Originally created 09/07/98

Saints turn turnovers into win



ST. LOUIS -- Mike Ditka's second season started out a lot better than the first, despite losing quarterback Billy Joe Hobert.

The New Orleans Saints turned two first-half turnovers into touchdowns and had only one turnover, contrasting with a mistake-laden performance from the St. Louis Rams in a 24-17 opening victory Sunday. Lamar Smith caught one touchdown pass and threw for another on an option play.

The Saints opened at St. Louis for the second straight year. Ditka lost 38-24 to Dick Vermeil last year in the coaching comeback game for both men. New Orleans led the rematch 24-0 with 4:45 left in the first half and ended a four-game losing streak against the Rams.

But Hobert ruptured his right Achilles tendon dropping back to pass on the artificial turf with 14:20 remaining. Hobert, who is likely out for the season, was 11-for-23 for 170 yards and one touchdown before being replaced by Danny Wuerffel.

New Orleans also won despite rushing for only 35 yards on 24 carries and getting shut out in the second half.

The Rams fumbled five times, losing one of them, and had one interception of Tony Banks' deflected pass that led to a Saints touchdown on the following play. Four Rams missed a chance to tackle Smith on a 35-yard pass pass play from Hobert that put New Orleans ahead 24-0.

A sellout crowd of 56,943, minus 8,150 no-shows no doubt distracted by Mark McGwire's home run chase across town with the Cardinals, let its displeasure be known. Fans counted out the missed tackles when the replay was shown.

Rams tailback Jerald Moore fumbled three times, once at the St. Louis 5 and twice inside the Saints 5. The first fumble was caused not by contact, but by the ball connecting with his thigh pad, and the ball bounced right to Saints defensive end Joe Johnson for a 5-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

One of Moore's fumbles came on his 1-yard scoring run with 55 seconds left in the first half. He dived on the ball in the end zone.

Moore was benched midway through the third quarter in favor of June Henley, who was on the practice squad last year. Vermiel inexplicably made his other two top running backs, second-round pick Robert Holcombe and free agent pickup Greg Hill, as inactives.

The Saints made it 14-0 on a 20-yard option pass from Smith to a wide-open Andre Hastings later in the first quarter and also got a 36-yard field goal from Doug Brien in the second quarter.

Banks had an effective game statistically. He was 29-for-44 for 298 yards and one touchdown and hit Eddie Kennison for a 15-yard score that cut the gap to 24-14 with 7:14 left in the third.

Jeff Wilkins made a 34-yard field goal with 1:26 to go to cut the Rams' deficit to seven.