As bad as two of the last three games have looked for the New Orleans Saints, road losses in Seattle (34-7) and St. Louis (27-16), there remains this fact:
Entering Sunday's road game against Carolina, the Saints (10-4) still control their own fate.
A victory over the Panthers (10-4) at Bank of America Stadium would give New Orleans the NFC South Division title and the conference's No. 2 seed in the playoffs. Simple as that.
"We know what we're playing for," quarterback Drew Brees said Monday. "We're playing for the division championship and the 2 seed. It'll be a great challenge for us. Obviously, we understand our deficiencies on the road here over the last couple of trips. It's great motivation for us to really hammer down this week, find ways to improve and get better."
"I would say the message is, the sky is not falling," Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said Monday. "We know we have a good team, we've just got to go out and execute. We've got to play better on the road. We've got to get rid of that stigma that we can't play on the road, because right now we're proving everybody right. We've got to keep focusing on the process and the results will come."
Included in the process would be eliminating turnovers (three against the Rams, one against the Seahawks), minimizing penalties and getting off to a better start. The Saints trailed Seattle 17-0 at the end of the first quarter and 27-7 at halftime, and fell behind St. Louis 14-0 after the first quarter and 24-3 at halftime.
"When you're playing on the road, you have to be focused and you have to have energy from play one," Lofton said. "You can't play catchup ball and I feel like that's what we've been doing. We've got to come out and start fast, and not only start fast but finish strong."
Said Brees: "I think some of it's execution, I think some of it's maybe over-complication. You understand that when you go on the road, there are elements that will always have to be dealt with – crowd noise, the environment. I think maybe at times, we might have tried to get a little too complicated.
"I think we can simplify and by doing that, I think you allow guys to play faster, play with more confidence. Also, it's a bit of mentality. These last couple of trips, we've gotten down by a lot in a short amount of time in the first half and haven't overcome that, or haven't had that resiliency like we have in the past. I think that's just been a learning experience.
"It's just establishing that feeling that when we do get down, we're never out. We are built to be able to overcome any scenario or situation like that. But we've got to go out and do it. And a lot of that is a mentality and we've got to establish that with this team."
There is a reference point for this team. These Saints can reflect on their 17-13 win in Atlanta.
"Our first series we were three-and-out, and then they're able to drive the ball down and score, and we fell down 7-0," Coach Sean Payton said Monday. "But I would say a critical juncture in that game, be it in the first quarter, was that drive that we had to tie it up.
"I'd like to be able to pinpoint one specific thing. Historically, during our years here, we've been a very good road team. We're currently 3-4 on the road this season and that's below average. It is what it is.
"The challenges Carolina presents, they're a real good football team and both teams have a lot at stake. I think it's going to be important that we have a good plan going in and are able to handle the challenges of whether it's noise, weather, whatever those are. We're going to be tested with it."
The Saints know what the result will be if they pass: A division title, and No. 2 seed.
"We control our own destiny," Lofton said. "It doesn't matter where we play. What it comes down to, it's going to come down to the team that executes and who goes out and plays a lot of good football. It's not a grave predicament."
!(http://www.neworleanssaints.com/media-center/photo-gallery/New-Orleans-Saints-at-St-Louis-Rams/80d29671-0318-46c9-b3bb-128a65d47fa1 "saints at rams")