Saints game was tale of two halves

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 9, 1998

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / September 9, 1998

To quote Charles Dickens from his novel, “Tale of Two Cities,” it was the best of times and the worst of times for the New Orleans Saints Sunday afternoon in their season opener at St. Louis.For 25 minutes of the first half, everything seemed to go right for the Saints. The team looked nothing like the one that had trouble moving theball and stopping the opposition from scoring in going 1-3 during the preseason.

The tone for the half was set in the first three minutes as LaRoi Glover nailed Jerald Moore in the backfield. Moore fumbled and Joe Johnson, justcoming off a holdout that caused him to miss the entire preseason, scooped it and up and took it in for the score.

Then it was the offense’s turn. There was Billy Joe Hobert standing in andcompleting two clutch third-down conversions to rookie tight end Cam Cleeland. Offensive coordinator Danny Abramowicz then tried a bit oftrickery as Hobert handed off to tailback Lamar Smith who tossed a pass downfield to Andre Hastings for a 20-yard score.

Hobert continued to guide the offense, connecting with Ray Zellars and Cleeland for 25 yards, setting up a field goal by Doug Brien. Then thedefense got in the act again with Sammy Knight intercepting a Tony Banks pass and returning it to the Rams’ 35-yard line. On the first play after theturnover, Hobert scrambled and toss a short pass to Smith. Smith weavedhis way downfield, breaking some shoddy tackling by the Rams to complete the 35-yard scoring play to give the Saints a 24-0 lead.

And then the momentum of the game swiftly turned. Operating out of thetwo-minute drill, Banks led the Rams down to the Saints’ one-yard line.

Moore carried right, fumbled and recovered the ball in the end zone for the score with 55 seconds left in the half. Under the rules, Moore was the onlyRam who would been allowed to recover the ball for the score.

A similar scenario occurred early in the second half as the Rams again drove inside the 5-yard line. From the 2, Moore again fumbled but a host ofSaints failed to recover the ball. Eddie Kennison would score on a passfrom Banks later in the drive to cut the deficit to 10.

Then the Saints suffered the worst break of the game. Going back to pass,Hobert ruptured his achilles tendon on a play where he was not even touched. Suddenly, the player the Saints were counting on so heavily wasgone for the season.

The Saints would hold on for a 24-17 victory thanks to a couple of breaks and a fine defensive effort. Twice in the fourth quarter, the Saintsfumbled but recovered both of them. And in the final minute with the Ramsdriving, Glover sacked Banks twice, the last coming with four seconds left and St. Louis on the Saints’ 35-yard line.Those final minutes may prove to be a foreshadowing of the Saints’ season. With an ineffective rushing attack and now without its startingquarterback, a team that counted on its defense last season will probably need to do so again this year. Danny Wuerffel looked good at times inrelief of Hobert Sunday but also threw an end zone interception that could have proved costly.

Those kind of turnovers are what killed the Saints last season. The teamhas already equaled the expectations of one publication for this season, overcoming the adversity that was the preseason. If they can overcomethis latest bit of bad fortune and play like they did in the first half Sunday, another Dickens novel might come to mind for this team- “Great Expect-ations.”

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