October 28, 2010

2001: Saints Come From 18 Points Behind to Beat Rams

The New Orleans Saints were coming off of a 10-6 year in 2000 under first-year Head Coach Jim Haslett and were 3-2 in ’01 as they faced the St. Louis Rams, the team they had beaten out for the NFC West title and then defeated in the Wild Card playoff (the first playoff win in franchise history), at the Dome at America’s Center on October 28, 2001. The Rams, under second-year Head Coach Mike Martz, were a perfect 6-0 thus far and seemed almost invincible.

St. Louis, with its outstanding passing offense, struck quickly on the second play from scrimmage. WR Az-Zahir Hakim took the handoff on a reverse and the former high school quarterback proceeded to fire a pass to WR Isaac Bruce for a 51-yard touchdown. The Saints then fumbled the ball away on their first possession, as TE Cam Cleeland was stripped by St. Louis LB Don Davis after catching a short pass from QB Aaron Brooks. CB Aeneas Williams recovered for the Rams and five plays later, following pass completions by QB Kurt Warner of 25 yards to WR Torry Holt and 13 yards to TE Ernie Conwell, Conwell ran for a two-yard touchdown. St. Louis was ahead by 14-0 and the game was barely four minutes old.

New Orleans got on the board thanks to a 33-yard John Carney field goal, and the score was 14-3 after one quarter. But the Rams scored again early in the second quarter. A pass interference call on Saints CB Kevin Mathis gave St. Louis a 38-yard gain to the New Orleans 36 yard line, and then Warner connected on passes of 13 yards to RB Trung Canidate (filling in for injured star RB Marshall Faulk) and 19 to Bruce to set up Canidate’s one-yard touchdown run.

The Saints drove 66 yards in 12 plays for another field goal by Carney, this time of 44 yards. But Jeff Wilkins responded with a 54-yard field goal late in the period that gave the Rams a halftime lead of 24-6 (Wilkins had missed an attempt earlier that broke a string of 30 consecutive successful field goal attempts).

Down by 18 points, New Orleans came back in stunning fashion in the third quarter. First, rookie RB Deuce McAllister returned the opening kickoff of the second half 46 yards to the St. Louis 48. Two plays later, Brooks connected with WR Joe Horn for a 46-yard touchdown.

On the ensuing St. Louis possession, Saints safety Sammy Knight roared into the backfield on a safety blitz, batted Warner’s pass and intercepted it. His 13-yard return ended up at the Rams’ 16 yard line. New Orleans lost yardage on the possession, however, and settled for a 44-yard field goal by Carney.

St. Louis CB Dre’ Bly fumbled the kickoff and it was recovered for the Saints by RB Fred McAfee at the Rams 16. Five plays later Brooks rolled out and tossed a six-yard pass to Horn for a touchdown. An attempted two-point conversion failed when RB Ricky Williams was stopped short of the end zone, but the Saints were now only two points behind at 24-22.

The Rams went three-and-out on their next possession and had to punt. It took just two plays for New Orleans to take the lead when Brooks went deep down the sideline to WR Willie Jackson and connected for a 49-yard touchdown. Once again, the attempted two-point conversion failed, but the Saints were now ahead by 28-24.

The Saints onslaught continued when DE Darren Howard intercepted a short Warner pass and returned it 37 yards to the St. Louis 23. The resulting possession lasted five plays and ended with Carney hitting on a 23-yard field goal. The third quarter ended with the Saints in the lead at 31-24, having put up 25 points in the course of the period.

St. Louis finally got on the board again in the fourth quarter following a 12-play, 87-yard drive that ended with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Warner to Holt. With the score now tied at 31-31 and the clock winding down to under five minutes, it seemed as though the Rams would yet pull the game out. But at the New Orleans 23, Canidate, who had caught a screen pass, fumbled and safety Chris Oldham recovered for the Saints and ran 43 yards before being pushed out of bounds at the St. Louis 36.

A 14-yard run by Ricky Williams got the ball to the 22, but it seemed that the Rams had dodged a bullet four plays later when they blocked Carney’s 30-yard field goal attempt. However, Bly was penalized for being offsides, giving New Orleans a first down. They ran three times to run the clock down and Carney’s fifth field goal of the day, from 27 yards, gave the Saints a 34-31 win.

St. Louis outgained the Saints, 474 yards to 320, and had 25 first downs to New Orleans’ 15. But they also turned the ball over eight times, including the four that fueled the New Orleans third quarter comeback.

Aaron Brooks (pictured at top) completed 20 of 31 passes for 254 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Joe Horn caught 8 passes for 121 yards and two of the TDs. Ricky Williams led the running game with 77 yards on 17 carries.

For the Rams, Kurt Warner went to the air 47 times with 29 completed for 385 yards; however, while he threw for one TD, he also surrendered four interceptions (two by Sammy Knight, pictured above left). Isaac Bruce was the most productive receiver, catching 7 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown, but while Trung Canidate caught 10 passes for 107 yards, he only gained 19 yards rushing on 12 carries in relief of Faulk, including the one short TD. Az-Zahir Hakim, who contributed a touchdown pass, was the team’s leading rusher with 20 yards on two runs.

“They're not robots, they can be beaten,” said Joe Horn afterward. “I think we proved that today and we look forward to meeting them again.” The result was very different when the clubs met for the rematch in New Orleans – the Rams won, 34-21. Indeed, St. Louis lost only once more the rest of the regular season in posting a 14-2 record and re-taking the NFC West. However, they were stunned by the underdog New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. New Orleans failed to generate any momentum from the come-from-behind win, going 3-7 and losing the last four games of the year. The Saints finished in third place in the division at 7-9.

Kurt Warner (pictured below) was the NFL’s leading passer (101.4 rating) and also led the league in completion percentage (68.7), passing yards (4830), touchdown passes (36), yards per attempt (8.8), yards per completion (12.9), and percentage of TD passes (6.6).

Aaron Brooks, in his first full season as the starting quarterback, ranked fourth in the NFL with a career-high 3832 yards and tossed 26 touchdown passes, although he was also among the league leaders with 22 interceptions.