Saints must focus on winning

By By Richard Dark/EMG staff writer
December 21, 2003
METAIRIE, La. Today will be a telling day in the 2003 New Orleans Saints' season. The Saints will know after today's slate of games, whether or not the final week means anything at all, or if a blue Christmas gives way to only for pride and a winning record.
But through 14 games, New Orleans (7-7) has shown a penchant for not dealing well with two things: success and distraction. And if ever there was a week where the twain have joined, it is this one.
Coming off a lopsided 45-7 domination of the New York Giants, the team had to brace for a barrage of questions, not about the complete win, but about the antics of a star wide receiver who chose to steal the spotlight by celebrating the second of his four touchdown catches with a cell phone he planted in the south end zone.
Any sports fan would have been hard pressed this week to miss the spirited and sometimes-heated debates that took place on radio talk shows, television and Internet forums about the antics.
So with a chance to peek their heads above the .500 watermark for the first time this season, the question remains: Will the week that was, devour what could be for this team?
The origin of the maelstrom says no. "We're going to be fine," Joe Horn insisted. Fittingly enough, the matchup at noon today at will take place at ALLTEL Stadium and will pit the Saints against a rapidly improving Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10) team that has plenty of offensive weapons and perhaps the biggest defensive line the team has faced all season.
What is needed is a pair of wins to end the season, coupled with a plethora of outside help.
That second part is not at all the focus of this team, however, or its coach.
The Saints rank 26th in the NFL against the run; Jacksonville meanwhile is second. Jags running back Fred Taylor has 1,257 yards rushing on 289 attempts.
Another Smith that should make an impact on the outcome is former Jackson State star Jimmy Smith, the Jags go-to wipeout. The longest tenured Jag and perennial pro bowler currently has 756 yards receiving on 48 catches, with a 67-yard score to his credit.
Deuce McAllister, who graciously accepted his second straight Pro Bowl nod Thursday, needs just 133 yards over the last two games to post the highest single-season rushing total in franchise history, a record currently held by George Rogers (1,674 yards in 1981. But against a wall of a d-line that the Jags have, it won't be easy.
The biggest difference may be the intangibles. Jacksonville seems to be on an upswing, and has done something the Saints of late have not, which is defeat Indianapolis and Tampa. The credit for the delayed resurgence has to go to former Saint player and assistant coach Jack Del Rio.