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John DeShazier: Saints excited to finally play home opener

Payton: 'It’s not necessarily the building, but who’s in it. It’s a big deal'

Of course the New Orleans Saints are salivating at the thought of playing their home opener Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Of course the thought of it, from players who have experienced it, almost produces chills at the thought of it.

Why wouldn't that be the case?

"There's a passion that exists," Coach Sean Payton said. "It's not necessarily the building, but who's in it. It's a big deal."

It's especially big since the Saints (0-2) have opened the season with two difficult road losses, 37-34 to Atlanta in overtime and 26-24 to Cleveland on a field goal with three seconds remaining in regulation. Sunday, they'll play their first regular-season game of 2014 in front of fans that haven't seen them lose a home game since the finale of 2012.

"I think our players are excited. We are," Payton said. "More importantly, you get excited just for the next opportunity. It can't come quick enough when you have a tough loss."

Players have been cursed, booed, screamed at and ridiculed in the Georgia Dome and FirstEnergy Stadium. Absolutely, they're ready to be on the receiving end of some love.

"It's always a blessing to get the Who Dat Nation behind you," cornerback Keenan Lewis said. "We're very excited to get the opportunity to play in our hometown. I'm tired of running out of the tunnel hearing all the boos.

"(We) finally get somebody to cheer for us; hopefully, that'll give us another spark."

Oh, and there's this: The Saints are pretty good at home, winners of eight straight in the Superdome.

New Orleans beat eight opponents at home last year by an average score of 34-16, never scoring less than 23 points and never allowing more than 20. Under Payton, the Saints have won 16 consecutive regular-season games at the Superdome, and 17 overall (including the playoff victory over Detroit in 2012), by an average score of 38-17.

"It's going to help us get a good start," running back Pierre Thomas said. "We've got a good record in our Dome, at home, and we want to get off to a good start. We've had two close games, we've got to put that behind us and focus on Minnesota and get this 'W.' "

But one of the keys to that will be to not be reliant on the Superdome. As much as players look forward to playing there, they know that the venue alone doesn't guarantee victory.

"We talk a lot about, you don't carry the sins of past teams and you don't carry the successes either," right tackle Zach Strief said. "The fact that we've had a history of having success here … this is a different team.

"We'll have success if we come out and play the right way. But that's going to be up to us. If we come out asleep, the home crowd alone is not going to win it for us. We need to come out and work hard this week and perform on the field."

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