<span>Nearly three hours after the final whistle ended the Saints' seventh regular season game of the season, the Black-and-Gold lifted off on a Northwest Airlines chartered 747 en route to London's Gatwick International Airport.
The New Orleans team, now at 3-4, quietly embarked on the seven-hour plus flight northward ups the eastern seaboard before veering east and across the Atlantic Ocean. Coaches and players watched coaching videos of the team's Sunday defeat and began preparations for Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers in the venerable Wembley Stadium.
"There is disappointment in the way we played against Carolina," said starting right tackle Jon Stinchcomb. "The flight gave all us time to reflect on where we are as a team. Collectively we didn't get it done. Carolina played well and we didn't execute in the key moments of the game and the scoreboard reflected that at the end of the day."
Stinchcomb said the opportunity in front of the team this week is to maintain focus and get ready for the Chargers, who also sport an identical record. "I suppose they share the same feelings we do right about now," the Georgia alum stated. "They are talented and have played some close games and it should be a good game and it's an opportunity for us to play in front of a big crowd that is eager to see a good game."
The Saints and Chargers represent just the second regular season game in NFL history to be played on European soil, following last season's Giants victory over the Dolphins, which was also played at Wembley.
"We are doing this the right way," said tight end Jeremy Shockey, who also played in last season's International Series game. "The time difference is something that you have to contend with. We are getting over there and will have the chance to get acclimated to the time difference and get settled in. Everything, from the flight to the hotel to where we are practicing is first-class."
Players will get a few hours of rest shortly after their arrival and then will go through some conditioning work to work out the soreness and lactic acid build up normally associated with the day after a game.
"Really it's an opportunity get out and just loosen up and get some conditioning work in," said Head Coach Sean Payton. "The players will have Tuesday off and can experience a little bit of the culture and see some things that many of them haven't seen before. This is a unique opportunity and I think we all realize how special it is to be able to represent our city and the NFL."
Despite the obvious differences that range from preparing for a game in a hotel and different practice setting, the challenges for the entire Saints traveling party will be to eliminate unnecessary distractions and focus on keeping the week as normal as possible.
"Well, we had to improvise earlier this season going to Indianapolis due to Hurricane Gustav. "This is a bit different in the sense that we have had nearly nine months to prepare for this and get it planned out. But I think we learned about the character of the team right off the bat with our experience so we have something to fall back on and draw upon."
Stinchcomb agreed, "At the end the day, it's about having a good week of practice and doing the same things we would do if we were at home in New Orleans. The schedule is the same. It's a normal week of prepartions, albeit quite a long way from home."
The Saints' charter landed a few minutes past 8:00 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time, which felt like 2:00 a.m. to the travelers. The team then went through the normal customs and immigration procedures associated with international travel, although the team was met with quite a few members of the local media as they prepared to board the buses to the hotel.