EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- No other team in the history of the NFL has had as many excuses for bad games at its disposal than this season's New Orleans Saints. They won't play a game in their home stadium all season. They had to relocate with practically no notice to a new city, where some of their early-season practices came at a high school sports complex. They were forced to play their first scheduled home game of the season in their opponent's stadium.
But after the Saints suffered their first loss of the season here Monday night, wide receiver Joe Horn had a message for his teammates: Forget the excuses.
"If some of them tell you it's a detriment that we don't have a home stadium and we practice on a high school field, I don't agree," Horn said. "We're professionals. We get paid a lot of money to play this game . . . . I don't think it should be difficult."
The Saints lost to the New York Giants, 27-10. The game was rescheduled and moved to Giants Stadium by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue after the Saints were displaced from hurricane- and flood-ravaged New Orleans.
The Saints were coming off a season-opening triumph at Carolina but gave a sloppy performance Monday night. They committed 13 penalties and had six turnovers, beginning with a fumble on the opening kickoff. Horn and fellow wideout Donte Stallworth each topped 140 receiving yards, as quarterback Aaron Brooks threw for 375 yards. But Brooks was sacked four times, threw three interceptions and lost a fumble. Kicker John Carney sent a 29-yard field goal attempt off the upright.
Coach Jim Haslett previously had been critical of Tagliabue's decision to move the game to Giants Stadium instead of San Antonio, where the Saints have based their operations for the season. But Haslett didn't attribute his team's poor performance Monday to the venue, and began his postgame news conference by applauding the night's fundraising efforts.
"We [stunk] on that field, to tell you the truth," he said. "That has nothing to do with where we live and what we do. We were just poor."
Brooks came the closest to complaining, saying the club's forced trip to New Jersey was "uncalled for" and the league shouldn't "patronize" the Saints by calling Monday's contest a home game for them. But even he added that the Saints had better forget about any self-pity and get used to the routine quickly, with another road trip -- to Minnesota to face the winless and desperate Vikings -- looming next weekend.
"It could go on and on," Brooks said. "But our approach, we have to take it one week at a time. We fly to Minnesota next week. At some point, it's going to wear down on us. We need to be mature enough and professional enough to deal with it."
Haslett and several Saints players said they felt Monday's game, originally scheduled for Sunday at the Superdome but made part of a nationally televised Monday doubleheader by Tagliabue to promote fundraising efforts for hurricane relief, had been given a Super Bowl-like buildup by the league. The Saints didn't respond with a Super Bowl-worthy performance.
"We got our [butt] kicked," Horn said. "Super Bowl or not, it's as simple as that. The Saints didn't play as well as the Giants did . . . . We lost. It was embarrassing, and we have to go back to the drawing board and get better. Regardless if we fly to 16 games this year -- that's not an excuse."
There was little time to dwell on the defeat for the Saints, who were facing a late-night flight back to San Antonio and a short week to get ready to play the Vikings.
"You take your lumps and move on," tailback Deuce McAllister said. "They beat us. You can blame the New York Giants."
Said Haslett: "We just didn't get the job done. Like I told the players, we just need to come back. We've bounced back from a lot more adversity." . . . Saints kick returner Michael Lewis suffered a knee injury during the game. Haslett did not disclose details of the injury but said the outlook for Lewis's availability "doesn't look good." . . . McAllister ran for only 47 yards Monday but became the Saints' career rushing leader, surpassing George Rogers.
Tagliabue Satisfied With Crowd
Tagliabue said before Monday's game he was satisfied with ticket sales. There was an announced crowd of 68,031 Monday, leaving just over 12,000 empty seats in the stadium.
"Selling 80,000 tickets on short notice on a Monday night at 7:30 is not an easy thing to do," Tagliabue said. "I think the ticket sales have been great. Ticket sales were not the issue. Playing the game in New York was the issue. I think a nationally televised event that would underscore rebuilding and recovery -- that's what we were trying to accomplish. We would have been happy if there were 50,000 or 55,000 people here."
The Saints and Giants donated $1 million from Monday's gate proceeds to relief efforts. The Giants contributed an additional $400,000, and the NFL Players Association announced a $1 million donation. That brought the total donations of the NFL, its teams and its players to about $11 million.
"We've had our own approach to raising money and giving money," Tagliabue said. "I guess the more, the better. We recognize that so many organizations, from symphonies to music groups to churches and synagogues to national groups of all kinds, are raising money. We don't have any ambition of becoming number one or of hogging the stage. Everyone has got to chip in here. When you think of a million people being displaced, what do you think of? How do you try to measure the magnitude of a million people? It occurred to me [Sunday] that on a typical Sunday afternoon we have a million people in NFL stadiums -- 15 or 16 sold-out NFL stadiums. That's how many people have been displaced and lost their homes, according to some reports. That's pretty unprecedented. It's a lot of people."
Tagliabue said he consulted with about six owners of teams league-wide before deciding to play the game in Giants Stadium, and he discounted competitive concerns as "inconsequential" compared to the larger issues involved for the Gulf Coast region.
"To me, it was so far down the list, I said it was inconsequential," Tagliabue said. "There were really three things here that were clear at the time. Number one, New Orleans had just experienced an unprecedented national disaster which the whole country was going to recognize was tragic. Number two, the Saints are all about Louisiana. They are the New Orleans Saints. And number three, the task of rebuilding and recovering and getting the public to support the recovery effort over the long haul -- those were the critical things.
"We discussed alternatives. I talked to half a dozen owners on a conference call. We considered playing the game in Atlanta or Dallas or Houston. But it didn't make sense. New York was the place to do it. It was just like LSU playing out in Arizona at the place of their opponent. The competitive aspects were inconsequential. It's not about a football game. It's about the NFL and the Saints making a statement about what they stand for in terms of rebuilding in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region."
Tagliabue said he has refused and will continue to refuse to listen to any complaints by the Giants' rivals about them being given a ninth home game this season. He said his view might have been different, however, if this had been a divisional game for the Saints.
"We did tell the teams on the 2nd of September that under no circumstances would the Saints play in the home stadium of their divisional opponents," Tagliabue said. "That aspect of the competitive thing was clear from day one because it's primarily the divisional games that are going to be the biggest factor in terms of playoff outcomes. That was made clear to the teams from day one. But in the larger context, I think [Washington Redskins Coach Joe] Gibbs said it himself, that when you're dealing with what you're dealing with here, that ninth home game doesn't seem to rise very high."
Tagliabue played a key role in brokering the deal by which the Saints will play four of their remaining seven home games this season in Baton Rouge, La., and the other three in San Antonio, insisting that the team play the majority of its home games in Louisiana. Tagliabue said he would have preferred for all seven home games to be played in Baton Rouge, if that had been possible. Tagliabue and Saints owner Tom Benson plan to explore the possibility of the Saints playing all their home games next season in Baton Rouge if a more permanent solution isn't found before then.
Tagliabue predicted before the game that the Saints will have "a great season" and fans nationwide will continue to embrace them.
"I guess they'll root for them against other teams but not against their own team," Tagliabue said. "That would be my guess . . . . I think [the Saints] have a challenge and it's the kind of challenge that people respond to, including football players. I think they're going to have a great year. It didn't surprise me that they won at Carolina because they have a coach who's a tough guy, and you can see how the players are responding. I think from a player's standpoint, putting this game on Monday night with national television, the way we've been able to do it, is about as big a boost as we could give to the team under any circumstances."
The Giants, after losing six of their seven games last season following Coach Tom Coughlin's decision to make Eli Manning the club's starting quarterback, are 2-0 for the first time since the 2000 season. Manning has a modest 337 passing yards in the two games but the Giants nevertheless have scored a league-high 69 points and they're tied with the Redskins atop the NFC East.
"What I like most is that guys are aggressive," said defensive end Michael Strahan, who played Monday night and had a sack even after suffering severe back spasms over the weekend. "Guys are hungry. Guys want to make plays. Nobody's satisfied with what we're doing. When that's the case, we can only be excited about the next week and getting better. We haven't even come close to playing the way we can play. The exciting thing about it is, once we put everything together, how good can we be?"
Manning faces a difficult task next weekend as the Giants travel to San Diego. The Chargers are 0-2 and desperately need a win, and Manning will face the team that he snubbed last year in forcing the draft-day trade that sent him to the Giants.
Late Monday, though, the Giants simply were savoring their positive beginning to the season. It was a good feeling after a difficult 2004 season in which the team's veteran players at times resisted Coughlin's rigid ways.
"It's good to be 2-0," Coughlin said. "I know we can be better, but it's a great format to improve upon." . . . Because the Saints were listed as the home team Monday, Manning's first-quarter scoring toss to tailback Tiki Barber officially was the first road touchdown pass of his NFL career.
Darius Done For Season?
Jacksonville safety Donovin Darius underwent an MRI exam Monday after suffering a knee injury during Sunday's loss at Indianapolis. Darius might have suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament that would sideline him the remainder of the season. He would be replaced by Deke Cooper in the Jaguars' lineup.
Quarterback Byron Leftwich also underwent an MRI on Monday for a groin injury suffered against the Colts. But his injury does not appear serious . . . .
Oakland wide receiver Ronald Curry had his season ended Sunday when he suffered a torn left Achilles' tendon during the Raiders' loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. It's the same injury that forced Curry to miss the final four games of last season . . . .
Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens is suffering from lower abdominal pain, according to Coach Andy Reid. But there's little doubt that Owens will be in the lineup this weekend, with the Raiders and Randy Moss, Owens's top rival for league-wide receiver bragging rights, playing in Philadelphia . . . .
The Eagles will hold kicker auditions today, with David Akers plagued by a strained hamstring muscle . . . .
Detroit not only lost in embarrassing fashion Sunday at Chicago. The Lions also may have lost cornerback Fernando Bryant for the remainder of the season because of a dislocated shoulder. Andre Goodman replaces Bryant in the lineup at least temporarily. Bryant's injury will be re-evaluated to determine if surgery is necessary, according to Coach Steve Mariucci.