Saints faced a tougher road this season after winning Super Bowl
Winning the Super Bowl last season just made things more challenging for the New Orleans Saints this season. They begin the playoffs on Saturday at Qwest Field against the Seahawks.
Seattle Times staff reporter
RENTON — Spoils from winning last year's Super Bowl lasted only so long for the New Orleans Saints. Then came the challenges.
The first was a crowded calendar, as playing into February stunted preparation for the 2010 campaign. Then the proverbial "target on the back" meant New Orleans got each team's best shot once the season started. Personnel management and maintaining a sound locker room presented issues as well.
"I think we understood this year was going to be different," said Saints coach Sean Payton, whose team begins its title defense at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in a wild-card playoff game against the Seahawks at Qwest Field.
Last year the top-seeded Saints started the season 13-0 and clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. As a wild card this year — despite finishing tied for the second-best record in the conference at 11-5 — fifth-seeded New Orleans faces potentially three road games to reach Super Bowl XLV in Dallas.
It's a challenge the Saints say they are up to.
"It's a credit to our leadership," Payton said in a teleconference Wednesday. "I felt going into this season, if we were going to have success this year it was going to be because we're strong enough to handle some of the challenges."
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the Saints, who boast the league's fourth-ranked defense and sixth-ranked offense, have expertly managed the expectations that come with winning a championship.
"They're better than most teams coming off a Super Bowl and have rebounded with a terrific football season again," Carroll said. "It's very challenging to overcome all that goes on with all of that, and they've done it."
This week the hardships have continued to pile up for New Orleans. Its high-powered offense lost two playmakers when running backs Chris Ivory (foot) and Pierre Thomas (ankle) were placed on injured reserve. Six other Saints were either limited in practice Wednesday or did not participate due to injury.
Health issues haven't changed outside expectations, however.
Even at a sure-to-be raucous Qwest Field, New Orleans will be a huge favorite Saturday despite having never won a road playoff game. Saints receiver Lance Moore said he and his teammates have tried to remove themselves from all history — both good and bad.
"Each season is going to be different," said Moore, who leads New Orleans with eight touchdowns. "We're not the 2009 Super Bowl champion Saints. We're the 2010 Saints, and we've had to kind of pave our way."
And that way has been plenty good so far. Including a big win at the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans has been surprisingly better on the road this season (6-2) than at home (5-3). Assurance also comes from the steady hand of five-time Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees, who threw for 382 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-19 win against Seattle in Week 11.
"One thing our players understand and know," Payton said, "with (Brees) under center there's that confidence we have — regardless of where we're playing — that we've got a chance to win each game."
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or email@example.com
Furniture & home furnishings
AKC Standard poodle puppies Ready to go
Baby Boxer Puppies - $500
Boston Terriers CKC Male
POST A FREE LISTING