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John DeShazier: Saints not changing approach for season-finale in Tampa

Payton: 'This is a game we’re playing as if it were the most important game of the year'

The New Orleans Saints returned to practice Wednesday, the first on-field day of preparation for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Buccaneers in Tampa, Fla., at Raymond James Stadium.

And though the team is eliminated from playoff contention, all involved insisted that the thirst for victory would remain the same.

"We're not worried about the offseason right now," safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "We're worried about beating Tampa Bay, being pros, finishing the season strong. That's all we're going to do.

"It's a blessing every time you step out there on that field. You can't take a rep for granted. I can't wait to get out there again."

It's an attitude Coach Sean Payton said he expects of his team, despite its 6-9 record. This season, the Saints haven't had a problem diving into preparation and readying for the task.

"The guys will have the right mentality," Payton said. "It's important to finish strong. It's an important game for us to play. Obviously, it doesn't have the relevance that we'd have hoped for but, that being said, it's important for every player, every coach.

"We'll have our best guys out there, preparing and doing everything we would normally do if we were playing for a playoff spot.

"I think our players, from a response standpoint as we prepare to play this game, will be just fine. They understand that it's their resume they're constantly putting on film. You don't have the quantity (of games) that you might have in other (sports).

"Our preparation, our approach won't change in regard to the hours we're spending, the time we're on the practice field. I think the leadership in this locker room, the players here will understand that. This is a game we're playing as if it were the most important game of the year, and it's the next one. It's the one we have to play, so we'll get ready."

It's nothing less than the professionals expect of themselves, even though they've been sorely disappointed with the overall results.

"That's the risk that you run with anything," guard Ben Grubbs said. "When you make that commitment and dedication to anything, you run the risk of failing. We prepared, we worked hard every week and we walk away with a loss. So it's like, 'Man, what do you do?'

"Yeah, it's frustrating. But we're professionals and we have a great leader in Coach Payton, and we have good captains and we have a lot of veteran players. I'm not going to lay down for anybody. It's the last game, I'm going to play it like it is the last game, because you never know. That's how I approach it.

"You'll definitely see our heart. I think you'll definitely see our work ethic and our mind-set. I don't see anybody going out there and loafing around, not giving their all. If you look at every game, effort is there. We just have to minimize the mistakes and capitalize on the other teams' mistakes."

Also, there are the fans to consider, cornerback Keenan Lewis said.

"That would be very disrespectful for you to go out (and not play hard)," he said. "Some people still are going to travel, your loyal fans are still going to go (to the game). And for you to just go out there and, 'I don't care,' that's not right to them.' "

Partly, that's why the Saints' approach to practice Wednesday looked and felt about the same as it has looked and felt on previous Wednesdays.

"I see guys handling it well," quarterback Drew Brees said. "What this week does, with Christmas, is it just makes you realize how much you're thankful for. We're all thankful for each other, we're thankful for this organization, the opportunity to play for the New Orleans Saints. So that alone makes you want to go out there and play your best.

"For me, you can't change anything about the past. I think the more that you dwell on it, the more negativity you allow to hang around. That's certainly not going to do anything for us this week. I think this is an opportunity for us to go out with a bang, and that's what we plan on doing."

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