New Orleans Scuttlebutt 1-19-10

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by Clay A. Smith

The New Orleans Saints ended the 2009 regular season rather unceremoniously, with a half-hearted effort against the 8-8 Carolina Panthers in what amounted to an uninspired 23-10 exhibition. Losers of their last three, the Saints limped into the postseason, with head coach Sean Payton electing to rest his starters down the stretch. Predictably, wagering his team's playoff lives on the chance that rest would be more beneficial than renewing the momentum that saw them win 13 straight games, was a highly scrutinized decision.

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Questions concerning the validity of a team that flirted with perfection for the better part of the season inevitably made for front page fodder. And an unfavorable match up between the league's twenty-sixth ranked pass defense and a future Hall of Famer in Cardinals QB Kurt Warner, did little to dissuade critics who were skeptical about a team that appeared to have crested after an emotional week twelve win against the Patriots. Saturday however, the Saints, in front of a packed Super Dome and lead by former Saint and fan favorite  Deuce McAllister, unseated the reigning NFC champs and last years' Cinderella team in a 45-14 flogging.

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Though much of the suspense surrounding the game's outcome quickly evaporated after Bobby McCray's "decleater" (following a Will Smith interception) sent Warner to the locker room with 6:48 to go  before the half, the start of the game could not have been more unnerving for Saints' fans. After Arizona's first play from scrimmage ended in a seventy yard touchdown scamper by RB Tim Hightower, it appeared that the Saints enchanted season had run its course. But Arizona had had their chance at happily ever after, and New Orleans would not be denied theirs.

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Saints' quarterback Drew Brees answered immediately-methodically leading his team on a seventy-two yard game tieing scoring drive that, capped off by a one yard TD run by Lynell Hamilton. After allowing the early score Gregg Williams' defense began to stiffen, forcing two Arizona turnovers-the first of which set up New Orleans' second scoring drive of the day, firmly establishing momentum for the "Black and Gold."The Saints only allowed  one hundred and one rushing yards after giving up seventy on the game's first play and harassed Warner the entire game.

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Often criticized for his discretionary approach to running the ball, Reggie Bush set the tone both early and often-punctuating his runs with head on collisions instead of darting from hash to hash . Bush couldn't have picked a better time to elevate his play. His forty-six yard TD run (the longest in Saints' postseason history)  put the Saints up 21-7, and his eighty-three yard punt return for his second score allowed the Saints to cruise their way into their second NFC Championship in three years. This will be the first time that New Orleans will have ever hosted the NFC Championship game-and the best shot they've ever had at making it to a Superbowl.

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"There's no fan base that deserves a Championship more than New Orleans and the Who-dat nation," Brees said after Saturdays win.

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One thing is certain, it won't get any easier from here on out. Next Week its one vs two, as the Saints will face off against Bret Favre and the white hot Minnesota Vikings- fresh off their 34-3 drubbing of the Cowboys. The Saints can ill afford to come up lame as they had toward the back end of the season-they may have eliminated a legend in Warner, but they'll be up against an icon in Favre.

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-The Saint

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