Williams injury mars Saints win

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The Independent Online

With their 20-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers, the New Orleans Saints established their first six-game winning streak in nine years, but the triumph was overshadowed by despair following the loss of their running back, Rickey Williams, with a broken ankle.

With their 20-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers, the New Orleans Saints established their first six-game winning streak in nine years, but the triumph was overshadowed by despair following the loss of their running back, Rickey Williams, with a broken ankle.

Two years ago, the Saints traded all their draft choices to land Williams, one of the brightest prospects in the game. After a slow start last season, the player has been living up to his billing in recent weeks, providing the spark as the Saints mounted a genuine challenge for a place in the play-offs.

The injury occurred late in the second quarter, and many of his team-mates were unaware of the extent of the damage until after the match. Jim Haslett, the Saints' unflappable coach, seemed close to tears as he told reporters that Williams would miss at least eight weeks, effectively ruling him out until the end of the regular season.

With the Saints facing the difficult part of their schedule, maintaining momentum without their talisman will be difficult. However, their quarterback Jeff Blake, who threw a touchdown pass to Joe Horn in the win against Carolina, is determined to remain positive.

"Rickey's a great back, but we have to move on," he said. "Every time someone goes down, we find someone else to step up." In reality, finding a back of comparable quality will be virtually impossible.

Elsewhere Brett Favre, the Green Bay Packers' indestructible quarterback, sprained his left foot in his side's loss to Tampa Bay, and his league-record streak of 135 consecutive starts looks set to end. Worse for the Packers, their 20-15 reverse in Florida effectively ends their season.

Similar woes afflicted Jim Miller, Chicago's passer, who tore an Achilles tendon in his side's 20-3 humbling in Chicago. Miller faces surgery and is out for the year. Miami's veteran running back Thurman Thomas damaged a knee in his side's 17-7 victory in San Diego, and the 13-year veteran of Buffalo's four consecutive Super Bowl appearances, says he is considering retirement.

The Tennessee Titans finally lost their unbeaten record, albeit in unlikely circumstances. The Titans had never lost in 12 previous games at the Adelphia Coliseum in Nashville, and that sequence looked set to continue as a Perry Phenix 87-yard interception return with less than three minutes remaining gave them a 23-17 lead over the Baltimore Ravens.

However, the veteran kicker Al Del Greco missed the extra point, his first failure in 229 attempts, a streak dating back to 1993. That loomed large when Trent Dilfer hit Pat Johnson with 19 seconds remaining, the ensuing extra point giving the visitors a one-point advantage.

Even then Del Greco had a chance to atone for his error, only to miss a 43-yard field goal as time expired. Afterwards, he took full responsibility for the 24-23 loss. "I've said before that I get way too much credit and way too much blame sometimes," he said. "But I don't think that's the case here."

The New York Jets' season continues its downward spiral, the Colts winning 23-15 thanks mainly to the running of Edgerrin James, who gained 131 yards and a touchdown. No joy for the city's other team either, the Giants being humbled 38-24 by the St Louis Rams.

Like the Rams, the Minnesota Vikings have endured a troubled few weeks, but they returned to health with a positive performance against Arizona. The quarterback Daunte Culpepper fouind his range and threw touchdown passes to Robert Smith, Randy Moss and Cris Carter as the Vikings strolled to a comfortable 31-14 triumph.

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