The Saints’ last-second, 26-24 win at Philadelphia on Saturday night meant much more to coach Sean Payton than never having to talk again about the franchise’s inability to win on the road in the playoffs.
He loved just about everything about his team’s performance.
“Certainly when you watch the tape, the score could have been a lot bigger on our part,” he said in a Sunday teleconference. “It was a great team win.”
Although the outcome was not decided until Shayne Graham kicked a 32-yard field goal as time ran out, the statistics told a different story. New Orleans controlled the ball for almost 10 more minutes than Philadelphia, outgained the Eagles 434-256, outrushed them 185-80 and converted 7 of 13 third downs while holding them to 3 of 12.
So much for their history of hapless road performances in the postseason.
“I’m not interested in the franchise’s history,” Payton said. “I said it to our players that, if that were the case, we would be carrying a lot of baggage with us. Our job is to win, and our job is to be consistent and be successful whether we play at home or on the road. We played well enough (Saturday) to get that win.”
Recent history had not been kind, either. The Saints lost their last four regular-season games away from home, including a 34-7 debacle Dec. 2 at Seattle, the site of their divisional-round playoff game this Saturday at 3:35 p.m.
In New Orleans’ favor, reversing a recent rout in the postseason has become a trend.
Last year, Baltimore lost at home to Denver 34-17 in December before winning in Denver during the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.
In 2010, the New York Jets lost at New England 45-3 in December, then stunned the Patriots 28-21 in the divisional round on the same field.
As they proved in Philadelphia, though, the Saints don’t care about precedent or the past — positive or negative.
“It never really was an issue,” defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley said. “I know people wanted to make it a big deal, but the guys in this locker room know what we’re capable of. We have to leave those things aside and just focus on the job at hand. That’s our main goal.
“The best thing that we can do is prepare, practice hard like we’ve been doing these last few weeks and go (to Seattle) with a good mind of what’s going on and a good sense of what’s happening in game situations.”
Bunkley and the rest of the defense lived up to their NFL ranking of fourth in yards allowed, limiting the Eagles to seven points before cornerback Keenan Lewis left with a concussion in the third quarter. A secondary already missing starting cornerback Jabari Greer (torn ACL) and starting safety Kenny Vaccaro (fractured ankle) struggled the rest of the way, but New Orleans still held Philadelphia to 256 yards, its second lowest total of the year.
“We don’t go about it thinking about rankings and stats or things of that nature,” Bunkley said. “Everybody has a piece of the puzzle that fits every game. The numbers fall where they may.”
LeSean McCoy, who led the NFL with 1,607 rushing yards in the regular season, managed just 77 yards on 21 carries with a long gain of 11.
“We tackled well and pursued to the ball,” Payton said. “We really felt that was going to be important. He’s such an exceptional player.”
Payton declined to address Lewis’ status for the Seattle game or any other injury, so it’s unclear whether running back Pierre Thomas, who missed Saturday’s game with a chest issue, or outside linebacker Parys Haralson, who suffered a chest injury during the game, will be available.
At this point, the Saints are just happy to be one of eight teams still playing.
Tight end Benjamin Watson — whose lone reception, a 27-yarder, set up New Orleans’ final touchdown — soaked up the atmosphere when a large crowd greeted the Saints at the airport when they returned at 4:30 a.m.
He said he hopes for a similar enthusiastic audience next Sunday morning.
“It is great for the city and it’s great for our team, just momentum as we move through the playoffs,” he said. “To win on the road in this league is tough, as we saw through the regular season. To win in a hostile environment, the cold, in Philadelphia, it brings great confidence for our team.”