SAINTS 16, Cowboys 10

Monday, August 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ The Quincy Carter era got off to a rocky start, to say the least.

The Dallas Cowboys' rookie quarterback, who became the starter this week, looked dazed and confused against a New Orleans Saints defense that promised to make things tough on him.

Carter's problems started early. His second pass attempt of the game was picked off by Saints cornerback Michael Hawthorne, who returned it 19 yards to give New Orleans a 7-0 lead in the first quarter of a 16-10 victory.

The Cowboys have now lost 17 of their last 18 preseason games, including nine straight.

``You've got to own up to your mistakes when you make them,'' Carter said. ``And I made some tonight.''

Carter, drafted to be the long-term replacement to Troy Aikman, moved up when the Cowboys released veteran Tony Banks.

Carter left the game with 6:45 left in the third quarter and finished 5-of-17 for 27 yards. He was pressured constantly and spent much of his time scrambling or looking for receivers.

Toss in the interception and two fumbled snaps and it easily added up to Carter's worst performance of the preseason.

``Quincy had a tough time early on,'' said Cowboys coach Dave Campo. ``But he has the maturity to learn and grow from the experience.''

The Cowboys expected the preseason debuts of running back Emmitt Smith, center Mark Stepnoski and receivers Joey Galloway and Raghib Ismail to help ease Carter's transition into the starting lineup.

They didn't make much of a difference.

Smith gained 15 yards on six carries, including 11 on his first carry of the evening. Galloway and Ismail both failed to make a reception.

All told, Dallas managed only 53 yards of offense in the first half, only 47 yards against the Saints' first-string defense. They had only two first downs and did not convert a single third down.

Carter was replaced by Anthony Wright, who didn't make much of a case to claim a starting spot. Wright, who started two games last season, completed 5 of 10 passes for 62 yards and also was intercepted once.

But while the offense was remarkably inept, the Cowboys' defense finally showed a little spunk.

The Saints' only other points came on 35-yard and 27-yard field goals by John Carney and a 28-yard field goal from Jon Hilbert.

The Cowboys held Saints running back Ricky Williams to 38 yards on 13 carries and sacked quarterback Aaron Brooks four times. They also forced Brooks to fumble, setting up a 37-yard field goal in the second quarter by Tim Seder.

``They made me have to scramble or take the ball down,'' Brooks said. ``I've got to give their defense a lot of credit. They played good football.''

Cowboys cornerback Kareem Larrimore intercepted Jeff Blake and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown, cutting the Saints' lead to 13-10 with just over 12 minutes left in the game.

``I just so happened to make a good play,'' Larrimore said. ``I almost bobbled it, but I held onto the ball, and I was gone from there.''

The Cowboys never threatened to score in the game's waning moments, sending them to another loss _ and into their final week of training camp with more questions than answers about their struggling offense.

``Overall, I think we did some good things and some bad things,'' Campo said. ``But there are some other things we have to work on this week.''