CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As New Orleans Saints coach Jim Haslett leaned against a wall in the visitor's locker room of Bank of America Stadium early Sunday evening, he uttered the words that five other NFC teams should be thinking.
|Willie Whitehead and Victor Riley enjoy the moment, but that's it for the Saints. (AP)|
Highs and lows in the NFL usually come from week to week. The Saints lived it in 30 minutes Sunday.
After beating the Carolina Panthers 21-18 for their fourth consecutive victory to get to 8-8, the Saints needed a loss by the St. Louis Rams to get to the playoffs. When the Rams game with the New York Jets went to overtime, the Saints kept their postgame locker room closed as players and coaches gathered around a television.
Some 30 minutes after their game was completed, Jeff Wilkins banged home a 31-yard field goal for the Rams, giving them a 32-29 victory and knocking the Saints out of a playoff chance.
"I know Jeff Wilkins," said current Saints tight end Ernie Conwell, who came over from the Rams two years ago. "I knew as soon as he was lining up, it was done. I went to the shower. I didn't need to see it to know we were out."
The Saints won their last four games to finish at .500, avoiding a losing season but with little to show for it except the satisfaction of knowing they didn't quit under Haslett.
New Orleans dominated the Panthers for much of the game, but when Carolina rallied late to cut it to 21-18, they kept their own playoff chances alive. As it turned out, with Minnesota losing, Carolina would have been in the playoffs with a victory.
When John Kasay's 60-yard field-goal attempt on the final play of the game was blocked, the Panthers' chance to defend their NFC crown was gone. The Saints won by playing a swarming defense that seemed to be on Jake Delhomme all day long.
They sacked Delhomme six times, and hit him plenty of others. Delhomme lost two fumbles as a result of those sacks, but none of it mattered to either team by the time darkness fell. If the Rams had lost, the Saints were on their way to Green Bay next week to play the Packers in the playoffs.
"We would have kicked their ass," Haslett said. "We would have gone jumbo and run it right down their throats."
Haslett will never get to coach that game. And there's a chance he may not get to coach another for the Saints as his five-year tenure is in jeopardy.
Saints owner Tom Benson leaves on a Hawaiian vacation Monday, so there won't be a quick resolving of the coaching issues, but Haslett said Sunday there have to be changes, which could lead to a power play between the coach and general manager Mickey Loomis.