NFL: Saints back into a playoff berth

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 25, 2006

By Brett Martel

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints returned to their lockers to find hats and T-shirts commemorating the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2000.

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 carriers, while blossoming quarterback Jason Campbell outplayed Brees.

“Ladell has made a real statement,” Gibbs said.

Campbell threw for 204 yards and a 31-yard touchdown to Santana Moss, and Shaun Suisham kicked two field goals.