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Williams scores winner on game's last play

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Ricky Williams never imagined he would
get the ball with a second left in the game and a yard needed to
win. After all, he never gets the call when New Orleans practices
similar situations.

But the Saints gambled on Sunday, and Williams delivered,
outrunning Carolina's defense on the final play of the game to give
New Orleans a 27-25 victory over the Panthers.

"I didn't expect to be in that situation at all," Williams
said. "Usually, when we're in our two-minute drill, the running
back never gets the ball and I never get that chance. So I was
surprised and thankful the coaches had confidence in me."

In practice situations, the Saints normally throw the ball. But
against Carolina's defense, which failed to stop Williams the
entire game, conventional wisdom was tossed aside.

With 1 second left, the Panthers stacked the line, assuming
quarterback Aaron Brooks or Williams might try to go straight into
the end zone.

Instead, Williams took the pitch and went around left tackle
Willie Roaf and followed a stellar block from receiver Albert Connell to race around the left side of the line untouched for the
score.

Is Ricky Williams finally in the upper echelon of NFL backs?
I think so. Williams is a double threat: He can catch the ball as well as
run.

Williams is so big and so strong that he wears people down. He has
demonstrated that he's very productive in the fourth quarter, which enables
the Saints to control the ball and the clock when they're ahead.

Ricky can take a team and carry it by himself. He's that talented.

ESPN.com NFL analyst Vinny Cerrato has served as director of player
personnel for the Redskins and 49ers.


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"It was a very gutsy call because they were bringing everybody
and we never run it that way in practice against our defense,"
Brooks said. "But we can't run the ball on our defense. It's
unrealistic. I guess with Ricky, nothing is unrealistic."

Williams' run capped a late flurry of scoring that prevented the
Saints (3-1) from nearly losing a game they dominated. It also
assured Williams, who ran for 147 yards on 31 carries, that he'd
make the highlight shows for the right reason.

"Once I found out I was getting the ball, I knew I would be on
(TV) one way or the other," he said. "It was either going to be
`Williams scores' or `Williams gets stuffed' so I'm pleased with
the way it worked out."

The Panthers (1-4) lost their fourth straight, their longest
losing streak since they opened the 1998 season 0-7.

Coach George Seifert said he took no satisfaction in Carolina
rallying from a 17-0 deficit and nearly winning the game.

"We take nothing from this. It was a very tough loss," Seifert
said. "I have no consolation."

Carolina took its first lead of the game with 1:48 to play when
rookie Steve Smith returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown and a
25-20 lead.

But Brooks helped the Saints answer, moving New Orleans 82 yards
in 13 plays with just one timeout and 1:48 to play.

Brooks had New Orleans inside the 20 with 14 seconds to play and
capitalized on Carolina penalties to keep the drive alive. The
Panthers were called for jumping offsides with 10 seconds left to
move the ball to the 2. A pass interference call on the next play
moved the ball up another yard with 6 seconds left.

Brooks' next shot at the end zone dropped incomplete, leaving
just 1 second left on the clock and one shot left for the win.

After the touchdown, the Saints poured onto the field to
celebrate, and the officials had to clear everyone off for the
extra point.

"The door was open just enough for them to squeak in,"
Carolina defensive end Michael Rucker said. "One second and they
get in, that hurts."

The Saints held Carolina to just one offensive yard and one
first down -- which came on a New Orleans penalty -- in the first
quarter. The Panthers also turned the ball over two times in their
first six plays of the game, leading to an early 10-0 hole.

Rookie Chris Weinke continued to struggle, fumbling away the
center exchange on Carolina's second possession, losing another
fumble when his arm was hit as he attempted to pass and also
throwing an interception. All three turnovers led to Saints scores,
putting Carolina down 17-0.

He finished 21-of-39 for 196 yards and two second-half
touchdowns.

"It doesn't get any tougher than this," Weinke said. "We put
ourselves in a hole early and there were mistakes I made. They
scored those 17 points off of turnovers that we gave them in our
territory."

Game notes
Carolina's field, plagued by turf problems two weeks ago,
held up well on Sunday. ... CB Doug Evans picked off Brooks in the
second quarter, his fourth straight game with an interception -- a
Carolina record. ... Williams' 46-yard run in the third quarter was
the longest of his career. ... Michael Lewis' fumbled punt was the
first fumble New Orleans has lost this season. ... John Kasay's
52-yard field goal in the second quarter was his longest kick since
1998.

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