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Saints Are Put in Place--Out of the Playoffs

From Associated Press

The New Orleans Saints were so close to the playoffs -- just one victory away with three chances to get in.

But as they have done so often, the Saints will watch the playoffs after blowing all three games -- two against last-place teams.

Sunday’s finale might have been the most disheartening, with Carolina cornerback Terry Cousin making two interceptions and recovering a fumble to preserve the Panthers’ 10-6 victory.

New Orleans (9-7) needed to win and for Atlanta to lose to reach the playoffs. The Falcons lost to Cleveland, 24-16, but the Saints had already lost.

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“We expected to go to the playoffs at the beginning of the season, the middle of the season and even today,” Saint receiver Donte’ Stallworth said. “The best team doesn’t always win. We found that out a couple of times this season.”

After going 5-0 against first-place teams, the Saints couldn’t win against teams with losing records in the final three games, including a stunning loss last Sunday to Cincinnati, which finished 2-14. New Orleans opened 6-1, only to lose six of its last nine.

“You’ve got to win the ones you get chances to win,” Saint safety Sammy Knight said. “We didn’t do that all year.”

Carolina (7-9), in last place in the NFC South, ended a losing streak of 13 in division games. The Panthers were 1-5 this season in the new division after going 0-8 last season in the NFC West.

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Carolina shook off a 1-15 season last year to finish with four victories in its last five games.

“That’s character,” Carolina receiver Muhsin Muhammad said. “This team has more character and more togetherness ... it’s an almost eerie feeling.”

Fans started booing quarterback Aaron Brooks and the Saints’ offense early.

By the second half, chants of “We want Jake!” -- calling for backup quarterback Jake Delhomme -- boomed though the Superdome.

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“When you play at home, most crowds try to back you and help you win,” Saint Coach Jim Haslett said. “That’s what home-field advantage is all about.”

The Panthers, with the No. 4 defense overall, held the Saints to 244 yards, 125 of them rushing. Deuce McAllister gained 117 yards in 28 carries, the first back to have a 100-yard game against Carolina this season.

Brooks, who completed 12 of 31 passes for 145 yards, was sacked three times and had two passes intercepted. The Saints converted only four of 17 third downs.

“He’s been making mistakes,” Cousin said of Brooks. “When you’re at home and the crowd boos, that speaks volumes.”

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Carolina’s offense wasn’t much better.

Rodney Peete completed 19 of 30 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted twice and sacked twice.

The Panthers converted three of 14 third downs. They had 273 total yards, rushing for 85. Nick Goings had 70 yards in 18 carries.

Tempers flared before the game between some New Orleans and Carolina players. The Panthers’ secondary was upset by remarks that Saint receiver Joe Horn made after the first game this season, when he said he saw fear in the eyes of the Panthers.

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“I took it serious,” Carolina safety Deon Grant said. “It got me excited. It made me want to just go out and hunt all day.”


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