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Saints Start Atlanta Preparations

Payton and Brees discuss MNF matchup

Following a two and a half hour practice, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees met with the media. The two discussed the club's preparations for Monday's matchup at Atlanta. Below is a transcript:

Head Coach Sean Payton

Opening Statement:"Let's hit this injury report quickly: Danny Clark (hamstring) was full; Kawika Mitchell (hamstring) was full; Jonathan Vilma (quad) was full; Courtney Roby (head) was full; Sedrick Ellis (wrist) was full; Remi Ayodele (ankle) was limited; Jabari Greer (knee) was full; Chris Ivory (hamstring) was limited; Robert Meachem (toe) was limited; Anthony Hargrove (knee) was limited; David Thomas (knee) did not practice and Charles Brown (back) did not practice. The one transaction was on the practice squad; we signed Swanson Miller – defensive tackle and released quarterback Sean Canfield."

Obviously Greer's injury was not as serious. Was it not as serious as you thought at first?"I think the additional day helped. It helped with a handful of these guys, one of the big reasons we pushed back the schedule like we did. It was encouraging and it was good to see him getting the work."

Is Robert Meachem's toe the same toe he had surgery on?"Yes. It bruises with a certain type of cut. You ice it, give it treatment and it calms down."

Can you say anything definitive about Dave Thomas' status for Monday?"No, we wouldn't do that on our first day here."

Pro Bowl balloting is finishing up. You have some obvious candidates like Drew Brees and Jonathan Vilma. Are there any guys who might not be obvious to the casual observer who should be in that conversation?"I know the players are going to note on their ballots today, the coaches as well. It's hard to just pick out one person. The good thing about the balloting is the players and the coaches represent two thirds of it, the fans represent a third of it and as you get a chance to see various teams play you get a chance to really see who's excelling on a consistent basis and when you win and the more you win, you typically have more representation, which was the case a year ago and we have a number of players that we feel like are deserving and hopefully they receive that opportunity."

We've broached the subject before about Twitter. Roddy White went off a little and your team doesn't really do that. What do you do to have them shy away from it?"We really don't pay much attention to it. At least I don't. That's really about it. We always reference it that those are all a small press conference if you will. We don't pay much attention to it."

The Falcons haven't lost at home all year. Matt Ryan's lost at home only once. You usually don't think of the Georgia Dome as a place that gives you the home field advantage of a Chicago or Philadelphia. Is there anything you can see that accounts for their dominance at home?"I think it starts with that you have a good football team. You could make that same argument about us a year ago. Typically if you're having success at home, no different than the topic we brought up the other day about how a team's playing on the road…They're playing good football. No matter whether it's at home or whether it's on the road. They're doing all the things good teams do. They're doing a great job with turnovers. Their third down conversions are at the top of the league. They're getting takeaways defensively. They run extremely well. Their kicking game in regards to average field position to start is at the top of the league. So, when those things come up, generally it's a reflection that they're playing good football and when you play inside and you're playing well, that noise is an issue just like it's an advantage for us when we're playing at home."

Going back to the twitter thing, is it something that you get annoyed at when you see?"I really don't pay much attention to it, honestly. I know you guys do. We don't at least as coaches pay much attention to it."

Has this Falcons team changed much as far as getting better since the last time you faced them?"They're that much further along with the confidence and success they've had over the season. They've played very well and finished in a lot of games. When you study them, their scoring differential in the fourth quarter is exceptional and so, we know how close the margin for error is in this league. When you look at this team, you see them playing exceptionally well when games have been on the line in the fourth quarter. They've won a number of those contests. You start doing that and then each week you believe you're going to do it again. I think you've seen it with this team."

What do you think of Matt Ryan even though he hasn't had highlight reel numbers?"He has exceptional numbers. I think number one, the ball comes out very quick. He has a great grasp of their system. One of the things you look for in a quarterback is can he bring his team from behind. I think he's done that more than anybody this season. He's very accurate. He can make all the throws. He's playing at an elite level and you can just see that on tape. Pick any game out on tape you want to watch and study it closely. He moves well not only to his right, but to his left. In the pocket you look at the rhythm and timing. The ball comes out very fast. They're one of the tougher teams when you look at sacks, looking at sack differential. That's been a trait since he entered the league. He's done well there."

Is there anyone he reminds you of?"I don't know if there's one specific player. He has the good size you're looking for. I think he's very athletic and has a very good release. There's no one that comes to mind, but when you watch him, you see a lot of the good things you're looking for at that position."

They've had so many things go right for them this year; did you have the same feeling last season?"Those are things though I would agree, but they're a result of work, a result of preparation, a result of an offseason and playing four quarters and I think that's a credit to how they've been performing. It's a credit to Mike (Smith) and his staff. They've done a great job."

Does some of that come from them finishing 9-7 and missing the playoffs? Does hunger play into it?"Each offseason when you get the right leadership. Clearly they have that in their team, that right chemistry is conducive to winning when you have that locker room, just how you want it. You can see that confidence level. You can see that commitment that these guys have made."

Are you concerned about the interceptions that Drew Brees has thrown?"No, more than anything else, my concern is this week's game and what we have to do to play well in this game and what we can do to reduce turnovers in this game. The focal point that we have right now is putting our best plan, having our best days of practice and preparation leading up to Monday's game."

Do you appreciate the rivalry between the two clubs like someone who grew up in Atlanta or New Orleans more so than when you play Carolina or Tampa?"I don't know. It's a division game and you can point to that we've had some real tough games with Tampa and the same way with Carolina. I probably don't appreciate it as much as people who are from here. Yet, you certainly understand it. With the realignment of the divisions a few years back, I think a lot of it comes from teams that are competitive within the division. In other words, the rivalry's heightened because you have two teams that are potentially playoff teams, certainly one in Atlanta and we're aspiring to be one. I think that attention is drawn from success."

It seemed like a lot of it came from the team's being established around the same time and the fans reveling in each other's misery for a lot of the years since they struggled early on in the NFC West days, but this might be one of the best meetings between the two clubs ever this late in the season?"Again, I think the success makes it more interesting, the success Atlanta's had and our recent success makes it a more meaningful game than in years past."

Has Jimmy Graham's development as a rookie been faster than someone you might expect for such limited football experience? "I think when we were in training camp we were seeing that the learning curve was going along pretty quick. He's somebody that is a sharp study. It's very important to him. During the course of training camp, heading into the preseason, we began to see the signs of someone who was progressing at a fast rate given the amount of snaps he's had and I think it's a good room with the leadership of Jeremy (Shockey) and David Thomas and Tory (Humphrey), a player who is a veteran in his own right. He's just progressed each week and put together good practices and is playing with confidence as a result of it."

Is it almost a given that the team understands the playoff scenarios and the importance of this game?"I think with two games left, it's a lot easier for everyone to understand. Our goal and focus is on this game. That approach is the only approach as a coach and player you can take. I think that has served us well. Clearly and this is the case every year, as the season winds down, the picture becomes clearer and clearer."

You could clinch on Sunday if Tampa loses. As a coach, would you almost have to rather need to win Monday to get in from a coach's perspective?"It's Monday night against Atlanta. The focus for us is in the preparation and that we're playing a very good football team and what we have to do to put ourselves in a position to win"

QB Drew Brees

You guys would like to clinch this week and get it over with?"Absolutely. Really it's just about this game and finding a way to win this game. We want to win because we want to win, but obviously what it does for us from a playoff perspective. We lock in a playoff spot. It's a divisional game on the road, against a team that potentially is looking at the one seed as long as they can win one of these two, so I think our hopes are that potentially (we hope to) go back there again."

Has your thought been since the first matchup between the two clubs that the division might be on the line in the next meeting?"Yes."

Are you disappointed that they kept winning and there isn't much of a crack"Yes, you knew it would be meaningful. It's meaningful because I think both of us think we're two of the better teams in the NFC and I think the rivalry or the magnitude of this game doesn't stop. In this game, down the line here, within the next few weeks if everything goes our way and their way, we could potentially see them again. Obviously that is down the road and so it's all about finding a way to win this game this week and making sure that we lock up a playoff spot. I'm not sure what that seed will be yet because there's still a shot at the one seed, but obviously we have to take care of our business."

Do you think you could send a message on Monday or do you think that what happens Monday has any relevant three weeks later?"It does have relevance, especially if you can go in there and execute and do it convincingly. The way I look at this game is you have two very good teams. There's really not a lot of chinks in the armor on either side. It's going to be a hard-fought game. It's going to be a physical game. I expect it to be a tight game. I think we understand the challenge that's ahead of us in playing in the road in that venue."

Does this game have a playoff feel?"It will feel like it. You can say it's similar to last year Monday Night Football against the Patriots. We knew we were going against a playoff caliber team. Even thought that didn't have any bearing on NFC standings. We're NFC, they're AFC. Still, I think just that atmosphere where you're the only game on television, everyone's watching and it's very meaningful within our conference, within our division. It's a big game."

When you played the Patriots, you might have had something to prove about what team you are to the country. Is this back in the position again where you have to prove yourselves?"Definitely. There's always something to prove. Especially since they beat us the first time around. Forget the circumstances. We had a 27-yard field goal in OT that would have won it. The fact of the matter is that the W went in their column. The L went in our column. That was in the Superdome. Now we have to go on the road in a place they've played extremely well in. We have to find a way to win. Indeed, if that becomes our journey in the playoffs, say if we're a five seed on the road, we have to be able to go into hostile environments and win games in playoff atmospheres and this will be one of those atmospheres."

Do you think they will have something to prove in terms of that their win in week three isn't a fluke and wasn't just because of a missed field goal?"Yes. I can't speak for them. I'm sure they're looking at this as one of the bigger games of their season, if not the biggest thus far."

You said after the Baltimore game that you felt the team did good things, but needed to do more of them and felt that was the kind of game you were going to have to win. What are the things that you've digested that you have to do to win?"Coming out of that game, I feel like we had an opportunity for a couple of more big plays that we weren't able to get. Third downs, we weren't very good on third down. We weren't able to run the ball very well. Those are things that you obviously have to do well, especially as you get to the playoffs. Really, you always want to put yourself in position to win in the end. I thought we were in that position in Baltimore and we've been in that position a lot this year. I think we've won a lot of those tight games. We know how to do that. We're battle-tested in that way. Each scenario's a little different. I think a lot of it's about confidence and knowing you've been there before and knowing that you've done it."

Your quarterback rating and completion percentage is the highest by a passer when at home in the NFC. You know how Matt Ryan's lost one game at home. Is there anything in particular in terms of an atmosphere that contributes to him playing well there or you playing well at home as a quarterback"Playing at home, obviously you get the benefit of communication. It's quiet, so snap count, it seems like you're definitely able to be more rhythmic. The communication aspect of it is big. When you're in the shotgun on the road, a lot of times going on a silent count, you have your head down looking at the ball as opposed to being able to keep your eyes up with the cadence and that sort of thing. There's little things being on the road affects differently than being at home. Why is home field advantage, home field advantage? It's noisy for the opposing offense. Quiet for you and that atmosphere of that pride where it's our home and protecting our house."

Will you be rooting for Tampa Bay to win on Sunday? Will you be looking to clinch in Sunday or do you almost want to have to do it yourselves?"We want to take care of business. We want to control our own destiny. Regardless of what happens, we're just worrying about what we're going to do. I guess last year, we're getting ready to play Carolina that last game of the season and we're going to have to win that game in order to get the one seed and lo and behold Chicago Beats Minnesota on Monday Night Football, so we clinch by default without even having to go out and win it ourselves. It was kind of like, okay, great. I think we just want to control our own destiny here. We know what we have to do."

Obviously you won't be resting starters in that situation, but if you're tuning in to that game and its' coming down to the fourth quarter, do you almost want the edge of knowing you have to win or being perfectly happy having them taking care of that for us?"I don't know. I haven't even thought about that. Because, I want to win this game. Obviously if we do clinch prior to the game, it's not going to affect our mindset in any way. Because, this is a pride game more so than anything."

If you win Sunday, you would have to play your starters until the final gun, so it would be a different scenario than last year?"Yes, it will be. We'll worry about this one."

Have you ever been indifferent in a game? Have you ever played a game not knowing or being worried about whether you win or lose?"Never. Are you kidding me?."

In the time you've lived here as a Saints fan, have you come to appreciate the rivalry between the two clubs like you didn't before?"Yes. I guess if this were the Carolina Panthers, you'd still have the same sense of urgency and same feeling like 'we don't like these guys, we have to win this game, pride'. If it was the Bucs you'd feel the same way. I don't know if the fact that it's Atlanta more so than the rest of our division. We know that they stand in our way right now."

Have you heard about the history from fans?"I've heard about it from fans. I feel it from the fans (where they say) we have to beat Atlanta, so it sounds like there's a longstanding history of hatred and animosity."

I grew up going to Fenway Park and when the Yankees were there it was hate. Do you feel that when you play Atlanta and vice versa? "I'd say a little bit. It was kind of like in San Diego with the Chargers. With the Oakland Raiders you definitely felt it was different whether they're playing at their place or your place. That was the rivalry. Yes, I feel that. I feel that from our fans and from that kind of thing."

You talk about this being a pride game. Was that last game against Atlanta one of the toughest ones you've had to overcome?"Just the loss itself?."

Did it sting?"In the end you say I did everything I could to help us win. Yes, there's plays here and there that you wish you would have made in the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, even in the fourth quarter, but all you want is a chance to win in the end and we had that chance. Did it have to go to overtime? Probably not, but it did and we still had that chance. We lined up for a 27-yard field goal. That's nothing against (Garrett) Hartley or anybody else. I think you walk away from that game and watch it on film this week and say we were right there. We did everything we were supposed to do. It didn't happen. It didn't finish the way we intended, but obviously you tell  yourself it probably should have never gotten to that point if we executed better in the third and fourth quarter."

In the motivational list, where does it fit in where you don't want to be the team Atlanta could clinch the division against be?"It doesn't. There's a number of things you could just make up and be the ten reasons why you want to beat this team. The main reason is they're the next team on our schedule. We've won six in a row and we went to Baltimore and got beat by a good football team in a tight football team. We just want to get back on track, get back to our winning ways, start a new streak and clinch a playoff berth ourselves. That's on our goal sheet at the start of the year. Clinch that playoff spot."

The Falcons have won a number of games in similar fashion to how they won them against you. Saints fans like to say they're lucky. What really impresses you about what they've done?"There's nothing fake about their 12-2 record. They've played extremely well up to this point. You look at a lot of their games. They've won about six games by a touchdown or less when it came down to the last drive of the game whether it was offensively or defensively. Matt Ryan's made some big plays. Their defense has made some big plays. Their kicker's made some big kicks. Just go down the line, they've come up with some big plays. Their battle-tested as well. They deserve to be where they're at right now because they've played well."

Do they remind you of your team a year ago?"I try not to make that connection, because obviously I want us on our team to be that team again. Early on we weren't that team, because it seemed like the breaks were going against us. As of late, we've gotten to playing the type of football we know how to play, doing things the right way and doing everything it takes to win in this league. They're definitely having the type of season I think in order to make it to the big one, that's the type of season you need to have as far as the breaks going your way.  For whatever reason it seems to be falling into place. We still feel like we're that team."

Is your team hungrier coming off a loss or the same as if you were coming off a win?"I'd say coming off a win, regardless of what happened in a game, you usually feel pretty good about  yourself. It's hard to win in this league. What you try not to do is just brush things under the rug (thinking) we didn't do these things well, but we won. We got away with it, so we'll move on and keep winning that way. Eventually it catches up with you and so, then on the flip side, when you lose, it seems like all those things you didn't do correctly or execute well in the game becomes glaring and you say obviously we have to fix these things or they'll get us beat, because it just did. So, I think with the guys that we have, we had a prideful group. We have a group of guys that aren't going to sit on their laurels and are going to strive to get better. Regardless of whether we win or lose, there are always areas where we know we can get better and we're going to try to improve, but after a loss, you always say the great teams don't lose two in a row. You find a way to respond, come back, play better the next week. You want that feeling of winning. Winning breeds confidence and confidence breeds good results. We just want to get back to another win streak."

Jimmy Graham said that there was a point where he finished practice, was heading to the weight room and you told him he wasn't done yet and gave him some extra work. He credits that to his development. Do you see in him the desire to get better?"Definitely. The biggest thing I love about him is he's obviously really enthusiastic. He wants to be a great player. He wants to work at it. He's so pleasant to be around. If you tell Jimmy there's more work, there's pep in his step. He's excited that you were thinking about him and want to include him and keep him in the mix, as opposed to having to run ten more routes and dragging through it. You can see where his commitment level is. You can tell this is a guy who isn't afraid to work. Whatever it was in his upbringing, he's a fighter. He's not afraid to work, not afraid to earn it and I like that about him. I think that's what makes him a great player."

Can you see how his basketball background helps him in a similar way to how it helps Antonio Gates?"Yes, first of all, Jimmy's so much further along than Gates was. When Gates first came in and granted Gates didn't play any football at college, four straight years of basketball and came in to the Chargers and was on the practice squad that year as a free agent. Jimmy obviously played a year, getting his hand in the dirt, running around a little bit, getting hit. I think the benefit that basketball players have is that most of them have soft hands. Catching the ball is not a problem. (They) have great body control, body control on a defender, because they're used to posting a guy up in basketball. Going up for rebounds, is kind of like going up for that jump ball. A lot of it is feel and positioning and those types of things. The biggest adjustment for basketball players is the physical nature of the sport and that position. You have to block, run block, pass block. You have to run a route when a Sam linebacker is jacking you up off the ball and then you have to adjust your facemask as you're running a 15-yard out route and the safeties' blowing you up too. That's a foul in basketball. That's just good football. That's the biggest thing, putting your hand in the dirt and getting used to the pounding of the position."

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