Golden Football Magazine
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Every issue of the Golden Football Magazine contains an article on the Saints.
Playoff Game: Saturday, December 30, 2000 - St. Louis Rams @ New Orleans
When Coach Mike Ditka and General Manager Bill Kuharick were dismissed following the dismal 3-13 1999 season, Randy Mueller became the new Director of Football Opera­tions. He hired Jim Haslett, the Steelers defensive coordinator for three years, as the new coach. Haslett took over and complete­ly re­made the roster with 38 new players, including half the starters. The Saints started strong, winning their first six games. They finished 10-6 to win the second West Division champion­ship in team history and make the playoffs for the first time since 1992.
Newly acquired WR Joe Horn emerged as a star, leading the team with 94 receptions–50 more than second-place RB Ricky Williams–for 1,340y. Ricky gained exactly 1,000y on the ground to somewhat justify the Saints trading all their draft choices to Washington to take him first in the 1999 draft.
The Saints signed free-agent QB Jeff Blake in the off-season, and he started the first 11 games before breaking his foot in the Oakland game in which Williams was also lost for the season. Rookie QB Aaron Brooks started the last five games, winning three including a crucial road victory against the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams in his first start. That allowed the Saints to win the division despite losing the regular season finale at home to the Rams.
As you'd expect from a defensive minded head coach, the Saints improved dra­matically from second-to-last in the NFC in points allowed in '99 (434) to fifth (305). They led the NFL with 66 sacks with three linemen in double figures: DT La'Roi Glover 17, DE Joe Johnson 12, and DE Darren Howard 11.
As the #3 seed in the NFC, the Saints hosted the #6 seed in the opening round. And that was none other than the Rams. So the teams met in the Superdome for the second straight week, this time for a ticket to the NFC semifinals.

L-R: Joe Horn, Ricky Williams, Jeff Blake, all unavailable for the playoffs
When Dick Vermeil resigned as Rams head coach following the Super Bowl win, offen­sive coordinator Mike Martz took over. The "Greatest Show on Turf" offense didn't miss a beat. They improved from 526 points and 6,412 total yards in '99 to 540 poits and 7,075y in '00. QB Kurt Warner topped the NFC in completion percentage (67.7) and yards gained per attempt (9.9). He had two outstanding receivers in Isaac Bruce (87 receptions for 1471y) and Torry Holt (82/1635). New Orleans native Marshall Faulk was an All-Pro run­ning back who gained 1,359y on the ground and another 830 on pass receptions.
Kurt Warner's rise to Super Bowl-winning quarterback provided an inspiring rags-to-riches story. He didn't start at Northern Iowa until his senior year but won the Gateway Confe­rence's Offensive Player of the Year award.
After no team picked him in the 1994 NFL draft, he tried out for the Green Bay Packers but was released before the regular season. So he went back to Iowa and worked in a gro­cery store.
He got a chance to show his skills in the Arena Football League in 1995. After making the AFL's first team, he got a tryout with the Chicago Bears but an elbow injury prevented him from attending.
He landed his first NFL roster spot with the Rams in 1998 but didn't get any playing time until '99 when starter Trent Green was injured in the preseason. The 28-year-old rookie led St. Louis all the way to the NFL championship, an incredible journey that was climaxed by him being named the Super Bowl MVP.
The Saints had the edge on the Rams on defense.
Team Rank Total Pts Rush Yds Pass Yds
Saints 10 305 1672 3071
Rams 32 471 1697 3797
The Saints held the Rams below their 33.8 season scoring average in both their meetings, giving up 24 in the first game and 26 in the second.
To win the rubber match against the Rams, the Saints needed to establish the run to set up their play-action passing game. In the loss the week before, the Rams held the Saints to just 73y on 15 carries, with 40y coming on one run by Jerald Moore. That dominance allowed the Rams to control the clock for 39:26, almost twice as long as the Saints.
The Saints were only 3-5 in the Superdome. That made them the first team in NFL his­tory to make the playoffs with a losing record at home. But the players felt they played their worst game of the season the previous week against the Rams. Yet they lost by only five points.
With the Saints 7-1 on the road, Coach Haslett decided to wear the white road jerseys for the playoff game.
First Quarter
The Saints took the kickoff but went three-and-out. But the third down incompletion was significant because Joe Horn, QB Aaron Brooks's favorite receiver, was sandwiched by two Rams and helped from the field with a bad ankle, never to return.
The Saints had dressed just four receivers because Keith Poole was inactive because of a concussion suffered in the regular season finale with the Rams a week earlier. So thefour-receiver package of plays was out the window. To make matters worse, Jake Reed wasn't 100% healthy after a leg injury, and Robert Wilson was playing with a broken thumb suf­fered two weeks ago.
Starting from their 32 after the punt, the Rams moved smartly to a touchdown. Marsh­all Faulk carried on four of the first six plays for 13y. The other two plays were passes. First, QB Kurt Warner shrugged off an attempted sack by DT La'Roi Glover and found TE Roland Williams for a gain of five. Then Kurt hit WR Isaac Bruce at the right sideline to the NO 34. After Faulk gained four, the reigning MVP threw into double coverage in the end zone to Bruce. The Rams were lucky the pass wasn't intercepted, and the Saints were lucky it wasn't complete. DBs Alex Molden and Darren Perry collided, keeping each other from catching it, and the deflection almost fell into the hands of a diving Bruce. On 3rd-and-six, Williams took a pass for a first down at the 16. After Faulk gained four on two carries, a delay of game penalty put the ball back at the 17. Warner gunned the ball to Bruce cutting across from the left in the end zone. Jeff Wilkins converted.
Rams 7 Saints 0 (5:58)

Aaron Brooks avoids LB London Fletcher and leaps over the top.
After Fred McAfee returned the kickoff 29y to the 30, Brooks led a march deep into Ram territory. Using only one wide receiver and two tight ends with Horn out, Aaron threw off his back foot down the middle to 6'6" TE Andrew Glover to the 46. Ricky Wil­liams' replacement, Terry Allen, took a toss right and cut back to the Ram 46. On 3rd-and-one, the Rams jumped offside to give the Saints 1st-and-10 at the 40. Then 6'4" Brooks showed his running ability, long-striding out of the pocket to the 32. Rookie RB Chad Morton snared a pass to the 21. After an incompletion, RB Jerald Moore took a delay­ed handoff for 11y. A holding penalty on the defense then made it a first down on the 15. After two runs gained three yards, the period ended.
End Q1: Rams 7 Saints 0
Second Quarter
The Saints tied the score on the first play. On 3rd-and-seven at the 12, "calm and cool" Brooks hit Robert Wilson cutting left across the back of the end zone for the wide recei­ver's first touchdown reception of the season. Doug Brien converted. The Saints had match­ed the Rams' 11-play touchdown drive with an 11-play drive of their own. Rams 7 Saints 7 (14:56)
"I can't worry about the thumb," Wilson said after the game. "I'm out there one-handed, but if I think about it, I'll drop every pass. I just gave it all I had and tried to catch every ball."
The Rams overcame a false start penalty when Warner connected with Bruce for 16y to the 29. The Saints got another break two plays later when Faulk streaked down the side­line to the 13 only to have the 51y gain negated by a holding penalty. On 3rd down, LB Keith Mitchell, who had tipped a pass earlier in the drive, pressured Warner up the mid­dle to cause an incompletion.
The Saints took over at their 26 after the punt. After two Allen runs lost five yards, Brooks ran away from pressure to flipped to WR Willie Jackson who spun away from two defenders and sprinted to the Rams 29. Following Morton's 4y run, Brooks found Wilson for a first down at the 16. On 2nd-and-nine, Brooks again rolled right but this time DB Devin Bush flashed in front of the receiver at the sideline and intercepted on the eight.

L: Willie Jackson eludes Devin Bush for a 40y gain.
R: Terry Allen runs.
Faulk gained six on two carries. Then Mitchell struck again, sacking Warner on a delayed blitz at the 11. Morton took the punt at his 43 and zipped to the St. Louis 40.
The Rams quickly got the ball back thanks to two sacks of Brooks. From his 20 after the touchback, Warner tossed a screen to Faulk that DB Chris Oldham diagnosed quickly for a 2y loss. After an incompletion, Kurt found Bruce wide open to the 41. But after Faulk took a quick pass for 6y, S Sammy Knight snagged Warner's pass that was tipped by DE Darren Howard and raced down the sideline until Holt batted the ball out of his grasp from behind, knocking it forward and out of bounds on the 20.
With an excellent chance of taking the lead, the Saints could not get a first down as Brooks wisely kept the ball on third down when he couldn't find an open receiver and ran for 4y. That enabled Brien to boot a 33y field goal. Saints 10 Rams 7(1:30)
The visitors' hopes to drive close enough for a tying field goal were hampered when WR Tony Horne bobbled the kickoff out of bounds at the 10. When Warner threw a incomple­tion on 3rd-and-10, the Saints got the ball back at their 48 with 20 seconds on the clock.
Brooks hit WR Jake Reed over the middle to the Ram 41. An incompletion stopped the clock with five seconds remaining. But the ensuing Hail Mary into the end zone landed amidst three Rams who batted it down.
End Q2: Saints 10 Rams 7
Third Quarter
After Warner's mediocre effort in the first half, the ABC TV announcers wondered if he was still feeling the effects of the "mild concussion" he suffered on the same turf the week before. They cited the delay of game penalty the Rams incurred on 2nd-and-14 after re­ceiving the second half kickoff. But Kurt fired down the middle to WR Ricky Proehl who caught the ball between two defenders to get the first down at the 41. After Faulk gained four, Warner threw off his back foot with DE Joe Johnson at his ankles. Oldham inter­cepted at midfield and ran 5y into Ram territory.
As they did in the first half following Knight's pick, the Saints took advantage of the turnover to put points on the board. Running on first down as they did all afternoon, Allen gained four. Then a quickie to Jackson moved the chains to the 35. Brooks faked to Moore and circled left end for 8y. A botched Brooks-Allen handoff resulted in a fumble, and the crowd held its breath until the officials reached the bottom of the pile and found Allen atop the pigskin. Aaron then fired to his favorite target of the day, Jackson, who ran 7y to the 13. Another first down handoff to Allen gained three before Brooks fogged a fast ball to Jackson streaking into the end zone from the right side just in front of DB Todd Lyght for Willie's second touchdown. Saints 17 Rams 7 (8:40)
The visitors made one first down on their next possession on a pass to Holt to the 38. But two incompletions around a Faulk 1y gain forced a punt that Morton fair caught on the NO 25.
On 3rd-and-10, Reed snagged Brooks's pass and escaped his defender to the 37 for a first down. But the Rams forced a punt four snaps later to take over at their 22.
Warner hit Bruce in stride, and Isaac weaved his way to the 35 for a first down. But the next three plays netted only 5y to put the Saints back in business at their 26.
The period ended with Brooks firing a bullet to Wilson who took it in stride to the Ram 47.
End Q3: Saints 17 Rams 7
Fourth Quarter
It took the Saints only three plays to extend their lead. After two Allen runs netted 4y, Brooks lofted a pass down the right sideline to Jackson who outfought DB Dexter McCle­on for the ball. McCleon fell to the ground, giving Willie a clear path to the end zone. Saints 24 Rams 7 (13:22)
The fired up Saints kickoff coverage team stuffed Horne at the 13. Whom do you turn to went you're down by 17? Your best player, of course. Warner threw a shuttle pass to Faulk for 7y, then hit Marshall on the sideline for a first down at the 28. But disaster struck the Rams again on the next play. DE Willie Whitehead hit Warner, causing a fumble that Glover recovered at the 16.
With the crowd already celebrating the Saints' first playoff victory, Brooks shot a laser to Jackson in the end zone for the second Saints touchdown on the first play after a turn­over. Saints 31 Rams 7 (11:57)

L: Warner fumbles when hit by Willie Whitehead.
R: Michael Hawthorne and Marshall Faulk vie for a loose ball.
Then a strange thing happened in the Superdome. The Saints, unaccustomed to being up by 24 in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, seemed to stop playing. The Rams traveled 80y in just four plays. Screen pass to Faulk for 20y. Pass to Faulk on the sideline to the NO 25. Pass to Proehl for nine. Touchdown strike down the middle to Proehl. Down 18, the Rams went for two, but Faulk was stopped short to keep the Saints three scores ahead. Saints 31 Rams 13 (9:36)
The Saints' first penalty of the game, holding on McAfee's kickoff return, put the ball on the 23. Then a false start penalty moved it to the 18. The Saints surprised the Rams by throwing on first down. The screen pass to Morton gained 23y. Allen ran twice for 2y before Brooks threw a log incompletion toward Reed. Then WR Az-Zahir Hakim took the punt on his 26 near the left sideline, started left, then turned on the after burner as he raced across the field and down the right sideline to the Saints nine. Just as Saints fans were thinking, "Here we go again," S Sammy Knight made a one handed interception of a Warner toss over the middle at the nine and moved to the 12.
The Saints dodged another bullet when DT D'Marco Farr hit Brooks as he tried to handoff, causing a fumble. But Morton fell on the ball at the seven. After a puzzling incompletion, Morton gained nothing except to run the clock another 30 seconds. This time, Hakim was stopped on the Ram 37 on the punt return.
The Greatest Show on Turf took only three plays to score this time. Consecutive passes to Bruce to the NO 34 and the 25. Short pass to Faulk, who weaves between numerous defenders into the end zone. Jeff Wilkins converted. Saints 31 Rams 20 (3:52)
With visions of the fourth quarter meltdown against the Eagles in the Saints' last playoff game after the 1992 season moving from the back to the front of the minds of the Black and Gold faithful, the Rams tried an onside kick from the NO 45 because of a roughing the passer penalty on DT Norman Hand on the touchdown play. Wilkins got a great high bounce down the right sideline, and DB Dre' Bly caught the ball on the fly. But he and three other Rams were offside–their ninth penalty of the game. So Wilkins tried again, and Bly recovered again, this time at the NO 47.
After an incompletion and a 2y toss to Hakim, the Rams took a timeout with 3:20 on the clock. Hakim then raced down the left side, drawing two defensive backs, Michael Hawthorne and Darren Perry. Darned if Warner's pass didn't descend right over the heads of the defenders into the receiver's hands at the five. The Saints flushed Warner out of the pocket, causing him to throw low at the goal line. Then Warner, not finding an open receiver in the crowded end zone, ran untouched to the left pylon. This time the two-point conversion was successful as Warner flipped to Faulk over the middle in the end zone. Saints 31 Rams 28
The Rams tried another onside kick but LB Darrin Smith snagged it for the Saints at their 38. Offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy called a strange play on first down. Brooks took the snap under center, turned and fired a lateral to the left sideline to Jackson who gained 2y. That at least forced the Rams to use their last timeout. Amazingly, Brooks wanted to pass on the next snap also but, finding no one open, kept the ball for a loss of two. The Saints let the clock run down to the two-minute warning.
When play resumed, a false start penalty cost the Saints 5y. With McCarthy trying for the first down that would seal the victory, Brooks threw down the middle to a wide-open Wilson, who leaped and got his hands on the ball before losing it as he hit the grounds. The Rams pounced on it as the crowd moaned. But the replay review mercifully upheld the call on the field of an incomplete pass since Wilson never had full control of the ball. Instead of running the ball and using up 40 seconds, the Saints had taken off only nine seconds.
Next came the play that Saints fans most remember from this game. The always dangerous Hakim came in to receive the punt. Just minutes earlier, he had streaked 65y to the Saints nine. However, he had the highest fumble rate in the NFL. He signaled for a fair catch at the nine. Let Saints radio announcer Jim Henderson describe what happened next. "Hakim drops the ball! Hakim drops the ball! Brian Milne might have fallen on it at the 10 yard line! It's the New Orleans Saints football! Brian Milne, the most unlikely hero of them all, falls on the fumble, the muff by Hakim! There is a God after all!"

Milne triumphant, Hakim distraught after the fumble recovery.
Milne, Henderson's "most unlikely hero," played fullback for the Bengals for three seasons and part of a fourth before ending the 1999 season with Seattle. He started only two games for the Saints in 2000 and retired from the NFL after the season. But he was Johnny-on-the-Spot for one shining moment.
Afterward he explained, "Back at Penn State, the running backs go through a fumble drill where you're taught to get on the ball in a cradle position. As soon as I saw the ball slip through his hands, that's what I was thinking about doing. When I got my hands on it, I was squeezing it as tight as I could. If he gets it back, it could have been a different story."
Brooks knelt three times to run out the clock as an entire city was on its knees thanking God as the Saints won their first playoff game despite themselves.
FINAL SCORE: SAINTS 31 RAMS 28
Saints owner Tom Benson did his patented "Benson Boogie" with an umbrella around the field after the game. When he finished, he was pooped. "Whew, this is a long way over to here." Coach Haslett gave him the game ball, which usually goes to a player. "Coach said he was going to give it to me. I hadn't gotten it yet, but I sure deserve one after going around that whole field." The 73-year-old added, "I don't know if waiting this long makes it better. But it sure is wonderful. Hope we don't have to wait another 34 years."


Randy Mueller


Jim Haslett


Mike Martz


Aaron Brooks


Kurt Warner


Kurt Warner escape La'Roi Glover


Marshall Faulk


Willie Jackson catches TD pass.


Willie Whitehead gets to Warner after pass.


Alex Molden


Chris Oldham


Doug Brien


Ricky Proehl snags a pass.


Willie Whitehead


Sammy Knight


Darren Perry chases Kurt Warner.


Darrin Smith


Mike McCarthy

Postgame
Saints Locker Room
Coach Haslett admitted he was nervous when the Rams cut the margin to 31-28. "Holy (blank). How did we get through this? I was a raving maniac for the rest of the game. Everything that could conceivably go wrong did. We weren't playing well on defense, and we weren't covering. But we made a nice play at the end. A good football team won't let that (big lead) get away from it." Jim added, "I thought our defense played as well as it could play against that team. Our offense struggled early, but guys started making plays. Then, our defensive backs played extremely well."
Kevin Faulk rang up 220y rushing against the Saints the week before but gained only 24 in the playoff. "We had to get to No. 28 and take him out of the game," said DT La'Roi Glover. He added, "I never doubted we could do it, but I worried some. They never let up. They can scare you."
WR Willie Jackson became the 10th player in NFL history to catch three touchdown passes in a playoff game. "I think this sums up the season in the sense that it took a lot of character. Your No. 1 receiver goes down, and a lot of people could have counted us out, but together as a team we just said we had to take it in stride and make plays."
On the final turnover: "That fumble was a life saver. They had the momentum. They were coming. It could've turned out a lot worse for us. Their offense is the most explosive I've ever seen. That's what scared me at the end. I'm just glad he dropped the ball."
WR Joe Horn was hurt on the Saints' third ofensive play. "Why should I go back out and hurt my team when I know Willie Jackson can come in and make plays? And that's what he did."
QB Aaron Brooks rebounded from a subpar game six days earlier to finish 16-of-29 for 266y, 4 TDs, and one INT. "People shouldn't be surprised," he said. "I don't think people should be so judgmental. Sometimes you don't understand the game just because you see it one time." He added, "It's unfortunate that Joe Horn went down. But that tells the story of this team."
Offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy on his quarterback: "He answered the bell. He put the ball in the end zone, and that's what he had to do. He made some big-time throws." Coach Haslett on Brooks: "For three-and-a-half quarters, he played poised. He ran the offense well. He lost it a little bit in the fourth quarter, but he came back, rallied and ran the offense to perfection.
S Sammy Knight: "They showed why they were the Super Bowl champs, the way they came back. When those guys get the ball in the open field, you know it's trouble. You always worry when Warner has the football. He can do so much, so quick. He can hurt you before you even know you've been hit."
Brian Milne still had the football he recovered in the last minute. "I'm going to take it home and frame it."
Rams Locker Room
Coach Martz: "They played the running game on the edge much better than they did the (last) time. We just weren't able to get the ball outside as easily as we were before. Once we got away from that, we started throwing the football."
RB Kevin Faulk: "Everybody we play, we get their best. ... For the most part, things were the same (as the previous game). They just made more plays.
C Andy McCollum (a Saint from 1994-98): "You've got to give them credit for doing well on defense, especially in the first half. We couldn't get anything going. They were coming up in there (against the run). But everybody that plays against us, the No. 1 priority is to stop Marshall. We had our work cut out for us."
G Adam Timmerman: "They made some adjustments, especially with the outside play. But mostly they had some guys step up and make plays against our guys."
DE Grant Wistrom: "I was sitting in my locker with everyone around me saying, 'Next year, next year, we'll do it next year. It made me mad. That's not how you play this game. We had the opportunity to go all the way this year."