Saints happy for second chance
METAIRIE, La. -- If the New Orleans Saints didn't already feel like they got "owned" by the Seattle Seahawks in a 34-7 rout at Seattle five weeks ago, they were greeted by a not-so-subtle reminder when they hit the practice field Tuesday.
Two giant Seahawks logos were emblazoned across the center of both the Saints' indoor and outdoor practice fields.
Officially, Saints coach Sean Payton said the idea was just to replicate "the exact environment" the Saints will face on their return trip to CenturyLink Field – much like pumping in the crowd noise. And quarterback Drew Brees backed that up, saying, "It's just putting yourself in the moment as much as you can."
But there certainly could be more left open to interpretation.
"It's a reminder daily that we know what we're up against," Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette said. "We feel like this is the best team right now in the NFC, and we'll see. We'll have to go up there and kind of have some revenge."
When it comes to such motivational tactics, Payton is obviously one of the more creative minds in the game today -- a true disciple of his mentor, Bill Parcells.
Clearly, however, the Saints (12-5) don't need too much prodding when it comes to getting geared up for Saturday's playoff game at Seattle (13-3). For one, it's the divisional round of the playoffs. For another, the Saints have been eager to get another shot at the Seahawks ever since that first matchup -- which they admitted was both humbling and embarrassing.
Brees said the team's mindset after that game was: "The road through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl looks like it will go through their place. So if we want to accomplish what we set out to accomplish this year, then we better find a way to go up there and win. Just hoping we'd have another opportunity, and here we are having that other opportunity."
The Saints are keenly aware of what they did wrong in the first meeting – which was essentially a little of everything. They were held to 188 yards, the lowest total in the Payton-Brees era. They allowed a sack-fumble in the first quarter that was returned for a Seattle touchdown. They struggled in the passing game and the run game. And their defense uncharacteristically broke down with too many mental errors, allowing big passing plays and Russell Wilson scrambles while focusing too much on stopping running back Marshawn Lynch.
"I think there are a number of things we've got to do better, just handling the early portion of the game," Payton said. "There are certain things in playoff football – or for that matter just playing on the road -- that you have to give yourselves an opportunity. I think that we are working hard to do that."
All of that being said, the Saints insist that they aren't lacking any confidence heading into the rematch. Safety Malcolm Jenkins said the team isn't surprised to be back here, because this is how it felt things ultimately would play out. And players said they'll learn from their mistakes – but won't be consumed by them.
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"Look, we got exactly what we deserved, and they got what they deserved. They played better than us, and we didn't execute," Saints right tackle Zach Strief said. "But I don't think you carry the sins of old games into this one. They don't start up six points because they won last time. So, you know, it's a new game for us. And we've seen plenty of teams in the past do something similar and come back and win.
"It's nice to have the tape and go back and say, 'Where did we succeed and where did we fail? But when we walk across the lines, when you get out there, you're not thinking about what happened last time."
The Saints have gone through a few highs and lows since that Week 13 game. But they're on a two-game win streak right now, and playing about as well as they have all season after winning the first road playoff game in franchise history last Saturday against the Philadelphia Eagles, 26-24. They played the same style of game at Philadelphia that they'd like to play at Seattle (with the exception of Brees' two first-half interceptions). The Saints were the better team when it came to running the ball and stopping the run. New Orleans ran out the final 4:54 of clock to set up a game-winning field goal, and Strief said that drive felt like old times from a confidence standpoint.
"I think last week was a great example of a team believing that they were going to win," Strief said. "There's been years here where you're in the huddle, and there's no doubt in your mind that you're going to go down and score. And I think that was very much the mentality this week on the sideline.
"Even when we were down, it was like, 'How are we losing? Well, we're going to score again.' And that comes with growth and maturity."
Things got a little dicey at Philadelphia when standout cornerback Keenan Lewis left in the third quarter with a concussion. But Lewis returned to practice Tuesday and insisted he'll be back against the Seahawks. The Saints did, however, lose veteran linebacker Parys Haralson to a season-ending chest injury at Philadelphia. The part-time starter was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.
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