berth. Only Arizona, Buffalo, Detroit, Jacksonville, San Diego and Washington have also missed the playoffs during that same stretch.

"It's always the little things that make you win in this league," Haslett said. "Talent throughout the league is very equal. The two Super Bowl teams from last year are not in the playoffs this year. It is a break here and there, an injury here and there, or an extra point or a dropped ball here or there."

The Saints appeared to catch that elusive break with their miraculous last-second touchdown that was being called The River City Relay in Jacksonville on Monday.

The Saints work on myriad end-of-game situations during practice each week, but there is no second-and-75, four-lateral relay play in the practice script, at least "not that version," Haslett said.

"You really don't draw those plays up," Haslett said. "We work on a hook-and-lateral, but usually you run those plays when you are 60 yards away. We tried to get the ball down the field first of all, then we started throwing it around. They were in a two-deep coverage, which helped. They gave us a little cushion to throw the ball."

Haslett said several other factors played a part in the historical play. Most important, each of the four players involved in the relay of laterals was a skill-position player. By more chance than anything, the ball traveled like a hot potato from Dontè Stallworth to Michael Lewis to Deuce McAllister to Jerome Pathon.

"What happens when you get in those situations and you start to lateral to people, invariably somebody laterals it to a lineman and usually the play ends," Haslett said. "Our linemen did a nice job of running down the field, picking up blocks and Aaron threw the key block for Jerome to score the touchdown. It was a great effort by everybody."

Several players made key blocks along the way, including Boo Williams, Pathon, Montrae Holland, Jerry Fontenot, Kendyl Jacox and finally Brooks, 60 yards from where he triggered the free-for-all with a 25-yard heave to Stallworth.

Each of the participants was savvy enough to trail the ball carrier throughout the relay. Lewis and Stallworth said they knew what to do because they were involved in similar plays at previous stops in their careers -- Lewis in the Arena Football League and Stallworth at Grant High School in Sacramento, Calif.

Shoddy tackling also helped. Three Jaguars -- Fernando Bryant, Deke Cooper and Akin Ayodele -- had their hands on Stallworth near midfield but failed to bring him down.

"If we make a tackle the game's over," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said Sunday. "And when they started lateraling and it was, 'Uh oh, hang on.' They have some speed out there, and they're aware of what's going on. . . . Once you get into that, anything can happen -- and did."

For the Saints, it's been a season of stomach-turning disappointments and what-if defeats. Carney's failed extra-point attempt, the first that he had failed to execute since 1999, was only the latest and cruelest twist

"The only thing I thought about was, God, what was the use for that?" said tight end Walter Rasby, who was blocking from the left end position on the extra-point play. "Are you playing with us? You are going to let us make that play, and then you're going to let us miss the extra point? Something as mundane as an extra point? That's cruel."

But also quite fitting in New Orleans' manic season.


Jeff Duncan can be reached at jduncan@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3405.





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