Saints Slip By Panthers Again

The New Orleans Saints had fumbles, interceptions, and penalties. Even one of the officials prevented them for scoring. But New Orleans got a 27-23 victory, which made it a much better game for them than for the Carolina Panthers. ``We let Carolina hang around,'' Saints coach Jim Haslett said. ``I thought we played great on defense. They got back in the game on special teams because of Steve Smith, who is a heck of a returner. We played a little inconsistent on offense, but we picked it up when we had to and that is kind of what it boils down to.'' The Panthers, losers of 11 straight after opening the season with a win, struggled throughout the game, but were in it at the end. Carolina lost to New Orleans on the game's final play earlier this season, and have now lost by three points or less in six games. ``It's kind of been the story of this club,'' Carolina coach George Seifert said. ``We haven't been consistent enough offensively. Probably, if we were a little bit more consistent offensively, we wouldn't be in these positions.'' On Sunday, the Panthers scored 10 straight points to take a 23-20 lead on John Kasay's 51-yard field goal with 2:40 remaining. New Orleans needed just over a minute to come back, though. Aaron Brooks hit Joe Horn, who caught 13 passes for 150 yards, for a 17-yard touchdown pass for the victory. Horn lost what could have been another touchdown on the Saints' first possession. With New Orleans on the Carolina 46, Brooks took a return handoff from Ricky Williams, and Brooks threw deep to Horn. It appeared Horn would catch it just steps from the end zone, but he collided with back judge Phil Luckett and dropped the ball. ``I thought it was another defensive back making a play until I saw the official rolling around,'' Horn said. ``If I would have seen him, I probably would have stiff-armed him.'' The Saints gained 432 yards in total offense compared to 150 for the Panthers, held Carolina to just 25 percent on third-down conversions, and held the ball 14 minutes longer than the Panthers. ``We had some good drives and made some big plays on special teams,'' Carolina tight end Wesley Walls said. ``We got in the end zone for a change with our goal line offense, but when it came down to the end of the game we were not able to stop them and not able to execute enough to win the game.'' Two fumbles, an interception and 10 penalties prevented the Saints from clinching the game early. A 60-yard scoring reception by Willie Jackson was called back by a holding call against the Saints. ``We can't beat anybody until we stop beating ourselves,'' Saints guard Wally Williams said. ``We got lucky.'' Ricky Williams rushed 27 times for 102 yards, boosting him over the 1,000-yard mark and making him the only Saints player ever to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. Brooks completed 26 of 40 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns. He was intercepted once and sacked three times.

New Orleans, outscored 75-0 in the first quarter this season, saw that streak extended Sunday when Panthers quarterback Chris Weinke capped an 80-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown run. Weinke completed three of four passes for 71 yards on the drive. The Saints closed to 7-3 on a 42-yard field goal by John Carney in the second quarter. They took a 10-7 lead before halftime when Brooks' pass was tipped to fullback Terrelle Smith. Carney made it 13-7 with a 24-yard field goal in the third quarter, and Carolina closed within three on Kasay's 47-yarder. Albert Connell caught a 14-yard touchdown pass to open the fourth quarter, putting the Saints ahead 20-10. Steve Smith returned the kickoff 82 yards to the 12, then a field goal cut the Saints' lead to 20-13. Jimmy Hitchcock intercepted Brooks to set up Carolina's final score, a 1-yard leap by Weinke that tied the game at 20-20. Weinke was 11-of-19 for 161 yards and was sacked eight times. He left the game just before the last play after a sack by Charlie Clemons. Seifert said later Weinke had a concussion. ``It's a concussion, so it's taken seriously,'' Seifert said. ``But we don't think at this time it's beyond that.''

Notes:@ Carolina has led or been tied in the second half of nine of 12 games this year...Joe Horn set his career high with 13 receptions...The Panthers allowed 69 sacks last year, including 16 against the Saints. Through 12 games this year they've only given up 29. The Saints have nine in their two meetings...Jim Haslett is 10-3 versus NFC West opponents as coach of the Saints, tops among active coaches within their division (minimum two seasons)...Injuries: Carolina-QB Chris Weinke, concussion; TE Wesley Walls, right knee sprain. Saints-none.