It was a sound Kerry Collins had not heard in a while -- cheers, real cheers -- from football fans before, during and after a game.
"I was standing on the sideline and I said, "Life can be really weird," Collins said Sunday after the New Orleans Saints beat the St. Louis Rams 24-3 in Collins' first start. "Two weeks ago, four weeks ago, they were screaming at me, booing me. Strange things can happen."
Six minutes into Collins' career as Saints starter, he had engineered his first touchdown.
Collins, who had not thrown a pass since Oct. 4, completed five passes for 62 yards in the Saints' first possession, including a 10-yard touchdown toss to Cam Cleeland for a 7-0 lead.
"The ball looks just the same no matter who throws it," Cleeland said. "It just looks better if you see it coming to you in the end zone. So his pass looked better."
It was the first time the Saints had scored in the first quarter since the second game of the season. The Rams (3-7) have now given up 90 points in the first quarter -- worst in the NFL.
Rams coach Dick Vermeil blamed himself.
"I stink. My coaching staff stinks," he said. "We all stink. We stunk up the place. A junior high coach could have done better than I did today."
Cllins, claimed off waivers by the Saints (5-5) after his bitter parting with the Panthers, is New Orleans' fourth starting quarterback this season, the seventh since Mike Ditka took over last year.
The former Pro Bowler, who led the Panthers to the NFC championship game in 1996, left Carolina amid charges he had lost his heart for the game and had a drinking problem. Collins was arrested on drunken driving charges after the Saints played the Panthers Nov. 1.
"I think to get it done on the first drive was important for me and important for the team, too," Collins said. "To see that I could go out and make it happen. I'm sure they were wondering. They read the papers and know what's happened. I wanted to show them that my heart was in the game."
Collins slowed down after the first quarter when he completed six of eight attempts for 88 yards. He finished with 13-of-26 for 150 yards and was sacked twice.
Collins' first-quarter score turned out to be all the Saints offense -- ranked 26th in the NFL -- would come up with, but with New Orleans defense making big plays, it was enough.
"I don't think he saw me over there," Drakeford said. "I just wanted to make sure I didn't fall down going into the end zone."
"We haven't stunk it up that bad in a long time," Banks said. "The Saints `D' was beating up on me all day. Our defense gave up 10 points, I gave them 14."
Doug Brien kicked a 26-yard field goal and New Orleans led 24-3 at the half.
Banks appeared rattled by the constant Saints pressure which sacked him seven times. He completed 24 of 37 passes for 246 yards but threw two interceptions and failed to pick up yardage in critical situations. The Rams converted only two of 12 third downs.
Both quarterbacks were hampered by the lack of running games.
The Saints, who had averaged just 49.8 yards a game rushing for the last six games, gained 102 -- 38 by Collins.
St. Louis, averaging 98 yards a game, had 55 yards on 19 carries, led by Jerald Moore's 26 yards on 11 carries.
Jeff Wilkins kicked a 33-yard field goal in the first quarter for St. Louis. He missed a 53-yard attempt at the end othe half.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved