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Saints Win First Division Title : NFC: New Orleans gains Western championship with 27-3 victory over Cardinals and some help from Dallas.

From Associated Press

Before his team flew West from Louisiana, New Orleans Saints Coach Jim Mora said he was indifferent to the results of the Atlanta-Dallas game, which had a direct bearing on the Saints’ chances of winning an NFC West title.

And after the Saints intercepted five passes and recovered two fumbles Sunday in a 27-3 victory over the Phoenix Cardinals, Mora didn’t change his position.

“Shortly after the game started, one of the coaches up in the box mentioned it (Dallas’ 31-27 victory) to me over the headset,” he said. “Our team didn’t find out about it until halftime, and we just told them it was up to us to go out and win it.”

The Saints won their first division title in the 25-year history of the franchise but went into the game blaming themselves for blowing the four-game lead they held six weeks ago.

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The Saints ended a four-game losing streak Dec. 16 with a 27-0 victory over the Raiders. However, by then Atlanta had pulled into a tie for the division lead and held the upper hand because of a better record within the NFC West.

“I’m real happy about today,” said Saint quarterback Bobby Hebert, who completed 12 of 24 passes for 100 yards. “We just have to keep this in the right perspective going into the playoffs. Being raised in New Orleans and being part of this championship is an incredible feeling. You almost want to cry--it’s that good of a feeling.”

The Saints, who finished the regular season with an 11-5 record, were leading the Cardinals, 13-3, at halftime after scoring twice following Cardinal fumbles.

Gene Atkins intercepted three passes in the second half and returned them a total of 99 yards. Stan Petry and Vencie Glenn also intercepted passes for the Saints.

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Atkins intercepted another pass and returned it 55 yards for an apparent touchdown, but it was negated by a roughing-the-passer call on linebacker Pat Swilling.

The Cardinals (4-12) left the field wondering what might have been had the calls gone their way in the first quarter.

First, the officials ruled that Cardinal wide receiver Ricky Proehl caught a 19-yard pass as he was falling out of the end zone. The Cardinals had to settle for a 38-yard field goal by Greg Davis.

Then, after Cardinal punter Rich Camarillo dropped a 52-yard punt on the New Orleans one-yard line, Gill Fenerty was tackled in the end zone. But officials ruled that he broke over the goal line and was pushed back.

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The Saints eventually got out of trouble without giving up any points.

“We had the touchdown pass to Ricky taken away, and we came out smoking on that first drive,” said Phoenix quarterback Chris Chandler, who completed seven of 12 passes for 67 yards. “That can really eat at you. You’re sure they’re going to replay it and give you a touchdown, but they don’t.”

The Cardinals, who have existed for 93 years in Chicago, St. Louis and Phoenix, lost their last eight games and finished a season with 12 losses for the first time.

Along with the interceptions, Chandler was sacked twice and left the game with a bruised forearm after Swilling sacked him for 13 yards 10:53 before halftime.

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Chandler also fumbled, with Vaughan Johnson recovering for New Orleans on the Phoenix 10-yard line to set up up a 27-yard Morten Andersen field goal.


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