Saints stumble, but Panthers loss puts N.O. in playoffs

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The New Orleans Saints returned to their

lockers to find hats and T-shirts commemorating the franchise's

first playoff berth since 2000.

Scouts Inc.'s take ...

The Redskins' defense did an outstanding job of disrupting the rhythm and flow of the Saints' offensive schemes. Defensive coordinator Greg Williams should get a tremendous amount of credit for using an assortment of blitz schemes that placed a lot of pressure on QB Drew Brees (above). The Redskins were very physical on the back end with their coverage schemes, which took away the explosive elements in the Saints' passing attack.

Redskins QB Jason Campbell relied on RB Ladell Betts (119 yards). The Redskins' offensive line controlled the line and didn't allow the Saints to disrupt the flow of their rushing attack. Campbell showed a lot of poise in the pocket by taking advantage of the soft areas in the Saints' zone defenses, especially down the middle.

Most players hastily stuffed them in bags as they dressed and

left the stadium looking frustrated.

"I won't be celebrating at all tonight if that's what you're

wondering," quarterback Drew Brees said after the Saints clinched

the NFC South by default Sunday while losing 16-10 to the underdog

Washington Redskins. "I have the shirt. I have the hat. They're in

my bag. I'll go home and I'll put them in my closet."

New Orleans (9-5) still holds the No. 2 seed in the NFC, having

beaten Dallas (9-5) last week. Clinching a first-round bye just got

a little harder than expected, however.

"Our standards are higher than maybe what you would think,"

Brees said. "We won the division. That's great, but it came in a

loss. We still have more things now that we want to accomplish."

After Atlanta's loss to the Cowboys on Saturday night, the

Saints' only remaining pursuer in the NFC South, Carolina, was

eliminated Sunday by a loss to Pittsburgh.

The Redskins (5-9), meanwhile, played more like a team looking

to quiet harsh criticism than a unit already out of contention for

the postseason, punishing the Saints' defense with a running attack

that racked up 161 yards.

"I have never been prouder of a bunch of guys, with everything

that has happened to us this year," Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said.

"It was a fight. It was a pride game for us. ... They played as

hard as they could play."

Coming off a career-high 171 yards a week earlier, Ladell Betts

gained 119 on 22 carries, while blossoming quarterback Jason

Campbell outplayed Brees.

"Ladell has made a real statement," Gibbs said. "He has led

the team is what he has done."

Campbell threw for 204 yards and a 31-yard touchdown to Santana

Moss, and Shaun Suisham kicked two field goals of 37 yards and

another of 22 to keep New Orleans at arm's length.

Betts, filling in since Clinton Portis was lost for the season

with a broken hand, also had 43 yards on three catches.

Elias Says

Reggie Bush
Reggie Bush caught five passes in the Saints' 16-10 loss to the Redskins, raising his total this season to 84 pass receptions, a new NFL record for a rookie running back. The previous mark was 83 by Earl Cooper of the 49ers in 1980. Cooper was converted to a tight end later in his career.

• For more Elias Says, Click here.

Brees, who has played his way to MVP contention by leading the

league in yards passing, took too much time to get going, hurt by

dropped passes at times. He also threw a costly interception in the

fourth quarter and finished 21-of-38 for 207 yards. He was hurried

on many plays, sacked twice and he did not throw a touchdown pass.

The Redskins' defense neutralized Reggie Bush, holding him to

only 14 yards rushing and 19 yards receiving. Deuce McAllister

scored the Saints' lone touchdown, but finished with only 48 yards


Despite playing poorly, New Orleans was in the game until the

end. Bush's 15-yard gain on a screen gave the Saints a first down

on the Washington 19 in the last two minutes. But the drive stalled

when Brees' fourth-down pass for Terrance Copper in the end zone

fell incomplete.

"I thought we were sluggish. I thought we were flat. ... I wish

I had an explanation. I don't have one for you," Saints coach Sean

Payton said. "Credit Washington. They did a good job. We looked

sluggish. I thought we had a good week of practice. Evidently, I

was wrong. It starts with me. I've got to do a better job getting

these guys ready because we were half asleep."

Washington dominated early but led only 13-7 at halftime because

of the same type of untimely mistakes that have plagued the

Redskins all season.

On Washington's opening drive, Campbell fumbled a snap for no

gain on a third-and-1 from the New Orleans 14 and Gibbs settled for

a field goal. Later, two straight false starts squandered a

second-and-2 at the New Orleans 11, leading to another field goal.

When the Redskins were error-free, they were ruthlessly

efficient, going 80 yards in only four plays for their only

touchdown and a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.

Cooley set up the score, turning a short pass into a 44-yard

gain to the Saints' 31. On the next snap, Campbell went down the

middle to Moss, who split defenders Mike McKenzie and Fred Thomas

in the back of the end zone.

The Saints, who were 3-13 last season while displaced by

Hurricane Katrina, have had a number of special moments with New

Orleans fans this season. They had talked during the week of this

game being another.

But playing the Redskins proved a humbling experience in what on

the whole has been a glorious return for their rebuilding city.

Bush never hinted at a smile when asked about winning the


"I couldn't care less about the hat," Bush said. "I don't

even want it."Game notes
Cooley finished with 80 yards on four receptions. ... The

Saints played without receiver Joe Horn (groin), who missed his

second straight game, as well as starting safety Omar Stoutmire and

tight end Mark Campbell, who both had minor knee injuries in a

victory over Dallas a week ago. ... Betts has rushed for 549 yards

in his last four games.