The goalposts got awfully small in the final seconds for Morten Andersen.
But there was still enough room for him to make a 24-yard field goal with two seconds remaining, giving the New Orleans Saints a 20-17 victory over the Los Angeles Rams and a spot in the NFL playoffs against Chicago."They got big again pretty quick," Andersen said.
Steve Walsh passed for 44 yards in the final 1:19 of the game to set up the field goal. The big play in the drive was a 34-yard completion to Eric Martin that put the ball at the Rams' 11-yard line.
"It was a big old ball," Martin said. "I couldn't wait to get it into my hands.
"It felt good. It felt real good to make that catch. I really can't think of another catch that's been that big. It put us in the playoffs."
Andersen's first attempt at the game winner was blocked by nose tackle Alvin Wright, but Wright was clearly offsides.
"I knew he was awfully close to me, so it had to be offsides, the way our offensive line has protected me," he said. "I knew there'd be a flag, and there was."
Andersen's field goal came after the Rams had driven 81 yards to tie the score 17-17 with 1:19 left on a 1-yard pass from Jim Everett to Robert Delpino.
The victory meant that Walsh, a Dallas Cowboy until traded away on Sept. 10, played a major role in keeping his former teammates home for postseason play.
He refused to answer questions about himself and the Cowboys, just grinning and turning to the next question.
"Coming in on the early part of the season and trying to engulf everything and trying to be able to use it and do something on the field, led to a lot of low points on the field," he said.
"But this makes up for it."
Dallas lost to Atlanta 26-7 Sunday, but, having beaten the Saints this year, would still have gone to the playoffs with a 7-9 record had the Saints lost to the Rams.
The Saints (8-8) play Sunday at Chicago (11-5,) champions of the NFC Central. Their only other trip to the playoffs was in 1987, and Minnesota ended that with a 44-10 victory.The Rams (5-11) were NFC runners-up to San Francisco last year.
Walsh threw only 26 times and completed 11 for 174 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown to Floyd Turner in the first quarter. He didn't throw at all on the Saints' second touchdown drive, a 10-play, 47-yard march capped by Craig Heyward's 1-yard plunge.
After Mike Lansford cut the Saints lead to 7-3 with a 24-yard field goal, Gene Atkins returned the kickoff 50 yards to set up the drive to Heyward's score. Heyward carried seven times for 27 of the 47 yards.
A big special teams play also set up a short drive to New Orleans' first score. Vince Buck returned a punt 33 yards to the Rams' 36-yard line. Heyward got 12 yards up the middle, and Walsh hit Turner after another running play lost 3 yards.
"Our special teams have been disappointing all year," Rams coach John Robinson said.
The Rams closed to 14-10 with 13:31 to go in the fourth quarter on a 47-yard pass from Jim Everett to Willie "Flipper" Anderson, but Andersen, who had missed from 51 yards in the first quarter and 48 in the second, hit a field goal from 41 yards with 6:08 to go in the game.
Everett, who completed 22 of 36 passes for 290 yards, then led the Rams on the march to the tying score, completing 7 of 8 passes for 53 of the yards.
"We knew the Saints would be looking for short passes on that drive, so we decided to go deep to Henry (Ellard.) Henry is such a fine athlete," Everett said.
Saints offensive tackle Stan Brock, a rookie starter on the 1-15 team of 1980, said fans gave up on the team too early.
"We hung in there," he said.
"I'm glad Eric had the big catch. I'm glad Steve got off the big pass and Morten made the big kick.
"I'm glad it didn't go into overtime, and I'm glad we're going to the playoffs."