Mission remains the same for Saints; Pierre Thomas back at practice

Saints quarterback Drew Brees gestures to teammates at the line of scrimmage during the team's 34-7 loss to the Seahawks on Dec. 2. Show caption
Saints quarterback Drew Brees gestures to teammates at the line of scrimmage during the team's 34-7 loss to the Seahawks on Dec. 2.

Thomas returns to practice in limited capacity

As a road underdog for the second week in a row in the playoffs, the sixth-seeded New Orleans Saints were relaxed Thursday when they packed up and prepared for a long plane ride to Seattle.

The Saints, who eliminated the third-seeded Philadelphia Eagles last week, will try to earn a spot in the NFC Championship game with a win Saturday against the top-seeded Seattle Seahawks in CenturyLink Field.

It’s a different feeling for the Saints, who have been no lower than a five seed since Sean Payton took over in 2006. The Saints were the No. 2 seed that year and were earned the top seed in 2009.

Regardless of the seed, Saints quarterback Drew Brees said the mission is the same.

“We have high expectations regardless of what seed we are,” Brees said when asked if there’s more pressure being the No. 1 seed. “I don’t look too much into that other than that I know we have to come up with a great plan and come out and execute it.

“There’s always pressure to win and play well.”

Thomas returns

After missing four practices as well as the wild-card game with a chest injury he suffered in the regular-season finale, running back Pierre Thomas was back at work Thursday.

Thomas was officially listed as limited, but participated in stretch and individual drills during the portion of practice open to media.

Thomas played in all 16 regular-season games and led the team with 549 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He also had 77 catches, most among NFL running backs, and three TDs.

The spoilers?

Even though they had a bye last week, the Seahawks may be feeling the heat more Saturday in rainy Seattle.

Since 2005, No. 6 seeds have posted a 5-2 record against No. 1 seeds in the divisional round in the AFC and NFC playoffs.

Further, despite having home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the NFC’s No. 1 seed has been especially vulnerable since 2007.

In its playoff debut, the NFC’s top seed is 2-4 in the divisional round with only the Saints (2009) and Atlanta Falcons (2012) surviving.

Practice report

Joining Thomas as limited Thursday was defensive end Akiem Hicks, who returned and finished Saturday’s game after injuring his right ankle late in the first quarter.

G Jahri Evans (ankle) had full participation Thursday after being limited Wednesday, while CB Keenan Lewis (head/neck) and T Terron Armstead (knee) were full for the second day in a row.

For the Seahawks, S Kam Chancellor (hip) worked fully Thursday after sitting out Wednesday, but LB K.J. Wright (foot) and DT Jordan Hill (groin) linebacker did not practice.

The divisional round

After reaching the divisional round once in their first 39 years of the franchise’s existence, the Saints will be playing for a spot in the conference championship game for the fourth time in eight seasons Saturday.

The Saints are 2-2 in the divisional round. They beat Philadelphia (2006) and Arizona (2009) and lost to San Francisco (2011) under Payton. They lost to Minnesota (2000) under Jim Haslett — whom Payton succeeded in 2006.

Junior Galette wins Jim Finks Award

Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette was chosen to receive the 2013 Jim Finks Good Guy Award in a vote of media who cover the team on a regular basis.

Named in honor of the team’s late general manager, the local chapter of the Professional Football Writers of America has cited since 2001 a player for his professionalism and cooperation in helping the media throughout the season.

Tackle Zach Strief was the 2012 winner.