CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- New Orleans relied on its defense and the
running of Ricky Williams to win seven of its first 10 games. Now,
with Williams out 6-8 weeks with a broken ankle, the Saints need
their defense even more.
Williams' 93 yards Sunday in the Saints' 20-10 victory over the
Carolina Panthers gave him exactly 1,000 for the season. And that's
where he will stay as the second-year back broke his ankle on the
1-yard run that got him to 1,000 with a little more than six
minutes to play.
"He is a good player, a good back," Saints coach Jim Haslett
said. "But he is out and we will have to move on."
The injury didn't appear serious at the time -- it was announced
as a sprained ankle -- and most of his teammates were surprised to
learn he'd be out at least the rest of the regular season.
"Ricky will be fine, I bet he'll play next week," linebacker
Keith Mitchell said.
When told it was a broken ankle, Mitchell seemed unfazed.
"Whatever," he said, "We've had adversity before, this is no
different. We'll just have to find a way to keep going."
The Saints had plenty of defense to earn their sixth straight
Mitchell returned a fumble 90 yards for a touchdown, the Saints
forced five turnovers and had eight sacks.
New Orleans, which has the third-best defense in the NFL,
recovered three fumbles and intercepted two passes from Steve
Beuerlein. The Saints held the Panthers (4-6) to 311 total yards,
only 53 rushing.
But it was all overshadowed by the loss of Williams, who became
the first New Orleans back to reach the 1,000 yard mark since
Dalton Hilliard in 1989.
The Saints, who still must play St. Louis twice in the race for
the NFC West title, will now need their defense to get them through
their final six games.
"It's on us to make sure we handle the next six games,"
defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said. "We have to make sure we keep
everything intact until he gets back."
The game against Carolina was similar to the first meeting, when
the Saints had eight sacks in a 24-6 victory.
"They are very aggressive and very tough and they caused
turnovers that were critical," Carolina coach George Seifert said.
"They are a tough defense."
That became clear when Mitchell broke the game open with his
||TOM DONAHOE'S BREAKDOWN
Question on the Saints: Can the Saints make a playoff run without Ricky Williams?
Donahoe: The injury to Ricky Williams (broken ankle, out six to eight
weeks) certainly puts a dent in the Saints' playoff run. But based on what I
know of Jim Haslett, he will not let his team get down about this
loss.They'll get somebody else in there -- probably their rookie from USC,
Chad Morton, along with Jerald Moore -- and they'll try
to pick up the slack as best they can. Ricky has been almost 50 percent of
the Saints' offense this year, so it's a significant loss. They'll have to
do some things differently to compensate for his absence. But the Saints
have come a long way and they'll do all they can to prevent a productive
season from falling apart.
Question on the Panthers: Why have the Panthers looked like Jekyll-and-Hyde this season?
Donahoe: The inconsistency of the offensive line has hurt the
Panthers. Once again today, Steve
Beuerlein struggled just to find time to throw the football. He was
sacked eight times and was under constant pressure throughout the game. As a
result, the Panthers' offense struggled again. Beuerlein is not the most
mobile of quarterbacks, and he has to operate behind an offensive line that
gives him time to throw. For much of this year, he hasn't had that
Tom Donahoe, ESPN.com's NFL analyst, was formerly the Steelers' director
of football operations.
The Saints were clinging to a 7-3 lead when Beuerlein had the
ball knocked out of his hand by Sammy Knight. Mitchell scooped it
up at the 10 and plodded down the sideline untouched for the score.
It was the longest fumble return for a touchdown in New Orleans
Mitchell again came up big on the next series. Willie Whitehead
sacked Beuerlein and forced a fumble, which Mitchell recovered on
the 35. The Saints turned it into a 17-3 lead on Doug Brien's
40-yard field goal.
"I should have held on to the ball, that goes back to Pop
Warner," Beuerlein said. "I didn't do my job of holding onto the
Carolina made it close with a 12-play scoring drive, capped by
Beuerlein's 13-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad that cut it
to 17-10 with 8:44 to play. It was the Panthers' first touchdown in
more than seven quarters against the Saints.
Brien added a 42-yard field goal with 3:23 to play.
The Panthers marched the ball down to the 3 on the opening
drive, but Joe Johnson sacked Beuerlein and recovered his fumble.
It was the first of his three sacks.
The Saints failed to convert on the turnover when Brien's
33-yard field goal attempt sailed wide.
New Orleans missed another opportunity on the next series when
Beuerlein's screen pass was picked off by Darren Howard at the 50.
Howard rumbled downfield with the ball dangling from his right hand
and had it knocked away by Kris Mangum as he crossed the goal line.
Carolina recovered, and it was ruled a touchback.
But the Saints made up for it five plays later.
After Carolina went three-and-out, Blake threw a 43-yard
touchdown pass to Joe Horn on New Orleans' first play to go up 7-0.
The Saints missed yet another chance to score before the half.
After driving to the 5, Blake was intercepted by Eric Davis in the
Ricky Williams, who became the first New Orleans back to reach the 1,000-yard mark since Dalton Hilliard in 1989, will leave a huge void in the Saints' offense. No other New Orleans running back has a rushing TD this season, and none has more that 12 carries.
Other N.O. RBs
The Saints are 7-0 when they score 20 or more points ...
New Orleans had its streak of 3½ games without a fumble snapped
when Williams fumbled in the first quarter. He recovered it
himself. ... Eric Swann of the Panthers deflected two passes to
give him four for the year. ... Tshimanga Biakabutuka was held to a
season-low 22 yards rushing.
New Orleans Clubhouse
Saints' Williams breaks ankle, out 6-8 weeks
Week 11 wrap-ups
Ricky Williams is confident the Saints can carry on without him.
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Wally Williams and the Saints' line are upset to see Ricky Williams go down.
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The "Big Easy" just got tougher. Chris Mortensen talks about the impact of Ricky Williams' injury.
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