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Dolphins hand reeling Saints fourth straight loss

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Dolphins coach Nick Saban trotted off the field to applause, kissed a few women on the cheek, hugged other fans and signed autographs.

The former LSU coach was triumphant again in Tiger Stadium, spoiling the New Orleans Saints' return to Louisiana.

"It's been wonderful. I really do feel like this was coming home to play a game and it was exciting for me even though I didn't say it [earlier]," Saban said. "It was exciting to be back in Tiger Stadium and I feel really great that our team did a nice job to make us proud of how they played."

The Dolphins' 21-6 victory over New Orleans on Sunday was the type of defensive masterpiece that Saban made commonplace here when he won a BCS national title two seasons ago. His defense allowed only two field goals, recorded a safety and kept Aaron Brooks off-balance throughout in snapping a three-game losing streak.

Gus Frerotte connected with Chris Chambers for Miami's only touchdown, which ended up being more than enough with Olindo Mare's
four field goals.

Ricky Williams also showed signs of a return to form for the first time since his NFL comeback, battering tacklers as he gained 82 yards on 17 carries. Ronnie Brown rushed for 106 yards for the Dolphins (3-4).

"We were very effective using both of those guys," Saban said. "I think we're learning and growing on how we do that."

While NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue offered hope to those in Louisiana who'd like to keep the state's NFL franchise, the Saints (2-6), losers of four straight, did little to leave their fans hopeful about this season.

Brooks was intercepted once, sacked six times for a combined loss of 68 yards and was often jittery, twice fumbling without being touched -- though he recovered both. He was forced to scramble so often he ended up leading the Saints in rushing with 34 yards.

Saints coach Jim Haslett, who might have celebrated a homecoming of his own had the Saints played better, blasted his entire team afterward.

"Right now we are a bad football team," Haslett said. "If anybody on this football team quits, or doesn't practice hard or play hard, I promise you I will cut them."

An announced crowd of 61,643 loudly welcomed the Saints back to Louisiana for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, routinely rocking Death Valley as LSU fans do. A sign with a fleur-des-lis read "Welcome Home Saints." Another read "Forget the Alamo," a reference to San Antonio, where the Saints have temporarily relocated since the storm. One that was addressed to Saints owner Tom Benson read "Please don't break my heart."

Tagliabue commended Louisiana fans for their longtime support and promised that the NFL would make a concerted effort to keep the Saints in the state.

"The Saints are Louisiana's team and have been since the late '60s," Tagliabue said. "Our focus continues to be on having the Saints in Louisiana."

The campus around the stadium was a sprawling encampment of tailgaters, much as it is for LSU games. Many wore wearing LSU purple and gold, some with screen printing that read "Welcome Home Nick."

And the crowd clapped in synch and roared when the LSU band took the field shortly before kickoff, playing "Hold That Tiger," a customary pregame tradition in Tiger Stadium.

Saban led the Dolphins onto the field to a mixture of applause and some unfamiliar boos. But by the end of the game, the boo birds had turned their wrath upon the Saints' stagnant offense.

Brooks was 14-of-31 for 181 yards. More than half of that went to Joe Horn, who returned form a hamstring injury to make seven catches for 99 yards.

"We love our fans. We thank them for coming here and showing their support," Horn said. "We should have been booed. We were playing horrible. ... I can feel their pain. All I can do is apologize. I love New Orleans and Baton Rouge. I miss Louisiana."

Frerotte was 16-of-28 for 168 yards with one interception.

Game notes
Wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim (ribs) was among the regulars listed as inactive for the Saints. Tight ends Shad Meier (hip and knee) and Ernie Conwell (knee) were injured during the game and were questionable for next week, Haslett said. Dolphins linebacker Junior Seau (calf) also sat out. ... Kevin Carter notched the second safety of his career. The first came in 1995 against Cincinnati when he sacked Boomer Esiason.