NEW ORLEANS, DEC. 13 -- The New Orleans Saints were next to last in the National Football Conference in passing before today, but behind quarterback Bobby Hebert's three touchdown passes they defeated the Houston Oilers, 24-10, in front of 68,257 giddy "Who Dat" fans in the Louisiana Superdome.
The victory was the seventh in a row for the Saints (10-3), the longest current winning streak in the National Football League, and as usual owner Tom Benson came down to the field for a bit of boogie.
Meanwhile, the Oilers (7-6) saw their playoff hopes become much dimmer. The Saints had clinched their first-ever playoff spot last Sunday, and today's victory coupled with a loss by the Minnesota Vikings assured them that they will be hosts for any wild-card game in which they might play. But they are still on the march for the West Division title, and their victory keeps the heat on the first-place San Francisco 49ers (10-2), who will play the Chicago Bears on Monday night.
"I think today's game showed a lot about our football team," New Orleans Coach Jim Mora said. "We showed that this team wants more and is dedicated to doing all it can. They're not satisfied with a winning season or a playoff season."
Two of Hebert's touchdown passes went to Eric Martin and helped the Saints open a 21-3 lead at the half. Hebert completed 15 of 27 passes for 254 yards and had no interceptions. It was the first time he'd thrown three touchdown passes in his NFL career.
The Saints have not lacked motivation this season. In the beginning, Mora prodded them, and once they started winning, thoughts of playoff money and prestige started dancing in their heads. And after the first play of today's game, they had even more reason to apply themselves.
Barely a second after New Orleans' Morten Andersen kicked off, Houston rookie linebacker Walter Johnson knocked the Danish sidewinder half way to Copenhagen.
Once he regained his bearings, Andersen got angry. The Saints fans, who hardly needed any more priming, were screaming for the scalp of Johnson, who, coincidentally, played his college football at Louisiana Tech. And worst of all for the Oilers, the play riled the rest of the Saints, and especially their defense.
"We were fired up," Mora said. "We were ready. But if we weren't, that certainly would have gotten us ready. That was a cheap shot. What's the purpose of nailing somebody's kicker? That's bull."
Andersen's left side, which caught the impact of Johnson's 240 pounds, throbbed. His fingers and back hurt because he landed on them with quite a thud. Afterward, he had a friend tie his shoelaces. Andersen's sore shoulder prevented him from reaching that far.
All in all, a pretty tough day for a kicker.
"I think it has something to do with Darwinism," he said, trying to smile, when asked why the Oilers would go after him. "I don't know how these other guys go 60 or 70 plays. This was just one hit and I'm miserable."
He called the tackle "ridiculous," and called Oilers Coach Jerry Glanville "a cheap shot."
But, he said: "It fired up our defense and got us going. In the final analysis, the head coach is responsible. I thought it was a cheap shot and they deserved to lose. They are a cheap, classless football team."
Glanville and the Oilers, who have been accused of cheap shots by other teams this year, had left their locker room by the time Andersen voiced his complaints to the media.
Anderson said he went over and said something to Glanville, but, when asked later, Glanville said: "I don't know what he said. I was looking for the other coach."
The other controversies today involved instant replays. Houston scored its touchdown on a 34-yard pass from Warren Moon to Ernest Givins. The replay appeared to show that Givins' foot was out of bounds, but the official ruled that Givins had possession and was pushed out.
The other controversial play also involved Givins. He appeared to catch a pass in the end zone, but then fell out of the end zone. The officials ruled him down at six inches from the goal line. The replay officials did not overrule either call. But, in this game at least, modern technology was not the deciding factor.
The production from the Saints' offense, defense and special teams was, though.
Hebert connected with Martin (six catches for 130 yards), on a 54-yard pass-and-run touchdown on New Orleans' first possession.
The special teams get most of the credit for 10 of the 24 points. Besides' Andersen's fourth-quarter field goal, Michael Adams blocked a punt in the second quarter. Three plays later, Hebert and Martin hooked up again, this time on a seven-yard touchdown for a 14-0 lead with 9:15 left in the first half.
The Oilers cut it to 14-3, but it was really a victory for the Saints defense. Tony Zendejas kicked a 26-yard field goal, but the Saints were penalized on the play and Houston got first and goal at the 4. Three plays later, the Oilers were still there and Zendejas resorted to the 21-yard field goal.
The defense, which is second in the NFC, stopped the Oilers again in the fourth quarter. After Givins' end-zone catch was nullified, Houston's chance to cut into New Orleans' 24-10 lead was wiped out when Sam Mills separated Mike Rozier from the ball on third down. Moon recovered for Houston, but on fourth down from the 4, Milton Mack stopped Hayward Jeffires a yard short after a reception.
"We had our backs against the wall and kept fighting," Mills said. "That should help down the road because we will know from past experience that we can do it."
Houston 0 3 7 0 10 New Orleans 7 14 3 0 24
NO -- Martin 54 pass from Hebert (Andersen kick), 4:19 Second Quarter
NO -- Martin 7 pass from Hebert (Andersen kick), 5:45
H -- FG Zendejas 21, 11:04
NO -- L. Hill 26 pass from Hebert (Andersen kick), 14:04 Third Quarter
H -- Givins 34 pass from Moon (Zendejas kick), 2:44
NO -- FG Andersen 28, 10:39
A -- 68,257
Oilers Saints First downs 20 21 Rushes-yards 26-110 39-151 Passing yards 244 240 Return yards 5 48 Passing 16-36-0 15-27-0 Sacked-yards lost 2-14 3-14 Punts-average 8-33 4-45 Fumbles-lost 3-0 5-2 Penalties-yards 6-43 10-89 Time of possession 26:2
RUSHING -- Houston: Rozier 22-91, Wallace 1-12, Highsmith 3-7. New Orleans: Hilliard 19-93, Mayes 17-54, Jo
PASSING -- Houston: Moon 16-36-0, 258 yards. New Orleans: Hebert 15-27-0, 254.
RECEIVING -- Houston: Givins 5-74, Hill 4-102, Drewrey 3-40, Rozier 2-32, Pinkett 1-7, Jeffires 1-3. New Or
MISSED FIELD GOALS -- New Orleans: Andersen 48, 46.