Saints head to new territory

By Staff
Jan. 2, 2001
NEW ORLEANS (AP) The New Orleans Saints are venturing into the unknown this week.
New Orleans, which last qualified for postseason play in 1992, had made the playoffs just four times in its 34-year history only to go home after one game. This is the first time the Saints have won a postseason game and advanced to the next round.
I'm just glad to be in this game to be honest with you,'' coach Jim Haslett said on Monday.
After leading the Saints back from a 3-13 record last year, Haslett has the team poised to take the next step toward the Super Bowl. New Orleans faces the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC divisional playoffs on Saturday.
The Saints (11-6) hung on to beat the St. Louis Rams 31-28 Saturday, eliminating the defending NFL champions in the opening round of the playoffs.
It's a new situation for a lot of people in this locker room, but one we'd like to get used to,'' said Saints linebacker Willie Whitehead. We have to keep adjusting, keep learning and keep focused for that to happen.''
The Saints insist it was not a late-game lapse that allowed the Rams to come back from a 31-7 deficit to make it close.
It was more a matter of withstanding a Rams' onslaught that included three onside kicks and a deflected pass that made a 45-degree turn and ended up in Marshall Faulk's hands for the second of three touchdowns by St. Louis within a seven-minute span.
It wasn't a case of guys thinking we'd won early or anything like that,'' Whitehead said. But we understand better than ever now that we have to stay focused to the very end. We've been talking all season about needing 60 minutes of effort. Now we need it more than ever.''
The Vikings (11-5), despite coming off three straight losses, will show the Saints the same kind of high-powered offense as the Rams.
Randy Moss and Cris Carter will challenge the New Orleans secondary, Robert Smith might not be another Marshall Faulk. But he is a 1,000-yard rusher, and Daunte Culpepper is having a big year passing the ball.
It's going to take an all-out assault on our part,'' said Saints defensive coordinator Ron Zook. But that seems to be what our guys like best. They seem to like being the underdog.''
The Vikings, the NFC Central champions and No. 2 seed in the playoffs, struggled late in the season. After opening 7-0, Minnesota went 4-5 over the last nine games and lost the last three.
Culpepper, hampered by a sprained ankle, played only briefly in the regular- season finale, a 31-10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
In 10 of their 16 games this season, the Vikings scored 27 or more points.
Beating a team like the Rams, with their ability to score quickly and frequently, does more than just move the Saints on to the next game, Whitehead said. It gives them the confidence they need to head into the second round.
We beat the Rams and the Rams were averaging, what, 30, 40 points a game?'' Whitehead said. If we can play with St. Louis, we can play with anybody, that's how I feel.
They're a high-powered offense and can score on anybody and we beat them. We made it through that, so I'm not scared of anybody.''