From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 2, 1998

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / November 2, 1998

For a franchise that has had five winning seasons since coming into the league in 1967, there is no such thing as an ugly win.

So, the Saints 9-3 win over Tampa Bay last Sunday was not a masterpiece.

So the combined points were about as much as San Francisco scores in about a half a quarter. For a team that is looking for its first winningseason and playoff appearance since 1992, the end result was definitely a pretty sight.

It was especially pretty coming on the heels of a three-game losing streak, one that had offset a three-game winning streak to open the season. And it was one that could launch the Saints on prettier things tocome.

Remember, this is a team that is only a couple of plays away from being 5-1, not bad for a team predicted to win four to five games for the whole season. A play made here and there against New England and Atlanta andthe Saints could be tied at the top of the NFC West.

Like almost any game, Sunday’s had its good and its bad. Billy Joe Tolliverwas efficient at quarterback, getting the job done without hurting the team like with turnovers.

The defense, which had been burned the prior three weeks to hold the Buccaneers to three points, keeping the Saints in the game until the offense could get into gear. And the special teams continued to be theteam’s strongest point, with Doug Brien and Mark Royals showing again that they are one of the best kicking duos in the league.

But the rushing attack, which had been a factor in the team getting off to a 3-0 start, was once again ineffective against the Buccaneers. The Saintsran the ball 27 times for 56 yards, a 2.1 per carry average. That will notget in done in the NFL.

The running game has a chance to get well this week as the Saints play the winless Carolina Panthers, a team that they gained 207 yards against in the second week of the season. The Panthers are coming off a loss toBuffalo at home, their sixth straight defeat at Ericsson Stadium where they were once unbeatable.

A win in Carolina is crucial for the Saints’ playoff chances. In aconference in which the only San Francisco and Minnesota look like dominant teams, nine wins will probably be good enough. The Saints havenine games remaining. Three (at Carolina, St. Louis and Atlanta) are verywinnable. Minnesota and San Francisco are probably out of the Saints’league, especially on the road. That leaves the Saints needing two winsfrom among Miami, Dallas, Arizona and Buffalo.

It is ironic that last year’s team motto, “find a way or make a way” applies better to this year’s bunch. The Saints have found ways to defeatSt. Louis, Carolina, Indianapolis and Tampa Bay. They must continue to doso, whether pretty or not, in the coming weeks if they want to play into the new year.

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