- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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METAIRIE, La. -- This has been an awfully turbulent week for the New Orleans Saints. An ugly loss at St. Louis. A roster shakeup. More questions -- both externally and internally -- about their inability to perform on the road. And now they’ve got the biggest game of their season coming up Sunday on the road against the Carolina Panthers.
But when asked if all of those factors have combined to make this one of the most challenging scenarios the Saints have faced over the years, safety Malcolm Jenkins quickly said no.
“The scenario’s actually pretty simple,” Jenkins said. “Win, and we’re the No. 2 seed. No matter what. Just win.
“And that’s kind of been our mantra. It’s a production business. ... So I think everybody realizes that we have to do better in certain scenarios. I think defensively, turnovers are the No. 1 thing. That, and stopping the run, on the road. And then we’ll go from there. But the scenario’s not very complicated. It’s win -- and that’s it.”
The Saints (10-4) could certainly be a little down or frustrated by the way this season has played out. They started 5-0, but they’ve been 5-4 since. And now Sunday’s game at Carolina (10-4) is essentially a must-win for the NFC South title and that No. 2 seed (the Saints could still win the South if they beat Tampa Bay in Week 17 and the Panthers lose at Atlanta -- but they don’t want to have to count on that).
Publicly, though, the Saints have insisted that this is the exact position that teams hope to be in every year, so they’ll relish the opportunity to play in such a game. Coach Sean Payton said he expects a playoff-type atmosphere, with both teams fully aware of what’s at stake.
“If somebody tells you that, ‘Hey, in the second-to-last week of the season, you’re going to have a chance to win the division and get the two seed in the NFC. Would you take it?’ You would say, ‘Heck yeah. Let’s go. Let’s play,’” quarterback Drew Brees said. “Here we are. We have that opportunity, and we want to make the most of it. ...
“All that matters, despite what has happened over the past few weeks and all that stuff, the fact of the matter is we go on the road this week, we get a win, we win the division, we secure the two seed. That’s all that matters, so that’s where our focus is.”
Just as the Saints insist they won’t lack confidence this week -- they also insist they won’t be overconfident, despite having just routed these same Panthers 31-13 two weeks ago in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Saints obviously recognize even better than most how teams’ performances can fluctuate at home and on the road.
“I don’t think any of that carries over to this next game,” Jenkins said of the first meeting. “Theyre a team that plays great on defense, they’ve got explosive players on offense. They put up points. So it’s gonna be a great matchup. I don’t think they expected to lose in the fashion they did last time, and we didn’t expect to win in that fashion. So I think everything starts back at zero, and it’s a whole new game.”
“Carolina is a good team but we’re going to be ready for them,” Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton added. “The title is on the line. Are you going to show up? Are you going to throw punches? I think this team, we’re looking forward to it.”