A prominent high school football coach once told me the following.
“You can only hit so many emotional highs in a season. Sometimes you have to win when you are not playing your best.” Which is exactly what the Saints did in a 31-19 win over the New York Jets Sunday.
The Jets game was a classic trap game, sandwiched in between games against archrival Atlanta.
The Saints got off to a great start.
They led 10 nothing after a Mark Ingram one yard touchdown run, and 17-7 after a 10 yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Mark Ingram.
But, from there the Saints went into a scoring drought that was 25 minutes, 33 seconds in elapsed time off the clock. Wide receiver Brandon Coleman fumbled on back to back possessions in the second half. The Saints lost the turnover battle, 3-2 but still won the game.
Head coach Sean Payton was clearly miffed at his team’s performance.
“We did a lot of things that will keep us from winning when we play better competition,” said Payton.
That is blunt, and factual.
During the week, the Saints coaching staff had to be concerned about the game being a trap.
Part of a coaching staff’s job is to convince their team that if they do not take care of business, they can lose. Even when the betting line says are 16 and a half points better. But, the players put on the tape, and they see a team without its starting quarterback, one that is clearly offensively challenged.
On 68 plays, the Jets averaged a paltry 4.3 yards per play.
Their job was to somehow hang around till the fourth quarter, and somehow steal the game at the end.
The only way for the Jets to win the game is if the Saints helped, which they did.
So, now it is on to Atlanta on Christmas Eve at the Superdome. The Saints must keep on winning, or face the possibility of opening the playoffs on the road.
The Eagles clinched at least a first round bye with a win over the Giants.
The Vikings and Rams, who own tiebreakers over the Saints, both won.
So, the best case scenario for the Saints appears to be at home in the first round of the playoffs as either the 3 or 4 seed.
But, there are no guarantees.
This is a loaded year in the NFC.
Even with 10 wins in 14 games, the Saints are currently the fourth seed.
They will have to play much better against the Falcons.
And, they will.
Plus, the Saints, who were given the short stick in scheduling this season, finally catch a break.
The Falcons come to the Superdome after a Monday night game at Tampa. Late in the season, with so much at stake, the Saints will take any edge they can get.