QB Collins solid as defense scores twice

Kerry Collins provided the tonic that cured the New Orleans Saints' woes Sunday.

Playing his first game since joining New Orleans last month, Collins threw a touchdown pass, helped the Saints to their best rushing game since September and led a turnover-free offense as New Orleans whipped St. Louis 24-3 at the Louisiana Superdome.

"I think just having him out there was a big lift," said Saints rookie tight end Cam Cleeland, who caught a first-quarter touchdown pass. "It was a great feeling. He gave us a spark."

In his first NFL action since being waived by Carolina last month, Collins completed 13 of 26 passes for a mediocre 150 yards. But there was more to his day than simple passing statistics.

Collins' 10-yard touchdown pass to Cleeland culminated the Saints opening drive and put struggling St. Louis (3-7) behind for good.

His seven rushes for a team-high 38 yards helped New Orleans (5-5) to 102 yards on the ground, the first time the Saints had topped the century mark in rushing yards since Sept. 27.

"I was excited about playing," Collins said. "I think I lost some of that excitement when I was at Carolina, and I had some time off and some time to think (about) it, and I was anxious to get out there and just have some fun again."

Collins hadn't played since an Oct. 5 start for Carolina, but he showed no ill effects from his time away. On the Saints first possession, he completed five of seven passes on a 60-yard drive that culminated with Cleeland's fourth touchdown catch of the season.

During the drive, Collins completed three third-down passes. In last week's 31-24 loss at Minnesota, the Saints were 0-for-7 on third down.

"I think it was great for Kerry," Saints coach Mike Ditka said. "I really do. I think the team was probably looking at him and saying, 'Hey, this guy can get it done.' "

The Saints defense took over from there, providing a pair of touchdowns while stifling St. Louis all day.

On the Rams first possession, Saints cornerback Tyronne Drakeford leaped high snare an errant Tony Banks pass before returning the interception 32 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 Saints lead.

After the teams traded field goals, the rugged Saints defensive line came up with a big play with 1:55 left in the first half.

Defensive end Jared Tomich sacked Banks at the Rams 15, jarring the ball loose and sending it rolling into the end zone where reserve tackle Austin Robbins fell on it for a touchdown and a 24-3 Saints lead.

The Rams mounted little challenge from there. Banks passed for 246 yards, but the Saints punished him with seven sacks while intercepting him twice. St. Louis had just 55 rushing yards.

"We stink. We stunk up the place," St. Louis coach Dick Vermeil said. "That's all there is to it."

But for Collins, after five weeks on the sideline that included his ugly departure from Carolina and an arrest for drunken driving, life couldn't be better.

"You keep trying to get in a place where you feel good about yourself playing and feeling good about everything," Collins said. "That makes these moments even sweeter."