PHILADELPHIA -- Sean Payton's message to his New Orleans Saints after their brutal 34-7 loss at the Seattle Seahawks last month: Remember the sting. But look forward to coming back here and getting another shot at these guys.
Five weeks later, they get their wish. The reward for the Saints' 26-24 victory at Philadelphia in the wild-card round was the rematch they've been yearning for in the divisional round next Saturday.
“I felt like we went out there and laid an egg, and it was very disappointing. Just the fact that it was supposed to be like a heavyweight fight, and we got knocked out in the first round,” Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said Saturday night as he reflected back to the Week 13 loss. “So we've gotta go back out and throw some punches now. And I'm excited, and I'm looking forward to it. This entire team is. Just to go against the best.
“We're a competitive bunch, and right now everyone's saying [the Seahawks] are the best. So we look forward to playing ‘em.”
The Saints (12-5) aren't disagreeing with that assessment. They believe the Seahawks (13-3) earned that victory and the NFC's No. 1 seed. After that “Monday Night Football” loss, quarterback Drew Brees admitted the Saints “took one on the chin.” And tight end Jimmy Graham said Saturday that just about any description would be apt.
“It was embarrassing, humbling. It was all of the above, I guess you could say,” Graham said. “I certainly won't ever forget that moment. And now we have a great opportunity to prove ourselves against one of the best teams in the NFL. It's gonna be a battle, that's for sure.”
Graham said what stood out to him most in that game was the speed of the Seahawks' defense -- both in the secondary and in the linebacking corps.
“So I just gotta make sure I do everything quicker -- that's one of the bigger things I learned from playing them,” Graham said.
Saints guard Jahri Evans joked of the No. 1 thing the Saints could take from that first meeting: “It could definitely show what not to do.”
Both Graham and Evans also stressed that the Saints need to avoid early turnovers. At Seattle, an early sack-fumble that was returned for a Seahawks touchdown set the tone. And those momentum-changing turnovers have plagued the Saints on the road all season long.
It happened again Saturday at Philadelphia with two first-half interceptions by Brees that they were fortunate to overcome. (Brees was brilliant after that, completing 13 of his last 17 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown.)
“We were very fortunate [Saturday night] to get this win after turning the ball over,” said Graham -- who also was fortunate that a potential fumble of his own was overturned via replay review in the first half at Philadelphia. “But we can't go up to Seattle and turn the ball over that early and expect to get a win.”
The Saints are well aware of what they can't do at Seattle this time.
But after the way they gave a total-team effort to beat Philadelphia, relying on their run game, their defense and their special teams as much as they relief on Brees, they feel like there are a lot of things they can do very well.
Brees and others expressed that they feel like they're peaking at the right time.
“Having another crack at them, obviously I look forward to this week of preparation. I look forward to the plan that we're going to put together,” Brees said. “We're going to need our best effort to beat these guys. But if there's a team that can do it, I believe that's us.”