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saint5221 01-01-2004 12:49 PM

Numbers add up to a mediocre season for Saints

Numbers add up to a mediocre season for Saints

Thursday January 01, 2004
By Brian Allee-Walsh
Staff writer

The only numbers that truly count are "8" and "8."

But one must go inside the Saints' final record to fully comprehend why they are home for the holidays, and Carolina, Dallas, Green Bay, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Seattle are pursuing the right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XXXVIII:

-- 20 lost fumbles, most in the NFL.

-- 32 sacks, 21st league-wide.

-- 27th in rushing defense.

-- 36 offensive touchdowns.

Let's begin with those numbers.

Quarterback Aaron Brooks fumbled 13 times, losing 10 (three in one game). He accounted for more lost fumbles than nine teams -- Tampa Bay (nine), Detroit (four), Dallas (eight), Chicago (nine), Kansas City (six), Cincinnati (seven), the New York Jets (six), Denver (six) and Houston (nine).

"You take away his fumbles, and everything else he did was outstanding," Saints coach Jim Haslett said Monday during his season-ending press conference.

"Twenty-four touchdown passes, only eight interceptions, almost 60 percent completion rate (59.1). He finished third in the NFC in passer rating (88.8). Obviously, (his performance) is going to be skewed by the fumbles."

In Haslett's first season in the Big Easy (2000), the Saints posted a franchise record 66 sacks. This season, they could only muster 32, two by their entire linebacking corps.

By comparison, former Saints linebackers Rickey Jackson and Pat Swilling twice had four sacks in one game during their careers.

Although the defense yielded 62 fewer points than a year ago, opponents averaged 140.1 rushing yards per game, 22.2 yards above the league average.

Only Kansas City, the New York Jets, Oakland, Atlanta and Houston allowed more per game.

The offense scored 36 touchdowns this season, down seven from a year ago.

Running back Deuce McAllister scored eight fewer touchdowns than in 2002 (16).

Oft-injured wide receiver Donté Stallworth scored eight touchdowns in 2002, only three this season.

"When you hold teams to 20 points in this league, you have a chance to win games," Haslett said. "We did it 11 times. We were No. 11 in the league in total offense, No. 3 in third-down efficiency, tied for seventh in the red zone. Our problem is we didn't score the amount of points we scored last year.

"We're a big-play offense. We can run the ball and do some good things, but we need to have Donté, Jerome Pathon and Joe Horn on the field."

In the return game, specialist Michael Lewis was reduced to a mere mortal this season after shattering the NFL record for combined kickoff and punt return yardage in 2002.

He scored three touchdowns in '02, none this season. His longest return covered 53 yards.

Asked his biggest disappointment this season -- offense, defense or special teams -- Haslett said: "I'd probably say special teams, because I don't think you could duplicate what we did last year. The things that hurt us most were the missed extra point (against Jacksonville), the blocked field goal (against Philadelphia) and the blocked punt (against Tampa Bay)."

Add it all up, and the numbers don't lie.

Brian Allee-Walsh can be reached at or (504) 826-3805

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