CINCINNATI — The playoff-bound New Orleans Saints looked like the old "Aints" for a while Sunday--piling mistake upon mistake to fall far behind the Cincinnati Bengals.
They then proved they're a different team than the one that inspired their fans to cover their heads for much of the franchise's first 20 years.
Buford Jordan capped a 38-point rally with a pair of late touchdown runs as the Saints ran their team-record winning streak to eight games by routing the Bengals, 41-24.
The Saints dominated the second half, allowing Cincinnati just one long field-goal try that fell short.
The Saints trailed, 24-3, in the second quarter before they geared up a fierce pass rush that frustrated quarterback Boomer Esiason. The pressure forced a pair of fumbles and two interceptions that fueled the Saints' comeback.
The victory improved the Saints' record to 11-3 and kept them in contention for the NFC West title. New Orleans is assured of at least a wild-card berth--the first playoff spot in the franchise's 21-year history.
The comeback made believers out of the Bengals.
"They're a playoff team in every sense of the word," Cincinnati Coach Sam Wyche said.
The Bengals, too, reverted to form after the early lead, coming unraveled as they fell to 4-10. Their 1-7 record at Riverfront Stadium this season is the worst home record in franchise history.
The Saints rallied behind backup quarterback Dave Wilson, who entered the game when Bobby Hebert sprained his right knee in the second quarter with New Orleans trailing, 24-3. Wilson, who lost the starting job to Hebert in training camp, completed 9 of 15 passes for 160 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown pass to Mike Jones that cut the lead to 24-17 early in the third quarter.
The Saints' defense, among the NFL leaders in takeaways, then took over.
A fumble by Esiason set up the second of Dalton Hilliard's two short touchdown runs, tying the game, 24-24, with 9:34 left in the third quarter.
Morten Anderson broke the tie with a 30-yard field goal with 6:57 to play, and the Bengals' offense broke down in the closing minutes under an intense pass rush.
Van Jakes intercepted Esiason's pass, which was tipped, and returned it 27 yards to the Bengals' one-yard line, setting up Jordan's first score with 5:55 left.
Esiason was hit and fumbled again, putting the Saints in position for Jordan's clinching eight-yard run with 1:55 to play. Cincinnati's last chance ended with another interception, the Saints' 29th of the season.