Arizona's Jacke kicks Saints out of contention

He wears Joe Montana's number, and New Orleans Saints coach Mike Ditka offered that comparison only five days ago.

On Sunday, Jake Plummer perfectly played the part of a four-time Super Bowl champion quarterback to kill the New Orleans Saints' playoff dreams.

Plummer's two long passes to Frank Sanders, plus his own 21-yard scramble, set up Chris Jacke's 36-yard field goal that lifted Arizona to a 19-17 last-second win over the Saints at Sun Devil Stadium.

While the Cardinals (8-7) need only a win in their season finale or a New York Giants loss to claim their first playoff berth since 1982, the Saints (6-9) were eliminated from the race for the NFC's final wild-card berth.

"It hurts right now," Saints linebacker Mark Fields said. "We were in a perfect opportunity to go into the playoffs and we let two big plays bite us like that. It's not a good feeling at all."

Fields took responsibility for letting Plummer and the Cardinals get rolling on their game-winning drive after the Saints had taken a 17-16 lead on Kerry Collins' 13-yard touchdown pass to Cam Cleeland with one minute, 21 seconds to play.

The Cardinals took over on their own 8 and Plummer completed consecutive passes of 25 and 28 yards to wide receiver Frank Sanders, who was wide open both times in the middle of the field.

"The kid ran no route, believe me," Saints coach Mike Ditka said. "He came off the ball, ran down 15 yards and turned around and the ball was thrown to him. That's their best receiver and we had nobody covering him."

Said Fields, "Basically, I'm just going to shoulder the brunt of that myself. I'm just going to say that I didn't carry him. I should have carried him up the seam. That's all she wrote right there."

After a false start penalty and an incomplete pass, Plummer eluded Saints defensive end Jared Tomich in the backfield and scrambled 21 yards to the Saints 23 with 30 seconds to play.

Plummer gained four yards on a scramble up the middle, which set up Jacke's game-winning field goal as time expired.

"I like everything about him," Ditka said of Plummer, who completed 32 of 44 passes for 394 yards. "He's a fighter. He's a winner. He hangs in there. He's tough. What else can you be? That's all you can be in this game."

The Saints, who could have made the playoffs by winning their final two games, appeared headed for the postseason after Collins engineered the 75-yard drive to give them the lead in the final minutes.

It was the Saints' first offensive touchdown in 10 quarters, dating back to Dec. 6. The New Orleans defense provided the other touchdown Sunday on free safety Sammy Knight's 39-yard interception return. That second-quarter play gave the Saints a team-record nine defensive touchdowns this season and helped New Orleans to a 10-6 halftime lead.

The Cardinals moved ahead 13-10 on Adrian Murrell's 21-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. But, with 12:29 left in the game, he gave the Saints a chance to take the lead when he fumbled at his own 18.

However, the Saints could gain only nine yards and faced a fourth-and-one play from the Cardinals 9. Ditka sent the field goal unit in, but then called time out and opted to go for the first down rather than attempt the short field goal that would have tied the game.

Aaron Craver ran up the middle and was stuffed short of the first down with 10:50 left.

"My only decision," Ditka said, "was (that) I can get ahead, I can win the football game. That puts us ahead by four, and a field goal won't beat me.

"I've got a half-yard to go - from what they told me it was a half a yard. We run the most powerful play we can run in there. We talked about it all week in practice - everybody on the staff. If we get in that situation, we're playing four-down football. We've got to try to make the first down. That was my thinking and whether it was right or wrong, I don't know."

Plummer then completed three passes in leading the Cardinals downfield for a 46-yard Jacke field goal and a 16-10 lead. Collins and Cleeland later erased that, but the defense failed them when it counted.

"We laid an egg," Saints defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said. "We choked."