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John DeShazier: Winning on the road not mission impossible for Saints

Posted Dec 30, 2013

Franchise has been breaking barriers since Sean Payton arrived in 2006

For a head coach and core of players who have become accustomed to setting standards and achieving franchise firsts, the assignment probably doesn’t sound like anything close to a mission impossible.

These New Orleans Saints must win a playoff game on the road for the first time in franchise history in order to stay alive and advance in the postseason. It’s as simple as that for the Saints (11-5), who play the Eagles (10-6) on Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, in an NFC wild-card game.

New Orleans is 0-5 in road playoff games, 0-3 under Coach Sean Payton.

Atop a 3-5 road record in the regular season, including five losses in the last six road games, the Saints know and understand that their road mark will be scrutinized even more heavily entering the playoff game than it was during the regular season.

But the Saints, under Payton, also have been franchise barrier breakers.

The team advanced to its first NFC championship game (January 2007), won its first NFC championship game (January 2010) and captured its only Super Bowl (February 2010) under Payton.

Also, the franchise won at least 11 regular-season games in three straight seasons (2009-11) for the first time under Payton, and five of the franchise’s six postseason victories have occurred under him.

So scaling heights isn’t foreign to the Saints since 2006. This postseason simply will provide them with an opportunity to conquer a new one.

“We know what’s at stake,” running back Pierre Thomas said. “We know we’re going to Philly, we know we’re going against a great team and we’ve got to make sure that we have everything on our end sealed up and perfected. We’ve got to study hard on this team in a short period of time. But I know our team is capable of doing that and the coaches are going to give us a great gameplan to prepare us for this.

“I feel like we’re comfortable with our situation that we’re in. It’s going to show what kind of team we really are. We’ve got to come out here and put everything on the line, just like we did against Tampa (in the regular-season finale, a 42-17 Saints victory at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome).

“Tampa was our first playoff game. If we play like we did and stay focused and hit on all cylinders, we’re going to be a tough outfit to stop. We’re going to come at this game the same way, the same attitude, the same drive, the same focus. But we’ve got to take it one step at a time. As a group, we can’t put ourselves in holes. There’s really no room for mistakes, especially in the playoffs.”

Thomas knows what he speaks of, because mistakes have been the Saints’ downfall on the road this season.

In New Orleans’ five road losses, it has had two turnovers and seven penalties against New England; two turnovers and nine penalties against the Jets; one turnover and seven penalties in Seattle; three turnovers and eight penalties in St. Louis; and two turnovers and four penalties against Carolina.

Also, that has been the recipe for a bad ending in their road playoff losses since 2006: five turnovers against San Francisco in a divisional playoff game in 2012; one turnover and seven penalties in a wild-card loss to Seattle in 2011; and four turnovers and seven penalties against Chicago in the 2007 NFC championship game.

Cleaning up the mistakes will go a long way toward the Saints making positive history.

“It comes down to we’ve got to do what it takes to win,” linebacker David Hawthorne said. “And operate on all cylinders.

“A couple of times we started slower than we’re accustomed to starting. We need to hold up and try not to get behind. But we haven’t really focused on being a home or away team, we just want to put together a complete game.”

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