American Football: Horn keeps Saints in touch but phone celebration courts controversy

The New Orleans Saints kept their slender play-off hopes alive with a 45-7 trouncing of the New York Giants on Sunday night, but the game will be remembered for the bizarre antics of their receiver Joe Horn.

After Horn caught his second touchdown pass, he pulled out a mobile phone from the padding surrounding the goalpost and called his mother. The phone had been put there by his team-mate Michael Lewis, but the gesture was punished by the referee, who imposed a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Unabashed, Horn added two further scores, setting a single-game franchise record in the process, but his coach, Jim Haslett, was less than impressed. In October, celebrating a touchdown in Atlanta, the veteran had pretended to machine gun team-mates, who fell down in a carefully choreographed celebration, which has been outlawed by the National Football League.

"You don't do stuff like that," Haslett said of Horn's unscheduled call home. "I know it was premeditated, I know it was national television, but you don't do that. It was the same thing in Atlanta. He'll learn. He's only 32."

Victory keeps Saints' hopes alive, but with only two weeks remaining in the regular season time is running out in the scramble for the 12 post-season berths. Only eight remained on Sunday, and the Indianapolis Colts and the Carolina Panthers claimed two of them with important victories.

The Colts overwhelmed the Atlanta Falcons 45-7 with their quarterback, Peyton Manning, throwing five touchdown passes. Manning also established an all-time record of six consecutive seasons with at least 25 touchdown passes.

After losing three in a row, the Panthers finally staggered over the finishing line with a 20-17 triumph in Arizona. The kicker, John Kasay, was the match-winner converting a 49-yard field goal with four seconds remaining.

But doubts about Carolina's ability to mount a sustained Super Bowl challenge remain. They have won eight of their nine contests in the last two minutes, or in overtime.

Of the remaining post-season hopefuls, the Dallas Cowboys need one more win to be safe following their 27-0 defeat of the Washington Redskins, while the Tennessee Titans are almost there after holding on for a nervous 28-26 victory at home to lowly Buffalo.

The Green Bay Packers remain in contention after a 38-21 rout in San Diego, Cincinnati's hopes remain intact after they prevailed in a shoot-out with San Francisco, while an unconvincing Denver needed overtime to see off a weakened Cleveland Browns.

However, Seattle's prospects dimmed with a reverse in St Louis, while the Baltimore Ravens' recent revival came to a halt with their defeat in Oakland, and a declining Minnesota lost 13-10 in Chicago.

The New York Jets cannot make the play-offs but their running back Curtis Martin gained 174 yards in his side's 6-0 win over Pittsburgh, giving him 1,000 yards for the ninth consecutive season.

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