Payton narrowing Saints’ focus for finale vs. Bucs
With the Saints still trying to lock up a playoff spot, coach
Sean Payton’s theme for this week deals with focusing on what his
team can control and tuning out all the uncertainties.
Payton even made the unusual move of quickly ending speculation
about safety Kenny Vaccaro’s availability for Sunday’s regular
season finale against Tampa Bay, announcing on Monday that the
rookie defensive back has a fractured left ankle and is scheduled
for surgery on Tuesday.
”We’re approaching this like a playoff game,” Payton said.
”The key for us is to handle the holiday week, with Christmas
being on a Wednesday, put together a good plan and a good set of
practices and put our focus into playing our best football
The coach also confirmed that rookie Terron Armstead would get
his second-career start at left tackle, despite being beaten on
three sacks and committing two false start penalties in a 17-13
loss at Carolina on Sunday.
”Certainly there are growing pains, but there are a lot of
things that he did very well,” Payton said of Armstead, who
replaced Charles Brown following the veteran’s benching at St.
Louis in Week 15. ”Going through the tape now twice, I was
extremely encouraged by the way he played.”
The Saints, who host the Buccaneers at 4:25 p.m. EST Sunday,
know they’ll be in the playoffs if they win. What they don’t know
is how high their seeding will be. They could win the division and
snatch the No. 2 seed in the NFC – meaning a coveted first-round
bye and second-round home game – if they beat the Bucs and if
Carolina also loses at Atlanta in a 1 p.m. Sunday game.
The Saints could even lose and still make the playoffs, so long
as Arizona also losses at home against San Francisco.
”The challenge this week is trying guard against” thinking
about those various scenarios, Payton said. ”We control one thing.
We know if we’re able to go out and play well and win, we’re
guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. … I don’t want to spend those
two hours prior to the game with the television sets going and all
the other potential distractions that can take place with a game
that’s being played prior to ours.”
New Orleans initially was scheduled to play at the same time as
Carolina, but kickoff was moved back to avoid the possibility of
the Cardinals being eliminated before their kickoff.
Meanwhile, Payton said he plans to start meetings and practice a
couple hours later than usual on Wednesday, allowing players to
spend Christmas morning with whatever family they may have in
And right now, it seems, the Saints could use support from
family, as well as fans. Their loss at Carolina prevented them from
clinching their division and a No. 2 seed, and left them still in
danger of missing the postseason altogether. It was also their
third loss in four games and marked the first time they’ve lost two
”We had really good opportunities the last two weeks and we
didn’t take advantage of those,” receiver Lance Moore said. ”Now
it’s a win-or-go-home-type scenario for us.”
Quarterback Drew Brees, meanwhile, posted a note on social media
reading: ”Hey Who Dat Nation. Our team appreciates you so much,
especially during times like these. Our best is yet to come.
Believe That! Who Dat!”
Payton described the Saints as upbeat during meetings on Monday,
when they were able to see how much they did right in nearly
beating the playoff-bound Panthers on the road.
Asked whether his team’s confidence could be shaken by its
recent slide, Payton said, ”I don’t sense that at all. Obviously
all of us hurt from that loss – it stung – but I think they felt
pretty good about the preparation and the plan going in and they
did a great job of executing it.”
Since starting 5-0, New Orleans has been essentially mired in
mediocrity, going 5-5, but safety Malcolm Jenkins said the Saints
still view themselves as a squad with a lot of upside.
”If you watch us on tape, we’re a good team. We have a great
offense. The defense is playing top five. The special teams are
clicking,” Jenkins said. ”We know once we get in the tournament,
we’re going to be a team to be reckoned with. But to get there we
have to get this win this week. So I think all the focus goes
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