The New Orleans Saints don’t have to worry about finding an edge for Saturday’s rematch with the Seattle Seahawks. A headline atop the Monday street edition of the Times-Picayune in New Orleans said it well: “A score to settle.” Pioneer Square denizens are still finding shards of Saints scattered about following the 34-7 blow-up on Monday Night Football Dec. 2.
The Seahawks’ task is the opposite: Forget it happened. The Big Easy’s team was so easy that night that coach Pete Carroll’s biggest fear is the Seahawks will treat the game like a sashay down Bourbon Street.
“You don’t add up what happened before, and think it’ll happen again,” Carroll said, laying out the most urgent task during his weekly show on ESPN 710 Monday morning. “It’s a common trap to fall into. Everyone wants to think that, and it’s not necessarily the case.
“That will be a point of emphasis: One game doesn’t have anything to do with what’s going on now. We’re going to kick right into the mode that it’s a championship time.”
Of the two approaches, the Saints have by far the easiest task. One video review of the debacle, and their mad-on is locked and loaded. The Seahawks have to create something to beat a team they sent home whimpering six weeks ago.
“We have to get through the human nature (aspect),” he said, “that it’s nice to feel comfortable going into the game to say, ‘We got them.'”
Carroll’s has succeeded well in getting his team on its toes. With the exception of a Nov. 3 home game against 0-8 Tampa that had the Seahawks down 21-0 — eventually winning, 27-24 — the Seahawks have avoided the nod-off. They haven’t done everything wonderfully, but they’ve done good things more often than any team in the NFL.
Carroll’s point: Don’t blow it now.
These two weeks are a culmination of Carroll’s Seattle four-year objective. The bye and one playoff home game is the strategic reward. What happens beyond that is up to events of Saturday.
“We’ve been anticipating this since we got here,” he said. “We were hearing about crowd (noise) when we first got here, so we set our sights on winning the division and owning that thing so we could get here, in this situation. We see the magnitude of the crowd and see the impact it has on the game.
“This isn’t, ‘Oh boy, we’re home!’ We’ve been busting our tails to get here.'”
The Saints also busted their tails Saturday in Philadelphia, also for a franchise milestone — the first playoff win on the road in the club’s 47 years.
Derided as Superdome sofites, the Saints overcame game temps in the 20s and and Philly’s belligerent fans to beat the Eagles 26-24 on a field goal as time expired. QB Drew Brees didn’t have a great game, but he was part of a rushing attack that worked well and was unseen here in December, when the Saints had 44 yards on the ground.
“There is no better place to win a road game than Philadelphia,” said Saints coach Sean Payton, a self-backpat to suggest to his team that the 12th Man in Seattle is no more formidable than the Broad Street hostiles. It’s a smart tactic.
Payton knows intimately what develops at the Clink for teams who are infrequent visitors: Audio shock. Players come in fully prepared for the noise, but don’t really understand how different it is. More than just creating a failure to communicate, the din is emotionally fatiguing. Ask a few construction workers.
But now that his Saints have been dosed, Payton is counting on the development of some immunity. Noise will always be a nuisance, but it doesn’t have to be game-changing, which is what the Arizona Cardinals proved Dec. 22. They broke Seattle’s 14-game home winning streak with a 17-10 triumph that was due in part, thanks to their membership in the NFC West, to the absence of shock. They have grown used to it.
Remember the Cardinals lost a year earlier in the Clink 58-0. In the easy-to-understand world of the high-end athlete, humiliation is far worse than defeat. The Cardinals had themselves some sweet payback.
So it’s not much different this trip for the Saints. They have a score to settle too.
The Seahawks will be absent a difference-maker in the defense. MLB K.J. Wright had perhaps his best game of the season against the Saints. His primary task was to cover the NFL’s most productive tight end, All-Pro selection Jimmy Graham, who had just three catches for 42 yards.
But Wright is still healing from surgery to repair a bone broken in his right foot. If there’s another game next week, he might be back. But not Saturday.
“They tried to get the ball downfield to Jimmy a number of times,” Carroll said. “K.J. had a phenomenal game. Those four, five, six plays will have to be made up by someone else. So yes, it is a match-up change.
“(The Saints) were very close to executing some big plays that would have made a difference. Fortunately, we came up and knocked the ball around a little bit. It was our plays that made the difference. Brees threw right on the money. We had to make those plays.
“This week, how does it go if they hit those? It could change the dynamic, I don’t know.”
That’s what the Saints are about this week — changing the dynamic. The Seahawks can’t get much better than beating a 9-2 team by 27 points. The Saints, however, know two things they didn’t know last trip — they can win on the playoff road, and the Seahawks can lose at home.
Anyone expecting a blowout probably needs to put down the paper bag of glue, and back away.
Harvin still on track
Without committing to anything, Carroll sounded a little more optimistic about seeing WR Percy Harvin Saturday. Carroll had an “an eye-to-eye conversation” Monday with Harvin after a workout that caused Carroll to change his mind about Harvin’s chances to play.
“He (Harvin) said, ‘I think I can go,'” Carroll said. “I was cheering for him. I was hoping he’d say that. He looked good last week, so we’ll see.”