From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 5, 2000

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / January 5, 2000

Happy New Year’s, Saints fans.

Unfortunately for the home team, the new year and new century does not look much different than the old one after a 45-13 spanking at the hands of Carolina Sunday.

So Jake Delhomme’s 9-yard run with 18 seconds left effectively ended Carolina’s playoff hopes. Whoopee. I’m sure that was the goal of the Saintsand their fans at the beginning of the season, to play the role of spoiler down the stretch. But after losing streaks of seven and five games, thatwas the best they could hope for.

And truth be told, the Saints did not even accomplish that goal. Dallas,despite a loss to the Saints in Week 16, still made the playoffs. AndDelhomme’s touchdown, which gave Green Bay the edge in the point differential tie-breaker, was made moot when the Cowboys defeated New York later in the day.

No, it was truly a lost season for the home team. Thirteen losses as amatter of fact. And other than two losses to St. Louis and one each toTenneseee, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville, those defeats did not exactly come to the cream of the crop in the NFL. The other eight losses came toteams that were a combined 43-82 heading into Monday night’s game.

Sunday’s game showed how far the Saints have come this season, which is to say not very. Remember, the Saints defeated the Panthers 19-10 in theseason opener. Fifteen games later, Carolina was fighting for a playoffspot while New Orleans was just playing out the string.

Playing on Jan. 2, the Saints looked like they were battling a Y2K bug in allphases of their game. Delhomme accounted for 243 yards passing and 78yards rushing but threw four interceptions.

Oh, and what about Ricky Williams, the team’s $8.84 million man? Howabout seven yards on 14 carries and five yards on five catches. Thatagainst a team that was ranked 26th against the run coming into the game.

Williams finished the season with 884 yards on 253 carries. Nice stats,especially compared to recent Saints running backs, but definitely not worth the entire 1999 draft and the second overall pick this season as well as the third round pick.

On the defensive side, the Saints allowed Steve Beuerlein to slice them up for 322 yards passing and five touchdowns. The Saints did hold Carolina to67 yards rushing but why run when you are having so much success through the air? So now New Orleans heads into the off season with its worst record since 1996 and its sixth-straight non-winning season. Mike Ditka was to meetwith Tom Benson tomorrow to talk about the future of the team. Changeswill almost definitely be made but those changes will be difficult with so few draft picks to work with.

Who knows, maybe things will be different in 2000. The Saints could finda gem in the draft or free agency market. Delhomme could be next season’sversion of Kurt Warner. Williams could prove to be worth all those draftpicks and more. The Saints could be next season’s St. Louis Rams.But that’s a lot of could of’s. And as former coach Jim Mora used to say,could of’s do not cut it any more.

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