Saints Play Catch-Up Against Rams

TIMES STAFF WRITER

While the Rams try to recover from the shock of a Monday night surprise, the New Orleans Saints wonder what became of their season, one that began with hopes of keeping pace with the Rams and San Francisco 49ers in the great NFC West chase.

It's no consolation but the Saints do have a league instant replay official doing time for misfeasance, although Gaylord Bryan's sitting out a weekend doesn't get them back a win against the 49ers two weeks ago. Had Bryan only peeked into his view finder, he would have seen that 49er receiver Jerry Rice, preparing for his spike, fumbled at the one-yard line at the end of an eventual game-winning, 60-yard touchdown reception.

The ball rolled through the end zone and, according to a new rule in the National Football League, the Saints should have been awarded ball at the point of the fumble. Instead, the play was counted as a touchdown.

New Orleans lost the game by four points and the league suspended Bryan for not pulling the replay trigger fast enough, but could do nothing about the final score. Sorry about that Saints.

So the Saints drag themselves into Anaheim two games under .500, three games out of first, the victims of some tough luck and human error.

Saint Coach Jim Mora always keeps a stiff upper lip, so he's not pinning his team's poor start on a zebra.

"I don't blame it on officials or replay calls," he said. "We had other occasions in the game when we had opportunities to make plays and we didn't make them. I don't feel that's the reason why we lost."

During a month-long losing streak, finally snapped last week with a 29-14 win over the New York Jets, the Saints lost four games by a total of 17 points.

This despite some gutsy play at quarterback from Bobby Hebert, who hobbles into today's game on a knee so bad that he wasn't willing to talk about it. Hebert has completed 67% of his passes and thrown nine scoring passes, but if his team doesn't get moving soon--like today--it may be too late.

How tough is this division? Last year, the Saints finished in a three-way tie for first at 10-6 and couldn't make the playoffs. And the Rams and 49ers show no signs of slowing down to allow one team back in the race.

"When you're in a hole like we are, if you have any aspirations of a good year, you've got to start winning," Mora said. "We're definitely in a hole, in a big hole."

The shining light has been at quarterback.

"Bobby Hebert has played six good games," Mora said. "He's been consistent, and he's had injuries he's come back from. He played the second half after being knocked totally woozy against Tampa Bay. He came back and played, but he wasn't 100%. He got a knee hurt against the Jets early, and came back and played on a bad knee. He's shown great toughness, leadership and has played as well as he's played for us since he's been here."

Only kickoff time will tell how the Rams will respond to Monday night's loss at Buffalo, a game wrenched from their grasp after Flipper Anderson's miracle touchdown catch seemed to have won it with 1 minute 22 seconds left.

"It's something that we won't forget," quarterback Jim Everett said of Buffalo. "It's one of those types of losses that was shocking. It takes a while to settle in. But we're over it."

Really?

"I don't think I would look at this thing as the almighty, crushing loss," Everett said. "It's something we take in stride. We're trying to win every game. We'd like to win all of them, but it's not there.

"I think you're seeing some of the older guys picking up the slack, saying 'Hey, this is what we've got to do.' But I don't think that I would look at it as, 'Oh this is one that has changed the total paradise.' It's not that. It's more shocking to everybody, like, 'How could you lose a game like that?' "

Ram Notes

Mike Lansford, who won $1,000 in an off-season field-goal kicking contest in Colorado, said he will donate the money to the American Red Cross for relief to Bay Area earthquake victims. Lansford won the contest with a 67-yard kick, although he admits the altitude and a strong tail wind might have added a yard or two to the kick. . . . Speaking of Lansford, the rivalry resumes today between him and Saint kicker Morten Andersen, who has no doubt kept the Ram kicker out of a few Pro Bowls over the years. Through six games in 1989, though, Andersen can't match Lansford, who has made 12 of 14 field goal attempts. Andersen has made only 7 of 11.

Has a punt returner ever averaged more yards per return than his own team's kickoff man? Darryl Henley is averaging 18.3 yards a punt return. Ron Brown's kickoff average is 21.7. Brown, in fact, has all but disappeared from the picture as a wide receiver since all those contract hassles and a brief retirement. The former Olympic sprinter has yet to catch a pass in six games. He does have five carries for 22 yards. . . . After being held to 44 yards against the Bills, Greg Bell nursed a sore shoulder and a groin injury through the week. He is expected to start, but Coach John Robinson said Bell would split time with Gaston Green and Cleveland Gary. Neither Green nor Gary, both first-round picks, played a down against Buffalo. . . . Tight end Damone Johnson has a sore ankle, but he's probable for today's game.

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