September 30, 2001

Saints' Rally Falls Short, 21-13

The Saints started off with a bang: a 68-yard kickoff return by Michael Lewis, but the penalties started on the next play.

A personal foul on right tackle Kyle Turley backed the Saints up out of field goal range, the first of 202 penalty yards doled out by refs... 102 of which belonged to the Saints. The Saints would end with a bang too. After recovering a Kerry Collins fumble with 3:17 left on their own 30 yard line, the stage was set for an epic drive to tie the game. The drive would end on the Giants' nine yard line, as Aaron Brooks and his receivers came alive to move the Saints down the field but not into the end zone. The game ended when Willie Jackson caught the ball off a deflection in the end zone as time expired, but he was guilty of offensive pass interference.

"They're a damn good football team," Jim Haslett said afterwards. "A good as a game as you'll ever see. Two good football teams, and we had our chances at the end... But we need to get out to a faster start and get the penalties behind us. The most disappointing was the penalties, and their punter out-punted ours and we lost field position... We need to get back and do the little things."

The Saints not only were the targets of 14 penalty flags, but came up on the short end of three replay reviews in the first half. The first two were passes to Albert Connell, the first of which was reviewed and spotted back half a yard, the second of which was challenged by the Saints and upheld as incomplete. The third was an apparent fumble by Giants FB Greg Comella, recovered by the Saints, that was ruled an incompletion.

After a scoreless first quarter, the Giants put 14 on the board with strong running by Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber. The Saints responded to the pressure of the final minutes of the first half and drove down the field for a 32-yard John Carney field to make the halftime score 14-3.

Aaron Brooks finished the first half 12 for 26 for 111 yards, and Ricky Williams had with 25 yards on 10 carries. But the Giants' Kerry Collins finished 4-8 for 41 yards, and Ron Dayne has 8 carries for 72 yards, 55 of which coming on one run that set up his short touchdown run. Giants RB Tiki Barber pulled his hamstring on a 14 yard touchdown run in the second quarter and didn't return to the game.

The second half was more sloppy slugfest. Dayne added 39 yard rushing and Collins added only 94 more passing yards. Aaron Brooks finished with 291 yards passing but only after going 28-54 and throwing almost every down as the game winded down. Brooks had one touchdown and one interception. Ricky Williams finished with 53 yards rushing but had another 49 receiving, marking his second straight 100+ all-purpose yards game. Willie Jackson led all receivers with 8 catches for 105 passing yards. Robert Wilson had seven catches for 61 yards, and Horn and Connell each had four catches. TE Cam Cleeland played despite a mid-week hamstring injury and had one catch for three yards.

But the second half was memorable. A 32-yard catch and run by Willie Jackson put the Saints back in the game and brought them to within 4 points with 7:48 left in the fourth quarter. Jackson caught the ball at the 12, going up high over CB Emmanuel McDaniel then broke to his right and ran into the endzone.

An onsides kick was almost perfectly executed. Toby Gowin squibbed the kick and slid to the ground in front of it, waiting for the ball to roll the full ten yards. But Gowin grabbed it too soon, and then the ball was hit and sent into the bottom of a pileup. The Giants came up with the ball at the Saints 40. But on third down Kerry Collins found 6'5 WR Joe Jurevicius over the middle behind 5'9 CB Kevin Mathis for a 46-yard touchdown to make the score 21-10.

The Saints wouldn't give up, and drove down the field for the first of two times in the fourth quarter. A 42-yard screen play down the left sideline by Ricky Williams put them in position, but the Saints wisely settled for a field goal when they couldn't punch it in. Carney's 40 yard field goal was his second of the day, his third of three attempts on the season. Down 21-13, the Saints then gave up a big kickoff return to Ron Dixon to their own 47. It was then that the defense came up with a big play and Kevin Mathis forced a fumble that was recovered by Joe Johnson. The Saints' drive, aiming for a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie, would come up short at the Giants' nine yard line, but Jim Haslett said he learned what kind of guys were on his team. The 14 penalties and a stubborn Giants defense would prove to be more than the Saints could overcome but the Saints showed poise running the no-huddle offense. DE Michael Strahan tallied three of the Giants' four sacks. The Giants intercepted Aaron Brooks once, when Brooks threw deep to Joe Horn and the ball hung in the air.

The Saints defense did their part, holding Kerry Collins to 9-of-18 passing and 135 yards. Ron Dayne's 111 rushing yards helped the Giants eat up the clock, but apart from a 55 yarder, Dayne was stifled and often dropped behind the line. MLB Charlie Clemons had another big day, leading the Saints with six tackles and two and a half sacks. Kevin Mathis also showed that he is a solid open-field tackler at the cornerback position, notching six tackles. Joe Johnson had three tackles, a sack, and the huge fumble recovery in the fourth quarter. 2000 NFL sack champ La'Roi Glover also added two tackles and a sack.

Tony Bennett sang "America the Beautiful" to start the game in front of an emotional 78,451 fans, including many members of the city's heroic police and fire departments. Security was tight and delayed fans outside the stadium so that many missed the first minutes of the game.

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