CHARLOTTE, N.C. — New Orleans relied on its defense and the running of Ricky Williams to win seven of its first 10 games. Now, with Williams sidelined six to eight weeks because of a broken ankle, the Saints need their defense even more.
Williams' 93 yards Sunday in the Saints' 20-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers gave him exactly 1,000 for the season. And that's where he will stay as the second-year back broke his ankle on the one-yard run that got him to 1,000 with a little more than six minutes to play.
"He is a good player, a good back," Saint Coach Jim Haslett said. "But he is out and we will have to move on."
The Saints had plenty of defense to earn their sixth consecutive victory.
Linebacker Keith Mitchell returned a fumble 90 yards for a touchdown, the Saints forced five turnovers and had eight sacks.
New Orleans, which has the third-best defense in the NFL, recovered three fumbles and intercepted two passes from Steve Beuerlein. The Saints allowed the Panthers (4-6) only 53 yards rushing.
But it was all overshadowed by the loss of Williams, who became the first New Orleans back to reach the 1,000-yard mark since Dalton Hilliard in 1989.
The Saints, who still must play St. Louis twice in the race for the NFC West championship, will need their defense to get them through their final six games.
"It's on us to make sure we handle the next six games," defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said. "We have to make sure we keep everything intact until he gets back."
The game against Carolina was similar to the first meeting between the teams, when the Saints had eight sacks in a 24-6 victory.
"They are very aggressive and very tough and they caused turnovers that were critical," Carolina Coach George Seifert said. "They are a tough defense."
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Through 10 games, the Saints and Buccaneers are terrorizing opposing quarterbacks at a pace that could challenge the Bears all-time record of 72 sacks in 1984.
TEAM SEASON SACKS AVG./GAME Chicago 1984 72 4.5 Minnesota 1989 71 4.44 Chicago 1987 70 4.38
New Orleans 2000 44* 4.4 Tampa Bay 2000 42* 4.2
In addition, a number of defensive linemen are looking to break Mark Gastineau's mark of 22 sacks in 1984.
Player Team Season Sacks Avg. Mark Gastineau N.Y. Jets 1984 22 1.38 Reggie White Philadelphia 1987 21 1.31 Chris Doleman Minnesota 1989 21 1.31 La'Roi Glover New Orleans 2000 13 1.3 Hugh Douglas Philadelphia 2000 13 1.3 Lawrence Taylor N.Y. Giants 1986 20.5 1.28 Trace Armstrong Miami 2000 12.5 1.25 Warren Sapp Tampa Bay 2000 11.5 1.15
* Research by ROY JURGENS