Fumbles by their quarterback and a subpar effort from their star running back cost the New Orleans Saints a critical game in their push for the playoffs.
Now, coach Jim Haslett knows it may not matter whether those problems get corrected.
The Saints look to bounce back and improve their slim postseason hopes when they take on the sinking New York Giants at the Superdome.
A victory over struggling Tampa Bay last week would have left the Saints one game behind Seattle and Dallas in the NFC wild-card race after both lost and fell to 8-5. But quarterback Aaron Brooks fumbled four times, and Deuce McAllister was held to 69 yards rushing as the Buccaneers held on for a 14-7 win.
New Orleans now needs some help to make the postseason field for the first time since 2000, and Haslett put most of the blame for that squarely on Brooks’ shoulders Monday.
“I think there’s some point, and I addressed this with him, that he needs to take care of the ball or we’ll have to do something,” Haslett said.
Brooks’ fumbles came after an outstanding first half in which he completed 13 of 17 passes and the Saints outgained Tampa Bay 216 to 113. Three of Brooks’ fumbles were recovered by the Bucs.
“I’m thinking we’re throwing the ball on Tampa Bay, we’re doing a great job, we’re going down the field,” Haslett said. “The guy’s smoking, he’s on fire, he’s taking the ball up and down the field. Then all of a sudden the ball pops out. It can’t go on any more. He needs to take care of the football.”
Haslett and his staff will also be looking for a way to get McAllister back on track. The NFL’s third-leading rusher with 1,462 yards was the focal point of the Bucs’ defenders, who swarmed him every time he got the ball and stacked the line of scrimmage to end McAllister’s streak of nine straight games with 100 yards or more.
The Saints may be facing the right opponent this week in a demoralized Giants club, which lost 20-7 at home to Washington last week for its fifth straight defeat. New York has been outscored 118-44 during the slide.
If things weren’t bad enough for the Giants, they’ll be without quarterback Kerry Collins, as he sprained an ankle in the third quarter against the Redskins and did not return. He was replaced by little-used backup Jesse Palmer, who went 7-of-11 for 83 yards and will make the start against the Saints.
Collins’ streak of consecutive starts will end at 67. It’s the third-longest current starting streak by a quarterback, after Brett Favre (186) and Peyton Manning (93). Collins would be passed for third by Brooks, who has started 50 in a row.
One of the biggest factors in the Giants’ slide has been penalties. New York has been called for 108 penalties, tied with San Diego for second-most in the league. The Giants were flagged seven times for 70 yards against the Redskins.
“Obviously we didn’t play well enough to win,” embattled Giants coach Jim Fassel said. “We’re not making plays out there.”
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