CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Ricky Williams never imagined he would get the ball with a second left in the game and a yard needed to win. After all, he never gets the call when New Orleans practices similar situations. But the Saints gambled on Sunday, and Williams delivered, outrunning Carolina's defense on the final play of the game to give New Orleans a 27-25 victory over the Panthers.
"I didn't expect to be in that situation at all,'' Williams said. "Usually, when we're in our two-minute drill, the running back never gets the ball and I never get that chance. So I was surprised and thankful the coaches had confidence in me.''
In practice situations, the Saints normally throw the ball. But against Carolina's defense, which failed to stop Williams the entire game, conventional wisdom was tossed aside. With 1 second left, the Panthers stacked the line, assuming quarterback Aaron Brooks or Williams might try to go straight into the end zone. Instead, Williams took the pitch and went around left tackle Willie Roaf and followed a stellar block from receiver Albert Connell to race around the left side of the line untouched for the score.
"It was a very gutsy call because they were bringing everybody and we never run it that way in practice against our defense,'' Brooks said. "But we can't run the ball on our defense. It's unrealistic. I guess with Ricky, nothing is unrealistic.''
Williams' run capped a late flurry of scoring that prevented the Saints (3-1) from nearly losing a game they dominated. It also assured Williams, who ran for 147 yards on 31 carries, that he'd make the highlight shows for the right reason.
"Once I found out I was getting the ball, I knew I would be on (TV) one way or the other,'' he said. "It was either going to be 'Williams scores' or 'Williams gets stuffed' so I'm pleased with the way it worked out.''
The Panthers (1-4) lost their fourth straight, their longest losing streak since they opened the 1998 season 0-7. Coach George Seifert said he took no satisfaction in Carolina rallying from a 17-0 deficit and nearly winning the game.
"We take nothing from this. It was a very tough loss,'' Seifert said. "I have no consolation.''
Carolina took its first lead of the game with 1:48 to play when rookie Steve Smith returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown and a 25-20 lead. But Brooks helped the Saints answer, moving New Orleans 82 yards in 13 plays with just one timeout and 1:48 to play. Brooks had New Orleans inside the 20 with 14 seconds to play and capitalized on Carolina penalties to keep the drive alive. The Panthers were called for jumping offsides with 10 seconds left to move the ball to the 2. A pass interference call on the next play moved the ball up another yard with 6 seconds left.
Brooks' next shot at the end zone dropped incomplete, leaving just 1 second left on the clock and one shot left for the win. After the touchdown, the Saints poured onto the field to celebrate, and the officials had to clear everyone off for the extra point.
"The door was open just enough for them to squeak in,'' Carolina defensive end Michael Rucker said. "One second and they get in, that hurts.''
The Saints held Carolina to just one offensive yard and one first down, which came on a New Orleans penalty, in the first quarter.
The Panthers also turned the ball over two times in their first six plays of the game, leading to an early 10-0 hole. Rookie Chris Weinke continued to struggle, fumbling away the center exchange on Carolina's second possession, losing another fumble when his arm was hit as he attempted to pass and also throwing an interception. All three turnovers led to Saints scores, putting Carolina down 17-0. He finished 21-of-39 for 196 yards and two second-half touchdowns.
"It doesn't get any tougher than this,'' Weinke said. "We put ourselves in a hole early and there were mistakes I made. They scored those 17 points off of turnovers that we gave them in our territory.''