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Brees, Saints can't keep playing with fire

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints proved last Saturday that it is actually possible to win a road playoff game with two first-half interceptions and an overall 2-0 deficit in the turnover ratio.

But just to be on the safe side, they’d rather not try it again this Saturday at Seattle -- against a Seahawks team that led the NFL with 39 takeaways this year.

Although the Saints ranked among the best teams in the NFL when it came to protecting the football this year (only 19 giveaways in the regular season, tied for fourth in the league), they have been plagued by early turnovers in their road losses.

Two first-half interceptions at the New York Jets. An early sack-fumble in their previous trip to Seattle. Two picks on their first two drives at St. Louis. Interceptions in the second and third quarters at Carolina.

It was a point of emphasis heading into New Orleans’ wild-card game at Philadelphia last week, yet quarterback Drew Brees still threw two early picks before finding his rhythm late in the second quarter and playing great in the second half.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Brees has now thrown at least two interceptions in three consecutive road games for the first time in his career.

Brees’ philosophy is that it’s important to protect the football (he only had eight interceptions this year through the first 13 games). But he’s also never been afraid to take chances down the field.

“In the last game, one of them was a shot play to Kenny (Stills) in it looked like he was on top of the corner and was kind of leaving him,” Brees explained. “I go to launch the ball, and all of a sudden he’s kind of slamming on the brakes thinking I’m going to leave it short for him. So that’s just one of those miscommunications. How many of those balls do you see me throw to Kenny that he goes and gets? That’s just one out of the five that we’ve thrown for touchdowns this year that didn’t work out that way.

“The other one, honestly I just didn’t see the guy and could have put the ball in a better place for Lance (Moore).”

Brees said what was important was that the Saints were able to bounce back from those early picks at Philadelphia -- after which they were still trailing only 7-3 because of a great defensive effort.

“Being resilient. Having a resilient team. Having a team that doesn’t have a panic button. We can overcome, because defensively we’re built that way. Offensively we’re built that way,” Brees explained. “We’re built to score and to score quickly, also to be able to possess the ball. All of that breeds confidence in (the idea that) no matter what happens, we have a chance.”

Brees’ interceptions are yet another one of those stunning home-road disparities for the Saints this year.

At home, he threw 27 touchdowns and three interceptions. On the road, including last week, that ratio is now 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

But the Saints did finally get one monkey off their back by bouncing back from those early turnovers at Philadelphia. So maybe they’ll maintain that momentum at Seattle.

Coach Sean Payton said two of the most important things in any road game are to handle the early part of the game better than the Saints have so far this year – and to handle the momentum swings they’re sure to encounter.

“I think it has always been a game of momentum swings, and I think mentally handling those momentum swings on the road become sometimes more challenging than at home,” Payton said. “I think the turnovers play a big part, but it is easier to say, ‘We can’t turn the ball over.’ We have to look at what causes those things. And that is pressure, ball security with receivers, running backs, whoever is handling the football. I think that combination of the momentum and handling that.

“It happened last week, there was a part of that game where late in the fourth Philadelphia came back and answered and it was important that we were able to do the same thing. If you took any road win this year, you go to Chicago and there was a momentum swing. Certainly in Atlanta, we had it early. The first series we were out, they scored a touchdown and we had to overcome that.

“The same thing would be the case with any of those tough games where you are playing. You hit back and forth, if you will, and you need to be able to respond.”