For the New Orleans Saints, the next stop on the road to the Super Bowl is a repeat visit to Seattle’s CenturyLink Field Saturday for a divisional showdown against the NFC West champs, the Seahawks. The Saints will be fighting for their future, as well as to avenge their past.
The Saints need a victory to advance their playoff dreams. As a bonus, the win would also provide the opportunity for the Saints to earn a little redemption en route to their ultimate goal.
The Seahawks smacked the Saints just more than a month ago in Seattle, on December 2, by a score of 34-7. It was an embarrassing game many Who Dat fans would rather forget, but perhaps the Saints are about to discover the silver lining.
In front of a national Monday Night Football audience, the Saints generated just 188 yards of total offense, while the Black and Gold defense surrendered 429 yards to Hawks quarterback Russell Wilson and company.
In an uncharacteristically off night, Saints quarterback Drew Brees was 22-of-38 for 144 yards and 1 touchdown, while Wilson was 22-of-30 for 302 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The Seahawks got the better of the Saints on the ground and in the air, with 14 passing first downs and 6 rushing first downs, compared to Saints 7 passing first downs and 2 rushing first downs.
"This is a team that has been dominant all season," Saints head coach Sean Payton said. "They’re the number one seed. They’re unbelievably talented defensively. Offensively they’re coached very well. They’re on a roll. They’ve had one of those magical seasons, and we have our work cut out for this one."
But maybe the Seahawks have a challenge ahead as well that will prove more difficult than in it did in December.
A month later, the Saints are a different road team. Bolstered by the karma of fresh travelling sweat suits, a new pre game meal of Popeye’s Chicken and different flavored Gatorade, the Saints have banished a nagging demon when competing in hostile territory during the playoffs.
This past Saturday against the Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans earned its first playoff win away from the Superdome.
"It is great for the city. It is great for the franchise to get a road win, and it is great for our team momentum as we move through the playoffs," tight end Benjamin Watson said "To win a road game in the cold, in Philadelphia, in the playoffs, it brings great confidence for our team. We know moving forward that it is all road games from here on end. We are going to have to keep winning road games if we want to keep progressing through the playoffs."
Watson believes the Saints’ initial experience in CenturyLink this season, however painful then, will prove advantageous now.
"I think that helps us," Watson said. "Obviously the feeling of fighting off and being in the hole like we were and really never being in the game. We can look at that and say that won’t happen again, and it can also give us motivation to not let it happen again. We can go back and look at the film and see why things happened. I think it is important when you play a team twice to go back and look at the film to see what you did well and things that you didn’t do so well. Take in that to formulate what you need for a game plan when you can be successful the next time. It is all about execution. There is a lot of and extra emotion when it comes down to going up there. This is a new game. It’s in the postseason, and we have to face that as a game we have to win and move on."
Payton believes the experience of battling through the intense and distracting noise at CenturyLink will prove beneficial the second time around for the Saints. Hawks fans take their role of triggering false starts for the opponent seriously. CenturyLink Field boasts the highest average number of false starts since 2005: 2.36 per game, according to the team’s website.
"Yes, each stadium presents a different environment to some degree," Payton said. "For our team, we have a lot of young players. Going to Philadelphia is one thing. Going to Seattle is another. Each can be challenging in their own ways. Certainly noise is an issue on the road with the challenges to communication it can create."
While the Saints were enduring the cold, slugging it out with the Eagles this past Saturday, the Seahawks were relishing the privilege of a bye week, courtesy of the #1 seed position. How much that helps or hurts remains to be seen.
"You never know in those situations. I can’t call it. That factor rolls both ways," nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley said. "You can easily say that if we get the win, these guys didn’t let the rust settle in. If we lost, you could easily say these guys are rusty. We try not to think about stuff like that. It’s a one game season right now. Everybody is amped up, and we’re definitely fortunate to have a second chance to get at these guys, so everybody is looking forward to it."