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New Orleans Saints seek to add postseason success to regular-season run

"We can compete no matter who we put on the field because of how we're built"

A second game action gallery from the New Orleans Saints' win over the Carolina Panthers in week 17 of the 2019 NFL season.
A second game action gallery from the New Orleans Saints' win over the Carolina Panthers in week 17 of the 2019 NFL season.

The construction project always is fluid, even now, because the New Orleans Saints never really know when necessity will dictate that they add or subtract another block.

But the foundation appears to be pretty sturdy – a fortuitous occurrence for those who've been present for its formation.

For instance, as the Saints (13-3) enter Sunday's Wild Card playoff game against Minnesota (10-6) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, there are roster members who never have known an NFL existence other than winning the division title (three straight NFC South championships), advancing to the playoffs and winning at least one postseason game.

"It's pretty special," said right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, a first-round pick in the Saints' vaunted 2017 draft class, which helped the franchise end a string of three consecutive 7-9 finishes, and produce the current streak of success. The Saints have won 11-plus regular-season games for three straight years, the second time in franchise history that has been done, and they won 13 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history.

"I've heard other guys talk about what it's like to be on losing teams and not make the playoffs, and I'm pretty fortunate to be in this situation and be around the guys on this team and coaches on this team," Ramczyk said. "I guess I don't really know what it's like to not make the playoffs in the NFL. It's kind of a crazy thing. Obviously, we're putting in the work every week and all year to be in this spot and chase this opportunity."

This one has a different setup to it than the others, though. The Saints climbed over a few significant hurdles this season, in terms of injuries.

Quarterback Drew Brees missed five games; the team went 5-0 in his absence. Left guard Andrus Peat, arguably the team's most versatile lineman, who has started at guard and left tackle in past seasons, missed six; the Saints went 5-1.

Safety Vonn Bell has missed three (3-0), running back Alvin Kamara sat out two (2-0), tight end Jared Cook was down for two (2-0), defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and defensive end Marcus Davenport went on injured reserve with three games left (3-0), and a host of others sprinkled in a missed game here and there.

But the Saints won with the offense humming (46, 34, 38 and 35 points – not including a defensive touchdown – scored in the final four games, when New Orleans went 3-1). And they won with defense (10, 6, 9, 7 and 10 points allowed in victories). And they won with standout special teams play (field goals accounting for all the points in a 12-10 victory, four field goals creating the victory margin in a 26-18 win, a blocked punt and punt return touchdown contributing to wins in two other games).

They believe they've been built to win however and wherever the game is played (7-1 on the road this season).

"I'm very confident, because from top to bottom we're a competitive team," linebacker A.J. Klein said. "And I think we've shown, especially on defense and offense, if we have somebody go down, guys can come and fill in, in multiple positions across the board – whether it's on the offensive line, the defensive backfield, the linebacker room, quarterback, running back.

"We've had a lot of moving parts this season, a lot of guys up and down on gameday and I just think it goes to show the resiliency of this team and how it's built. We can compete no matter who we put on the field because of how we're built. I think that's a positive for us."

"We've dealt with some adversity this year – maybe a little more so than other years," Coach Sean Payton said. "We've had a lot of guys injured throughout the year at a lot of different positions and I think we added some depth and guys that were able to step in and do a good job. Good enough for us to win. So I think this season was different that way."

The Saints again will test to see if the construction is solid enough to help them achieve their ultimate goal, having responded from heartbreak in consecutive postseasons with consecutive 13-win years.

"For me personally, it was kind of a thing that you had to brush off, you have to move on to the next year and start prepping for this year," Ramczyk said. "There's different guys who took it other ways, took it personally, stuff like that.

"But I think it's something collectively as a team, we moved on from well and we came into this year strong and put ourselves in a position again this year to make a run in these playoffs."

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