- The Washington Times - Friday, November 12, 2004

When New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson re-married on Oct.29 during his team’s bye week, general manager Mickey Loomis and media relations director Greg Bensel participated in the ceremony while Jim Haslett was just a guest. That snub could reflect the precarious job security of a coach who’s just 27-29 since his acclaimed 10-6 debut in 2000.

Last week’s 43-17 pounding by San Diego dropped New Orleans to 3-5, three games behind front-runner Atlanta in the NFC South with a tough stretch of contests ahead against Kansas City’s potent offense, AFC West leader Denver and the Falcons.

“I’m not blind to the fact that things happen in this business,” said Haslett, who still has $6.7million owed to him after this season. “Coaches get fired because they’re not winning. Coaches get fired because fans don’t come to games. I’m not worried. Whatever happens, happens.”

Unfortunately for Haslett, the verdict already might be sealed.

After last month’s upset loss at Arizona during which ancient Cardinals running back Emmitt Smith gashed the Saints for 127 yards, teammates had to keep quarterback Aaron Brooks away from defensive end Charles Grant. What began as a heated verbal altercation between team leaders on the plane escalated into a more physical confrontation in the parking lot of the Saints’ facility later that night.

While the Saints’ offense was limited to 17 or fewer points in three of the past five games despite the return of running back Deuce McAllister from a sprained ankle, the league’s worst defense was ripped for 145 points. The Saints surrendered a franchise-record 605 yards in a 38-31 loss to Minnesota on Oct.17 which prompted Haslett to change four starters the next week.

Defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, the sixth pick overall in last year’s draft, is such a bust that he didn’t play a snap in the subsequent 31-26 victory over Oakland. Then came the debacle against the Chargers.

Midseason honors — Here are my picks as the NFL’s best: Top player, Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper; defensive player, Ravens safety Ed Reed; rookie, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger; coach, Bill Cowher, Steelers; assistant, Redskins assistant head coach/defense Gregg Williams; veteran addition, Eagles receiver Terrell Owens.

New York (oof), New York (ouch) — The Giants and Jets, after surprisingly stellar starts, both have lost two of their last three games. To make matters worse, the Giants have lost their only elite defensive player — Pro Bowl pass rusher Michael Strahan — and fellow end Keith Washington for the season, and the Jets will be without ace quarterback Chad Pennington for two to four weeks.

The good news for the Jets (6-2) is that Baltimore is the only winning team they face during that stretch before a grueling finishing run against Pittsburgh, Seattle, New England and St. Louis. The Giants (5-3) must take on Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Pittsburgh without Strahan. The chances of both New York teams making the playoffs for only the second time since 1986 are suddenly a lot more remote.

Pec-king disorder — In the last two weeks, Strahan, Miami linebacker Junior Seau and Washington safety Andre Lott have been lost for the season with torn pectoral muscles. Not only is the injury unusual, Strahan (two missed games in the previous decade) and Seau (eight) long had been among the league’s most durable stars.

Where to lay your cheesehead — For those Packers fans for whom a skybox at Lambeau Field is too routine, a 100-condominium development barely 100 yards from the stadium is in the works.

Capstone Development Corp. will market the condos mainly to wealthy fans from the Milwaukee area who want a place to entertain before and after games and in which to stay overnight. The condos will range from 650 to 1,600 square feet and cost between $150,000 and $600,000.

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