Monday, December 30, 2013
Can Saints finally take this show on road?
By Mike Triplett
Lance Moore put the Saints on the scoreboard first with a 44-yard touchdown grab.
NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints have a well-defined strategy in place for improving their fortunes on the road now that they'll have to leave the comfort of the Superdome throughout the playoffs as the NFC's No. 6 seed:
Change the Gatorade flavors on the sideline;
Spice up the recipe for the beefy mac in the pregame meal;
Load up on Popeyes fried chicken during the flight;
And change up the dress code on road trips to some nice sweat suits -- maybe even adding a sweet new playoff patch.
"I'm hoping an arctic something -- an arctic fusion of flavors, which is going to help us focus for the next game," defensive end Cameron Jordan said of the Gatorade switch.
Obviously the Saints' players were speaking with tongues planted firmly in cheek. But they were only half-joking.
It was a well-coordinated strategy by coach Sean Payton to deflect the inevitable questions about their road struggles this year.
Payton knew what was coming. He knew no one was going to be asking about the Saints' impressive 42-17 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, which allowed New Orleans to finish a perfect 8-0 at home and 11-5 overall.
No, he knew full well that there would be an immediate interrogation about the Saints' struggles on the road, where they went 3-5, including three straight losses to end the season -- and where they now have to kick off the playoffs next Saturday night at Philadelphia.
So he decided: Why not find a way for his team to embrace it? And you could tell by the smirks on players' faces and the twinkles in their eyes that they were getting a kick out of it.
"That's basically saying we don't care," Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette said. "Changing the Gatorade, it doesn't matter what we do. We're going to bring our A-game in the postseason. That's all that matters."
The greater message the Saints delivered both on the field and in the postgame locker room is that their confidence remains as high as ever.
They endured a brutal stretch in December, losing three of four games, including blowout losses at Seattle and St. Louis and a heartbreaker at Carolina.
Yet they came into the Superdome on Sunday and did the only thing they could do -- blow the roof off the place. Payton's other postgame message to his players was that he was proud of them for coming out with so much energy and emotion on Sunday.
Quarterback Drew Brees threw four touchdown passes in the first half alone and ran in another one in the second half. He finished with 381 passing yards before calling it an early night.
"When we're hot, we're hot. And today was one of those days," said receiver Lance Moore, who caught a 44-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive. "We're a confident team -- specifically on offense. Anytime you've got that guy back there taking the snaps, you know great things can happen. And today was one of those days."
And can that confidence carry over into the playoffs, where the Saints will have to win three straight road games just to earn the right to play in the first cold-weather Super Bowl?
"Absolutely," Brees said, with that same twinkle in his eye that he had when discussing the beefy mac recipe. "We're good enough to do whatever we set out to do. And I think today was a great step in the right direction in regards to confidence and getting ready for this playoff run."
I think all of that bravado was genuine.
At the same time, I don't think there was too much of it inside the Saints' locker room. They're also smart enough to know what wins games -- and what loses games -- on the road. And if they didn't know before, they certainly learned this year.
It's still about turnovers and penalties, running the ball and stopping the run, all the things the Saints have struggled with this year in their road losses.
"You gotta play better, you know? It's not complicated," offensive tackle Zach Strief said. "Look, these games are different. These playoff games are different. They're played differently. It's a unique kind of atmosphere.
"[But] I like our chances with this team going in, feeling like no one expects you to win. I like putting this team in that position. ... I think there's confidence on this team. I think that comes from Sean, from our head coach. And I don't think people who are confident like being told they can't do something. And without question, we're gonna be told all week long that we can't win on the road. And, look, I understand. I think we all acknowledge why people say that. And yet, the other games don't matter. Not anymore.
"Everyone's 0-0. Everyone has an opportunity. And I can go through a long list of teams that have done just that. You've got a chance. You've got an opportunity. And we'll see how it plays out."
There is a long list of teams that have taken the wild-card route to the Super Bowl. But the one that comes immediately to mind is the 2010 Green Bay Packers, who won three straight road playoff games and the Super Bowl after going 3-5 on the road in the regular season.
"We're not gonna think we're not gonna do it, that's for sure," said Jimmy Graham, who caught his league-best 16th touchdown pass Sunday. "It's the National Football League, you know, you have to play with confidence. And we just want to be in a position to play another week. And that's how we're gonna take it week by week.
"You know, this team's been through a lot. And that's a great attribute at this time of the year -- a team that's been through so much up and down. And a hungry team."
A smile then spread across Graham's face when he said the phrase, "hungry team."
"So if they bring that fried chicken in, then we won't be hungry anymore," Graham said.