Saints earn first trip to playoffs since 1992
PLAYOFF BOUND n New Orleans Saints tight ends Andrew Glover, right, and Lamont Hall celebrate after defeating the Atlanta Falcons 23-7 Sunday. AP photo
By Richard Dark/The Meridian Star
Dec. 18, 2000
NEW ORLEANS Who Dat' let the Saints out?
The above popular moniker was altered somewhat Sunday by a rabid sellout throng in the Louisiana Superdome that witnessed the New Orleans Saints put away the Atlanta Falcons 23-7, and in the process deliver the Who Dats' their first playoff berth since 1992.
Only a tie in tonight's Rams/Buccaneers contest would prevent it.
Amazingly, a Christmas Eve win over the St. Louis Rams, coupled with losses by Minnesota and the New York Giants would give the NFL's success story of the season homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
The longtime Saints nemesis in the Falcons had a history of spoiling good opportunities in the past for New Orleans (10-5, 7-0 in NFC West), but on this day the Dirty Birds never had a chance.
Surprisingly, it seemed, neither did anyone else.
The Saints jumped out to a 13-0 lead on a short field goal by Doug Brien and a nifty 31-yard interception return for a touchdown by Sammy Knight.
But all observers knew it could have been much worse for the Birds at that point. On the Saints' second series, quarterback Aaron Brooks engineered a 50-yard production by hitting Joe Horn, Andrew Glover and Willie Jackson for 17 yard gains, but running back Terry Allen fumbled the football at the 2-yard line thwarting a 7-0 lead.
After the Falcons (3-12) punted, Brooks hurled a 52-yard bomb to Horn to eventually set up the chip shot by Brien.
Again the Saints defense stuffed the Birds, and on third-and-five from their own 26, rookie quarterback Doug Johnson was picked off by Knight, who had clear sailing into the end zone at the 12:30 mark of the second quarter.
But Knight's score was only one of several keys stops by the Saint D', who managed to hold the hapless Falcons to just 163 yards of total offense.
The Falcons running game comprised of Jamal Anderson, only managed 64 yards, including just 53 by the former Pro Bowler, due in large part to the return of former Ole Miss product Norman Hand from a foot injury.
The only breakdown of the day for New Orleans came on special teams, when Falcon return man Darrick Vaughn opened the second half with an 88-yard kickoff return for the visitor's lone score.
Clinging to a 13-7 lead, it looked as if the Atlanta hex of 10 wins in the last 11 meetings might continue, but the Saints quickly showed that any talk of curses and hexes simply aren't applicable to the 2000 version.
The ensuing possession ended with a nine-play, 75-yard output that ran off 4:58 and was capped by Allen's 2-yard burst to give the Saints a 20-7 lead.
The drive was fueled by a 26-yard strike to wide receiver Keith Poole and a 14-yard rumble by Allen, who finished the day, with 89 all-purpose yards on 22 carries.
Brooks continued to add to his mystique, scurrying and scrambling to complete 24-of-35 passes for 285 yards.
Brooks also said he knew with the success he enjoyed running the ball in recent weeks, that the Falcons would try and key on pursuing him in the open field.
It translated to 373 yards of total offense, including 92 yards on the ground.
More importantly, however, it translated to raining on an eight-year playoff drought.
Richard Dark is a sports writer for the Meridian Star. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.