NFL Wire News

Saints in stretch of all-or-nothing season


METAIRIE, La. — After making the statement they so desperately needed in a 31-15 victory over the Chicago Bears on Monday night, the re-energized New Orleans Saints must do it again on a short week.

One week and a day after a 41-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers that seemingly turned their topsy-turvy season completely upside down, the Saints came out of the game against the Bears feeling just a little better about themselves — even if it was only the Bears.

The Saints (6-8) are hoping the momentum they built with the road win — their third victory in a row away from home — will carry them through the final two games of the regular season, starting Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons (5-9) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

“It’s been an all-year thing … you don’t know who is going to show up,” Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette said. “You hear everybody say, ‘We don’t know what team is going to show up.’ The better Saints team showed up (against the Bears).”

Now, that team needs to show up in the next two weeks.

The Saints can actually clinch the NFC South title with a win over the Falcons, who prevailed in a 37-34 overtime thriller over the Saints in the season opener in the Georgia Dome, coupled with a loss by the Panthers against the Cleveland Browns.

A loss by the Saints and a win by the Panthers would give the division lead to Carolina, which is not what the Saints are thinking about after trouncing the Bears.

It’s a different-sounding Saints team than the one that was down and out after losing to the Panthers, prompting coach Sean Payton to make changes to the roster and his starting lineup and even put in a schematic wrinkle to try and wake up his lethargic team.

“I’m definitely proud of how we handled the adversity that we’ve been going through the entire season,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “I’m proud of the way the guys continue to show up and continue to work hard, and continue to play their best.”

To keep it going, the Saints will have to do something they haven’t done since late October — win a game at home. After winning a club-record 11 games in a row in the Superdome, they’ve dropped their last four — topped, of course, by the lopsided loss to the Panthers.

“The last four games at home haven’t been very good and the last three games on the road have been pretty good,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “We like to be good everywhere.

“Historically, the bottom line is it doesn’t matter where we play. It doesn’t matter who we play. We know we can play Saints football.”

Based on what he saw against the Bears, Payton thinks he knows which team will show up.

“Listen,” he said, “I think everyone (in the locker room) understands the significance of the next game.”

Going into their 91st regular-season meeting, the Falcons lead series 47-43. Since the Falcons won 10 games in a row between 1995 and 1999, the Saints have claimed 19 of the last 28 meetings even though the Falcons took a 37-34 overtime win in the Georgia Dome in the season opener on Sept. 7.

The Saints have won nine of the last 10 games played in the Superdome, dating to a 23-20 overtime win in 2003. The teams also have met once in the postseason, with the Falcons defeating the Saints 27-20 in a wild-card playoff game in 1991.

NOTES: If the team practiced Wednesday, these are among the players who would not have taken part: LT Terron Armstead (neck), DE Akiem Hicks (ankle) and S Jamarca Sanford (hamstring). . . . On Wednesday, K Dustin Hopkins was signed to the practice squad and DT DeMarcus Love was released from the practice squad.

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