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Panthers' demise in fourth has Saints 7-2

11/10/2002

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Donte Stallworth stood alone on the
sideline, a look of defeat on his face. He had just dropped another
pass, this one in the end zone, and he was certain his quarterback
would stop looking to him.

Question on the Saints: How much do you think CB Dale Carter will help their defense?
I have mixed feelings about that. He's a good cornerback who had success with the Chiefs for seven years. But he had a shakier experience in Denver and Minnesota (one year each). Some of his on-the-field (and penalty-drawing) antics won't go over well with Saints coach Jim Haslett. But if he's changed, he'll be a great addition.

Question on the Panthers: Is there any other way they can possibly blow a fourth-quarter lead?
Every week, it seems they end up with a tough loss. Getting QB Rodney Peete back helped the offense, and the defense plays hungry and hard ... but then it gets worn down. I think that's why the Panthers are shaky at the end of games.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

Instead, Aaron Brooks gave the rookie a pep talk, then completed
a 95-yard drive by throwing a 7-yard touchdown pass to Stallworth
with 31 seconds left for the winning score in the New Orleans
Saints' 34-24 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

"He was feeling down, so I went over there and put my arm
around him and told him not to worry about it,'' Brooks said. "The
more he tried to fight it, the worse it was going to get. So I told
him to forget it and I'd look for him again later.''

The touchdown put the Saints ahead 27-24, and Charles Grant
added the clincher by returning Rodney Peete's fumble 34 yards for
the score as time ran out.

The Saints (7-2) matched their best start since 1992 with their
fifth straight victory over Carolina (3-6).

The Panthers have lost six straight, but five of those losses
have come in the final four minutes.

"It's almost becoming like Groundhog Day,'' said first-year
coach John Fox. "We've had it happen more than enough this year.''

Bolstered by the return of Peete -- he missed two games with a
knee injury -- the Panthers took a late 24-20 lead on his 15-yard
touchdown pass to Wesley Walls with 3:31 to play. To reach the end
zone, Carolina converted a fourth-and-1 at its 42-yard line.

That gave Carolina confidence to try more big plays. Peete
connected on a 42-yard pass that Muhsin Muhammad caught on his
back, and Peete found Walls for the touchdown on the next play.

"I would have put my 401(k) and everything else that I have on
the fact that our defense would stop them from scoring a touchdown
on that last drive,'' Muhammad said.

But like most of Carolina's recent games -- four of their five
losses coming in Sunday were by a combined 10 points -- this one
came down to the final minutes.

A block in the back on the kickoff started the Saints at the
5-yard line, and it looked like the Panthers could end the game
when Reggie Howard intercepted Brooks on his first pass. But the
play was negated when officials called Howard for a push-off, and
the Saints kept moving.

"I want to see that call, because it was crazy. They threw the
flag very late, and I thought for sure that was the game,'' said
Carolina safety Deon Grant. "Even so, when they lined back up,
they still had 80 yards to go, and we could have stopped them.''

The Saints benefited from yet another Carolina mistake when
Julius Peppers' sack of Brooks was negated because Terry Cousin was
called for defensive holding, giving New Orleans a first down.

That's when Stallworth -- who turned 22 Sunday -- came back into
the picture.

He'd dropped at least four passes over the course of the game.
One of them was in the end zone, when Stallworth was sure he should
have caught Brooks' long pass for a first-half touchdown.

"I felt like I was on the verge of having the worst game of my
life,'' Stallworth said. "Then A.B. came up to me and said he
wasn't going away from me, he was going to keep coming until I made
a play.''

Brooks made good on his word with a 38-yard pass to Stallworth
to move the ball to the Carolina 10, and the Saints scored two
plays later when the two hooked up again for the touchdown.

"We slipped up and let Donte catch it over the middle and take
it down to the 10,'' Peppers said. "It's hard and frustrating when
you've got the game and it gets put on the defense's shoulders, and
we don't step up and respond.''

The Panthers tried to move close enough for a tying field goal,
but Peete's attempted pass was fumbled, and Grant picked it up and
ran to the end zone.

Peete finished 23-for-40 for 310 yards, with two touchdown
passes and an interception.

New Orleans running back Deuce McAllister had his streak of four
straight 100-yard rushing games snapped by finishing with just 71.
But he scored on touchdown runs of 20 and 4 yards.

Brooks threw for 259 yards and one touchdown.

Game notes
New Orleans' Willie Whitehead and Norman Hand were both hit
with 15-yard personal fouls for roughing the passer. .... Saints
cornerback Dale Carter, back after an eight-game NFL suspension,
nearly intercepted Peete in the third quarter, but the ball bounced
off his fingers. .... Carolina's Wesley Walls had two catches,
giving him 424 for his career, 12th-best in NFL history for tight
ends.