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Payton: Saints will come to battle in finale

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METAIRIE, La. — Whodat gonna sit out these playoffs?

The New Orleans Saints lost view of this season’s playoffs following Sunday’s disappointing 30-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, coupled with the Carolina Panthers’ 17-13 win against the Cleveland Browns.

So are these Saints, at only 6-9 with not even a chance at breaking even, going to blithely march through the final game of the season, in Tampa?

No.

Saints coach Sean Payton was adamant after Sunday’s setback and again in his Monday news conference that his team won’t be thinking about anything but the season finale after being eliminated from postseason contention.

“The guys will have the right mentality. … It’s important to finish strong,” Payton stressed on Monday. “Obviously, it doesn’t have the relevance we’d hope for, but that being said, it is important for every player, every coach.”

As such, Payton said he and his staff will do what they normally do each and every week to get the Saints (6-9) ready for Sunday’s matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-13) in Raymond James Stadium.

That means playing most of his regulars, not looking forward to the 2015 season until the proper time — after the game with the Bucs.

That means keeping some of the youngsters he might be tempted to take a sneak peak at on the sidelines, even if it means not tanking and giving up a chance to get a higher pick in the first round of the draft next May.

“Obviously each sport (and some) teams are different,” Payton said. “We would never do that. We’ll have our best guys out there preparing and doing everything we’d normally do if we were playing for a playoff spot. It won’t be a bit different.”

The only thing that will change, he said, is the Thursday schedule. Even that’s a minor one as coaches and players will get to spend time with their families on Christmas Day before reporting to work a little later in the day than usual.

“Honestly, I told the coaches in our meeting, our preparation, our approach won’t change in regards to the hours we are spending and time we are on the practice field,” Payton said. “I think the leadership in this locker room and the players here will understand that.

“It was part of the message (on Monday),” he added. “This is a game we are playing as if it is the most important game of the year. It is the next one, the one we have to play.”

When was asked if he’ll reflect on this unfulfilled season at any time this week, Payton said he wouldn’t.

“Not yet. … I think all of that will take place after the season,” he said. “The focus this week is on Tampa Bay.”

SERIES HISTORY: 46th regular-season meeting. Saints lead series, 28-17, with six victories in a row over the Bucs since a 26-20 loss in Tampa on Oct. 16, 2011. The Saints are 15-10 against the Bucs since the teams were put into the newly formed NFC South in 2002. They won both meetings that year and also swept the Bucs in 2006, ’12 and’13. In their first meeting this season in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Saints had to rally in the fourth quarter to tie the game and prevailed in overtime, 37-31.

–Even though their season will end with Sunday’s game, at least two Saints will have one more chance to play after being voted to the Pro Bowl.

Tight end Jimmy Graham and right guard Jahri Evans were chosen for the annual all-star game that will be played Jan. 25 in University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., — one week before Super Bowl XLIX.

It’s the sixth consecutive time that Evans, who has started all 15 games for the NFL’s top-ranked offense, has been selected for the game. He’s one shy of the franchise record for an offensive lineman as tackle William Roaf was picked for the Pro Bowl seven times.

This will be the second Pro Bowl appearance and third in the last four seasons for Graham, who has 79 catches for 835 receiving yards with 10 touchdowns this season.

–While Graham and Evans have earned invites to the Pro Bowl, quarterback Drew Brees failed to earn enough votes to make an eighth trip to the all-star game as a Saints player.

NOTES: Among those not practicing Wednesday were left tackle Terron Armstead (neck), right tackle Zach Strief (neck), defensive end Akiem Hicks (ankle), nose tackle John Jenkins (abdominal problem) and safety Jamarca Sanford (hamstring).


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