Saints mix it up, bring back Popeyes for first road playoff game
Their minds firmly set on winning their 47-year-old franchise’s first away playoff game ever, the Saints ordered new warm-up suits. They loaded up on the fried chicken they often ate when they won a championship four years ago. They listened to new music. And they changed the color of the Gatorade.
Some think it’s crazy to believe that any of that would help the Saints make history. The Saints counter that it’s crazier still to not switch things up, yet expect different results.
We’ll see who’s right after the Saints’ wildcard game in Philadelphia on Saturday night.
Even before they had clinched the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs, coach Sean Payton and his players had come up with the answers they’d give to any reporters that asked the Saints just how on earth they’d rectify their issues on the road, where they had gone 3-5 in 2013 while being outscored by 37 points; had lost five of their last six games; and were 0-5 all-time in the wildcard, divisional and conference title rounds of the postseason.
When they board the plane to Philadelphia, they’ll eat Popeyes fried chicken, which they did on the run to Super Bowl XLIV. The president of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen’s U.S. division, New Orleans native Ralph Bower, planned to help personally deliver 100 three-piece meals with sides of red beans and rice to the team on Friday.
“When the chicken gets on the plane, it’ll be like old times to me,” wide receiver Lance Moore, who was on the Super Bowl team, said this week.
Nearby, fellow receiver, champion and Popeyes enthusiast Robert Meachem overheard Moore and chimed in, “Bam, baby!”
During practice this week, for the first time ever, the Saints stretched to blaring rap music, including Drake’s “Worst Behavior,” ASAP Ferg’s “Shabba” and Eminem’s “The Monster.” Payton claimed the playlist was his, though players expressed skepticism since there was no music on it by country star Kenny Chesney, the coach’s pal.
The Beefy Mac the Saints (11-5) will be offered before facing the Eagles (10-6) will be spicier than what they ate when they traveled away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where they’d gone 8-0 and had outscored opponents by a mind-boggling 130 points this year. The color of the Gatorade they’d drink on the sideline will be green instead of red or orange, like it’d been previously.
The new warm-ups they wear will be thicker and warmer. They have the number “4” on them. That’s how many games the Saints will need to win away from New Orleans to get Super Bowl rings this year.
The Saints invoked the warm-ups whenever anyone in the media even thought about referencing New Orleans’ 2-6 record in temperatures 40 degrees or colder with Payton coaching and the starters playing — it’ll be in the 20s in Philly on Saturday.
“Man, the way they fit, you ought to see them — pretty special,” Payton deadpanned to a media scrum this week. “Our road record since 2006 (36-28) is pretty good. I think our road record since 2009 (24-16) is pretty good. But I think it would have been better if we were wearing these sweat suits, too.”
That zinger earned Payton a hearty round of laughter from the gaggle.
So how serious can the Saints be about any of that boosting, say, Drew Brees’ passer rating on the road, where it was a baffling 40.2 points worse than it was at the Superdome?
Quite serious, they insist.
“All joking aside, we understand our last ... outings on the road have not been our best performances,” said Brees, who threw just 12 of his 39 touchdowns and nine of his 12 interceptions away from the Superdome. “At times you know you do have to kind of change things up, so — psychologically — you say it is going to be different this time around.
“The last couple of (road) outings have not been what we want, but we know we are about to break the seal. We have no other choice — heck, it’s the playoffs.”
Brees’ teammates agree that might mark the difference in reversing both a recent slump as well as decades of road playoff frustrations.
“What you repetitively do, you keep getting the same results,” linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “By switching it up, we’re looking to get different results.”
Moore added, “If we tell ourselves it’s going to work, maybe it’ll work.”
And it’s only crazy if it doesn’t work.