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Saints stumble, but Panthers loss puts N.O. in playoffs

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The New Orleans Saints returned to their
lockers to find hats and T-shirts commemorating the franchise's
first playoff berth since 2000.

Most players hastily stuffed them in bags as they dressed and
left the stadium looking frustrated.

"I won't be celebrating at all tonight if that's what you're
wondering," quarterback Drew Brees said after the Saints clinched
the NFC South by default Sunday while losing 16-10 to the underdog
Washington Redskins. "I have the shirt. I have the hat. They're in
my bag. I'll go home and I'll put them in my closet."

New Orleans (9-5) still holds the No. 2 seed in the NFC, having
beaten Dallas (9-5) last week. Clinching a first-round bye just got
a little harder than expected, however.

"Our standards are higher than maybe what you would think,"
Brees said. "We won the division. That's great, but it came in a
loss. We still have more things now that we want to accomplish."

After Atlanta's loss to the Cowboys on Saturday night, the
Saints' only remaining pursuer in the NFC South, Carolina, was
eliminated Sunday by a loss to Pittsburgh.

The Redskins (5-9), meanwhile, played more like a team looking
to quiet harsh criticism than a unit already out of contention for
the postseason, punishing the Saints' defense with a running attack
that racked up 161 yards.

"I have never been prouder of a bunch of guys, with everything
that has happened to us this year," Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said.
"It was a fight. It was a pride game for us. ... They played as
hard as they could play."

Coming off a career-high 171 yards a week earlier, Ladell Betts
gained 119 on 22 carries, while blossoming quarterback Jason
Campbell outplayed Brees.

"Ladell has made a real statement," Gibbs said. "He has led
the team is what he has done."

Campbell threw for 204 yards and a 31-yard touchdown to Santana
Moss, and Shaun Suisham kicked two field goals of 37 yards and
another of 22 to keep New Orleans at arm's length.

Betts, filling in since Clinton Portis was lost for the season
with a broken hand, also had 43 yards on three catches.

Brees, who has played his way to MVP contention by leading the
league in yards passing, took too much time to get going, hurt by
dropped passes at times. He also threw a costly interception in the
fourth quarter and finished 21-of-38 for 207 yards. He was hurried
on many plays, sacked twice and he did not throw a touchdown pass.

The Redskins' defense neutralized Reggie Bush, holding him to
only 14 yards rushing and 19 yards receiving. Deuce McAllister
scored the Saints' lone touchdown, but finished with only 48 yards
rushing.

Despite playing poorly, New Orleans was in the game until the
end. Bush's 15-yard gain on a screen gave the Saints a first down
on the Washington 19 in the last two minutes. But the drive stalled
when Brees' fourth-down pass for Terrance Copper in the end zone
fell incomplete.

"I thought we were sluggish. I thought we were flat. ... I wish
I had an explanation. I don't have one for you," Saints coach Sean
Payton said. "Credit Washington. They did a good job. We looked
sluggish. I thought we had a good week of practice. Evidently, I
was wrong. It starts with me. I've got to do a better job getting
these guys ready because we were half asleep."

Washington dominated early but led only 13-7 at halftime because
of the same type of untimely mistakes that have plagued the
Redskins all season.

On Washington's opening drive, Campbell fumbled a snap for no
gain on a third-and-1 from the New Orleans 14 and Gibbs settled for
a field goal. Later, two straight false starts squandered a
second-and-2 at the New Orleans 11, leading to another field goal.

When the Redskins were error-free, they were ruthlessly
efficient, going 80 yards in only four plays for their only
touchdown and a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.

Cooley set up the score, turning a short pass into a 44-yard
gain to the Saints' 31. On the next snap, Campbell went down the
middle to Moss, who split defenders Mike McKenzie and Fred Thomas
in the back of the end zone.

The Saints, who were 3-13 last season while displaced by
Hurricane Katrina, have had a number of special moments with New
Orleans fans this season. They had talked during the week of this
game being another.

But playing the Redskins proved a humbling experience in what on
the whole has been a glorious return for their rebuilding city.

Bush never hinted at a smile when asked about winning the
division.

"I couldn't care less about the hat," Bush said. "I don't
even want it."

Game notes
Cooley finished with 80 yards on four receptions. ... The
Saints played without receiver Joe Horn (groin), who missed his
second straight game, as well as starting safety Omar Stoutmire and
tight end Mark Campbell, who both had minor knee injuries in a
victory over Dallas a week ago. ... Betts has rushed for 549 yards
in his last four games.