Saints say experience, talent trumps seeding

Pierre Thomas and the New Orleans Saints aren’t too keen on

playing the underdog role in the playoffs.

They’ve had too much success over most of the past half-decade

to see themselves that way, even if they needed until the final day

of the regular season to wrap up the last playoff seed in the

NFC.

”If we were a sixth seed, if we were a first seed, we’re going

to come at these playoffs the same way,” Thomas said Monday, as

the Saints began preparations for Saturday night’s wild card-round

game in Philadelphia. ”We’re going to get the job done. We’re

going to stay focused. We know everything is on the line at this

point. So we’re going to have to take this game serious, which we

will, and just go out here and play our game.”

Thomas said the Saints essentially went into playoff mode last

week while preparing for their regular-season finale against Tampa

Bay – a game they had to win to assure themselves of a playoff

spot. The Saints rolled up 468 yards of offense, while New Orleans’

defense allowed only a field goal in the second half of a 42-17

demolition of the Buccaneers.

As it turned out, Arizona’s narrow loss to San Francisco would

have put New Orleans in the postseason regardless, but the Saints

wanted to finish the season in good form after losing the previous

two weeks.

”We have to come out here and put everything on the line just

like we did against Tampa,” Thomas said. ”If we play the way we

did and stay focused and hit on all cylinders, then we’re going to

be a tough out.”

Then again, if history – both recent and otherwise – is any

guide, the Saints will be out of the playoffs sooner than

later.

The Saints went 3-5 on the road this season, losing five of

their last six outside the Superdome. If the Saints overcome their

road woes against the Eagles, it will mark the first playoff

victory in an opponent’s stadium in franchise history. The Saints

are 0-5 in such games in their 47-years as an NFL franchise.

Since Sean Payton took over as head coach in 2006, the Saints

have gone 0-3 as the visiting team in the playoffs, losing at

Chicago (2006-07 NFC title game), at Seattle (2010-11 wild card

round) and at San Francisco (2011-12 divisional round).

Yet Payton and his players don’t buy the notion that history can

dictate how they play. If anything, they’ve made a mockery of

questions about their road struggles by talking about changing up

everything from the way they dress to the color of sports drink

they imbibe on the road.

”The red Gatorade that we have been drinking and the orange

obviously isn’t doing it, so we are going to switch I think to

green,” Payton said Monday. ”The night before, what we eat, I

think is going to be changed up a bit and how we dress is going to

be different. Those are things that are important.”

Beyond that, the Saints are largely shrugging off questions

about how they slid to a sixth seed after starting 9-2, or the fact

that they have to win three straight road games to get to the Super

Bowl.

”We’re in the postseason. That’s all that matters,” said

outside linebacker Junior Galette, who had two sacks on Sunday.

”It gives us a chance to go get a ring, so that’s it.”

On offense, the Saints still have a number of key players who’ve

been with Payton since his hiring in New Orleans. Drew Brees has

thrown for more yards than any NFL quarterback since then,

eclipsing 5,000 yards in a season for an unprecedented fourth time

this season. Receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore won a Super

Bowl with Brees in the 2009 season, as did Thomas, as steady a

running back as the Saints have had. Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy

Graham in now on his third playoff team in New Orleans and Darren

Sproles his second.

”It is hard to keep rosters together in today’s NFL and I think

that we’ve been fortunate with the health number one and the

durability of a lot of these players,” Payton said. ”We still

have that veteran leadership that has been in these types of

games.”

And that is why players such as Thomas balk at the thought of

being considered an underdog, even if the odds makers have listed

the Eagles as slight favorites.

”We’re comfortable with our situation,” Thomas said. ”It’s

going to show what type of team we really are.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org