Bum Phillips third season was one of relative success. The roller-coaster ride of a season was arguably on of the New Orleans Saints best yet. With the combination of a dominating defense and a potent running attack kept the hopes of post-season play stayed alive literally up until the closing seconds of the last game.
The season opener was a dandy. George Rodgers rambled for 206 yards and 2 TDs (one was a 76-yarder) against the (then) St Louis Cardinals. Game 2 was lost to the (then) Los Angeles Rams as George Rodgers went down with an injury.
The next week in Chicago, Morten Andersen booted a 41-yarder with 4:03 left in overtime to give the Saints their first ever overtime win. Against Dallas, the defense shined with 7 sacks and 3 interceptions. Unfortunately, it was Dallas's defense that won the game. Ken Stabler was sacked in the endzone with 1:58 left in the game to put the Cowboys ahead by 1.
Filling in for the injured George Rodgers, backup-up running back Wayne Wilson had 161 yards on a team record 34 carries as the Saints downed the visiting Dolphins. Wayne Wilson then set a team record with his 3rd consecutive 100 yard game when he put up 103 against Atlanta. It was Morten Andersen once again coming through in the clutch with a 35 yard FG as time ran out to give the Saints the win. It was his fourth FG of the day and capped a 13 point fourth quarter rally.
With New Orleans sporting an unprecedented 4-2 record, the upcoming game with the 49ers was a big one. New Orleans, San Francisco and Los Angeles were locked in a 3-way tie for first place in the Western Division.
Unfortunately, it was the 49ers that had the big day as Ray Wershing connected on 6 FGs.
Linebacker Jim Kovach
Bum's Boys rebounded big the following week against Tampa. The defense came on strong with 7 sacks. Down 14-0, Guido Merkins made a big play for the Saints when he took a fake FG attempt around the end for 16 yards and a first down that kept a scoring drive alive. The next week was another loss, this one to the Bills. Stabler went down hurt and Dave Wilson came in and tossed 3 scores in a losing effort. In a rematch with the Falcons, both offense and defense clicked. #2 league rusher William Andrews was held to 45 yards on the ground. The 5 sacks racked up by the defense didn't hurt either. Offensively, Rodgers racked up 137 yards and Hokie had 2 TDs.
Once again, it was San Francisco that stood in the way of the Saint's chance to get back into first place. Dave Wilson stood in for the injured Ken Stabler. This time neither offense nor defense could get on track. The offense was shutout and Mr. Joe Montana threw 3 strikes and the Saints were out. Dave Wilson was sacked 9 times, 6 by Fred Dean alone.
It was a rare Monday night game that followed that saw the Jets rally in the fourth quarter with 17 points. The killer was a 76 yard punt return touchdown by Kirk Springs. Springs went the whole way literally untouched. Bum's statement was that it was penalties and breakdowns that let the Jets comeback. On the positive side. Gajan had 113 yards on 11 carries. The next week was an ugly win over Minnesota. The Saints had 5 turnovers. The last one was a Hokie Gajan fumble late in the fourth quarter that gave Minnesota a chance to win with a last play FG. This time, luck was on the Saints side as former Saint Benny Ricardo missed a 47 yard attempt.
A loss in the snow to New England was followed by the second overtime win of the season. This time Morten Andersen booted a 50 yarder against Philly 5:30 into sudden death. It was the second fieldgoal Andersen made that day. The first had been from 52 yards.
The last game of the regular approached. All that stood in the way of a first ever playoff appearance was the Los Angeles Rams. The winner would advance as a wildcard contender. The loser would stay home. Late in the fourth quarter, with a slim 24-23 lead the Saints found themselves facing fourth down inside the Rams 35 yard line. Instead of attempting a 49 yard FG, Bum made the decision to punt it away. With the ball back, the Rams drove 55 yards and with 6 seconds left in the season, Mike Lansford hit a 42 yard score to win for the Rams. The Saints stayed home. Ironically, it was L.A.'s only offensive points of the game. Rams scores came on a safety, a punt return TD and 2 interceptions returned for scores. Ram QB Vince Ferragamo didn't even complete a pass until the last drive.
Thus the 1983 season ended. Never had the Saints been so close to post-season play.