NEW ORLEANS — For weeks, Coach Jim Mora refused to talk about playoff possibilities.
But after the New Orleans Saints clinched their first playoff berth Sunday with a 44-34 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mora had to give in.
"I'm happy to say we are now a playoff team," Mora said of his Saints (9-3).
Three weeks ago, Mora said, "We're not good enough."
Two weeks ago, he did say the Saints could be considered contenders, but "everyone's a contender when the season starts. Only 10 of them make it."
Tackle Stan Brock, a veteran of the 1980 Saints who lost 15 of 16 games, smiled in quiet satisfaction.
"It's a great feeling. I feel a little sorry for the Joe Federspiels, the Archie Mannings, the Derland Moores--all the guys who spent so much time here and tried so hard and never felt this. I'm just thankful my career lasted long enough to enjoy this."
Brock lost a bet to reporters, but he didn't mind.
"I'll bet Coach Mora won't talk about the playoffs at all," he said. "He'll talk about Houston (next week's opponent)."
Tampa Bay's Vinny Testaverde, first player taken in this year's draft, fumbled when sacked on the third play of the game, and the Saints' Bruce Clark recovered on the Buccaneers' 19-yard line. Four plays later, the Saints scored on Bobby Hebert's eight-yard pass to John Tice.
Testaverde fumbled the snap on the next play, and Pat Swilling recovered at Tampa Bay's 38. Hebert, who was 16 of 24 for 255 yards, hit Tice with a six-yard scoring pass to make it 14-0.
Rueben Mayes scored for the Saints on a seven-yard run in the second quarter and a two-yard run in the third quarter. Dalton Hilliard got a second-quarter touchdown on a three-yard run, and Morten Andersen kicked field goals of 40, 24 and 32 yards.
Testaverde scored the Buccaneers' first-quarter touchdown on a one-yard run, connected with Mark Carrier on a 37-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter and teamed with Bruce Hill on a 12-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Donald Igwebuike kicked field goals of 37 and 43 yards for Tampa Bay (4-8).
Testaverde completed 22 of 47 passes for 369 yards. Eight of those completions were to Carrier, who accounted for a Tampa Bay team-record 220 receiving yards.