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Another regular-season game to play, another regular-season game to win for New Orleans Saints

'We're going to approach this game just like we would a regular-season game'


There's another regular-season game to play, there's another regular-season game to be won and there's another week of preparation in order to do those things.

That's the way the New Orleans Saints (13-2) are approaching Week 17 – Sunday's regular-season finale against Carolina in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome – even though they enter the game with the NFL's best record, as NFC South Division champs and owners of the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

New Orleans will have a bye to open the playoffs, and will not have to leave New Orleans for a playoff game unless they advance to Super Bowl LIII, which will be Feb. 3 in Atlanta.

Still, the mindset for the finale is to take on the Panthers (6-9) with the intent of finishing the regular season 7-1 at home.

"We're going to prepare to play Carolina and continue to work on getting better in the areas we need to," Coach Sean Payton said.

"We're going to approach this game just like we would a regular-season game."

New Orleans earned its current position with its 31-28 victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday in the Superdome (it needed a victory in either of its final two regular-season games to earn the top seed). The Pittsburgh win featured a Saints staple this season – a late-game comeback that led to victory.

For the seventh time this season, the Saints posted the game-winning score in the fourth quarter or overtime. Against the Steelers, the defense held Pittsburgh scoreless in the quarter and forced two turnovers (fumbles caused by Kurt Coleman and Sheldon Rankins, and recovered by Alex Okafor and Demario Davis), and held the Steelers to 89 yards on 19 plays.

Also, there was a fourth-down stop on a fake punt, with Craig Robertson and Chris Banjo combining for a tackle for a 4-yard gain on fourth-and-five.

Offensively, the Saints mounted a 10-play, 46-yard touchdown drive that included a third-and-20 conversion (Drew Brees' 25-yard pass to Ted Ginn Jr.).

"You're always competing hard, guys are going out there understanding that we need a stop or we need a score," Payton said. "You get used to it after a while and yet, there's certain things you never get used to.

"And that's just operating under those situations. The more you can do it, I think the more experienced you feel in doing it."

For Ginn, it was his first game since Sept. 30 against the Giants. After that game, he had surgery to deal with an injured knee. He was placed on injured reserve, missed 10 games and returned Sunday to catch five passes for 74 yards.

"He played well," Payton said. "It was good to have him back out there. It was a huge play he makes on the third down and it was real good to have him back in our lineup."


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