Road woes? What road woes? Laughing in the face of a perceived inability to take their high-powered offensive show out of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the New Orleans Saints had something to prove this week.
But they weren’t exactly worried about it, particularly when reporters kept reminding them of it late in the regular season.
When few people gave them much of a chance to advance past the wild-card round against the Philadelphia Eagles in front of hostile fans who love to hate the opposition, their own team at times and even Santa Claus, the Saints simply circled the wagons.
Despite finishing the regular season with three consecutive road losses in a 21-day span, dropping five of their last six games away from home in all, the Saints survived with a 26-24 victory Saturday night against the Eagles — winning when Shayne Graham’s 32-yard field-goal attempt perfectly split the uprights as time expired for the first road playoff win in franchise history.
After earning the right to pack their bags and play on the road rather than at home, the Saints stopped a surging Eagles team that had won seven of its final eight regular-season games.
Instead of walking around with long faces and taking on a woe-is-me mentality considering their recent road struggles, Saints players embraced the notion of going out and proving the critics wrong. Instead of getting uptight and bent out of shape from being bombarded with questions about their less-than-stellar road record, the Saints used it to their advantage.
To a man, they remained loose and easy throughout the week of preparation — including coach Sean Payton.
They joked about switching up their game-week routine and breaking out new sweatsuits, changing the flavor of their sports drink and eating Popeyes chicken on the team charter — just as they did when they won the Super Bowl in 2009.
But none of that helped them win on a bone-chilling Philadelphia night.
They weren’t joking Saturday — not by any stretch of the imagination. The Saints were all business, especially when it came to the fundamentals of the game, the things that win in the playoffs — running the ball effectively and stopping the run on defense.
In doing so, they ripped a page or two from the Eagles’ playbook when they outgained the NFL’s top rushing team 185-80.
The Saints ran for nearly 100 yards more than their regular-season average of 92.1 yards per game and limited league rushing leader LeSean McCoy, who gained 1,607 yards this season, to 77 yards and a 3.7-yard average — a recipe for success any coach would relish.
That the Saints did it while ignoring the “noise,” as Payton likes to call the external chatter, was most impressive — although they know it’ll crank back up this week with a trip to Seattle coming Saturday for the divisional round and the right to advance to the NFC title game.
The Seahawks beat the Saints 34-7 in CenturyLink Field on Dec. 2. But it won’t faze the Saints after what they accomplished in Philadelphia.
“We know how good we can be. … It’s just a matter of putting it all together,” quarterback Drew Brees said late Saturday night. “It all starts with our preparation throughout the week. We had a great week of prep. A lot of it’s just believing in each other (and) ignoring what everybody else has to say. Everybody’s going to have an opinion. But we know what we’re all about, and this was a great testament to that.”
Saturday night’s win will only help down the line, linebacker Curtis Lofton said.
“I think it just adds to our confidence,” he said. “We’ve been a confident bunch.
“Just getting this (win) outside … in the cold, on the road, when everybody said we couldn’t do it, just makes it that much (more) special.”