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New Orleans Saints understanding how to win 'that game'

Team has overcome adversity during three-game winning streak

Game action photos from the New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers matchup in Week 7 of the 2020 NFL season.

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Once, it required overcoming a 14-point deficit on the road just 4:37 into the game, with six starters out injured, including both starting cornerbacks, and several players and coaches operating with minimal sleep because of a Covid-19 test that turned out to be a false positive.

Once, the assignment was digging out of a 20-3 hole at home, with the star receiver deactivated due to discipline, and the final score not determined until overtime because the opponents' makable, game-winning 50-yard field-goal attempt banged off the right upright at the end of regulation.

Once, the job entailed taking the field without two starting receivers – one injured, one on the reserve/Covid-19 list, which caused the coaching staff to spend all night Thursday and into early Friday morning catering the gameplan to who was going to be available – and losing the starting left tackle in the first half with an arm injury.

What the New Orleans Saints (4-2) have done during their current three-game winning streak (tied for second-longest in the NFL, behind Pittsburgh's six straight to open the season) is isolate the day, and conquer it.

It hasn't always been aesthetically pleasing, with a 74-yard touchdown pass allowed here, a 64-yard touchdown pass allowed there, a couple of touchdown-less red zone trips offensively and a penalty-littered special teams effort mixed in.

But whatever it has taken that day – in wins over Detroit (35-29), the Chargers (30-27 in overtime) and Carolina (27-24) – is what the Saints have been able to muster entering Sunday's road game against the Bears (5-1).

"I think the big thing that pretty much anybody can see is how we fight through adversity," defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. "We've dealt with some, whether it be starting down 14-0 five minutes into a game – you're down 14-0, nobody wants to start a game that way – and then whether it be (Sunday) where we felt like we were getting off to a fast start and then a few plays here and there and they're right back in the game. But we were able to weather the storm.

"I think (Coach) Sean (Payton) always talks about, you've got to find a way to win 'that' game. Every game is not going to be, come in and roll the ball out there and just be able to go out-athlete people or just hang 40 points on everybody.

"You've just got to find a way to win that specific game however it is that you've got to win it, and we've been able to do that over the last couple of weeks. Just continue to do that, while continuing to play better in certain aspects, we'll be right where we want to be."

New Orleans isn't in an unenviable spot currently. It trails Tampa Bay (5-2) in the NFC South Division due to the Buccaneers owning one more victory, but the Saints hold the head-to-head advantage because they beat Tampa Bay in the season opener.

The Saints have done it by figuring out how to finish ahead while not playing their best, or having available all their pieces.

"It's the NFL, so every week is going to present a different challenge," center Erik McCoysaid. "But facing adversity and coming through on top is just our main goal. Coach Payton emphasizes it every week, just find a way to win. That's what we've been doing."

"You go in with an idea how you want to play the game," Payton said. "And sometimes, very quickly, games can be different than you expect. Hopefully, we're always able to see that and stay ahead of it."

New Orleans trailed Carolina 17-14 near the end of the first half after allowing touchdowns on consecutive defensive possessions, but produced a 65-yard touchdown drive in the final 97 seconds of the half to retake the lead. In the second half, the Saints allowed 103 yards of offense and one touchdown, and added a couple of field goals to counter Carolina's score.

"I thought we came out in the second half (Sunday) and settled down some defensively," Payton said. "It's unusual to play a game on offense and not punt, and I felt like the game went fairly quick because there were a lot of long-play drives. I thought the first- and second-down efficiency was going to be important, and it ended up being true. Obviously, on third down the numbers were good (12 of 14 for the Saints). But they can kind of move in certain directions, the games do, and you just have to pay attention to that."

Once New Orleans has gotten a feel for how it will need to win that day, it has gone about doing it.

"Adversity to start a season is nothing new to us," Rankins said. "We've faced it before. We know what it takes to get on a roll and start winning some games.

"We know that each and every game is going to be different. We've got to win that specific game a certain way, whether it be coming up with a stop, like we were able to do (Sunday), or whether it be a shootout and Drew (Brees) has to go orchestrate a two-minute drill and be able to win a game for us.

"Adversity is nothing new to us. We've always found a way to weather the storm and we'll continue to get better, continue to fix the things that we need to fix and we'll get on a roll here."

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