Overtime loss is hard on the Saints

Updated: October 27, 2003, 7:17 PM ET

NEW ORLEANS -- It was the kind of thing that can really get a coach down.

One play -- or rather one missed play -- was the difference between being 4-4 and a contender and 3-5 and an also-ran, New Orleans Saints coach Jim Haslett said on Monday.

It wasn't the only mistake in the game. Just the one that hurt most.

With the game tied at 20-20 in overtime, the Saints had fourth-and-1 on the Carolina 37. Trying to kick a field goal was one option, Haslett said. So was having quarterback Aaron Brooks try to get it on a naked bootleg. Or the ball could go to the Saints' money man -- Deuce McAllister.

The field goal would have been a 55-yarder. Kicker John Carney has made them from that distance, but he's also missed them when they're that long.

But while the decision was being debated, McAllister spoke up.

"I just told Jim, 'Give me the ball,' " McAllister said.

Haslett didn't hesitate. He played the odds and McAllister took the handoff, but Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers hit McAllister in the backfield forcing a fumble, and Carolina drove 50 yards for the winning field goal and a 23-20 victory.

Peppers was free because one Saints player was slow off the snap.

"Our tight end missed the cutoff block," Haslett said. "If he gets that block, Deuce might have gone for a touchdown."

Saints tight end Ernie Conwell played a good game, Haslett said. It was just one bad play at a really bad time.

"Ernie was late off the ball," Haslett said. "If Ernie leaves on the snap -- and he was the outside guy -- I don't know if he didn't hear because of the noise, which is a shame, because if he hears the snap and cuts Peppers off, Deuce might have gone all the way."

There was no second-guessing the call after the loss.

"I have no regrets giving the ball to Deuce," offensive Mike McCarthy said. "We're very good at third-down conversion, short-yardage and goal line. It's hard-nosed, straight-ahead football and I would call it again."

It was a bitter moment for McAllister, who sat alone on the Saints bench long after his teammates had gone to the locker room.

"It hurts," McAllister said. "I let my teammates down. I let every Saints fan down. It hurts."

The loss snapped New Orleans' two-game winning streak and dropped the Saints 3{ games behind Carolina (6-1) in the NFC South.

The Saints had fought back throughout the game, coming back from a 10-0 deficit in the first quarter to take a 17-10 lead at half time. After the Panthers went up 20-17 with 3:46 left in the game, New Orleans tied it again with 36 seconds remaining.

After all the effort they put into the game the loss was especially agonizing.

"This is real tough to take right now," tight end Boo Williams said. "We had a game against a division opponent in our grasp, and we let it go."

Even Haslett, who prides himself on facing both wins and losses the same way, said this loss was probably the most heartbreaking he's had as the Saints coach.

"Yes, it probably is," Haslett said. "I'll deal with it, the team will deal with it. We'll be all right."

The Saints had only one major injury in the game, running back James Fenderson, who plays primarily on special teams, has a sprained ligament in his foot and will probably be out a couple weeks, Haslett said.

Defensive linemen Kenny Smith and Kendrick Allen both have sore right knees and will be day-to-day.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index