CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As the level of play began to wane and the losses began to mount on the road this season, the public faces of the Saints bristled at the notion that something was awry.
But after losing at St. Louis, they could wrench their noses at the perception no more.
“Well obviously we’re not very satisfied, certainly, or happy with our performance on the road as of late,” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, one of those leaders who had previously scoffed at the idea. “I thought we played well on the road earlier in the season, we just haven’t been able to put it together the last few times.”
Today at noon, the Saints (10-4) can make all the stories go away, however, when they play for what amounts to a winner-take-all NFC South row with Carolina (10-4) at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
To do so, however, they’ll have to overcome all of the statistics that point to this game going the wrong way.
Ten weeks after New Orleans appeared headed to a landslide victory in the division following a 5-0 start, the Saints are tied for the lead with the Panthers after going 5-4, the four losses all coming on the road.
Inside the confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Saints are 7-0 and outscore opponents 32.9-15.4. On the road, they’re being outscored by nearly five points, scoring only 18.4 points while allowing 23.1 per game.
In each of New Orleans’ 10 wins, it has led at halftime. In its four losses, all on the road, the Saints have trailed.
“I feel like everyone is saying we can’t play on the road and as of late, we’ve been proving them right,” inside linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “So it’s our job as a team to go out and play just as good as we play at home and look forward to doing that this week.”
With everything on the line, coach Sean Payton isn’t sitting pat.
He cut long-time kicker Garrett Hartley after his latest two misses played a part in costing the Saints a win in St. Louis. His other move took care of another part of that loss, demoting Charles Brown and replacing him with untested rookie Terron Armstead at starting left tackle.
The question now is will the Saints answer the proverbial bell with everything on the line on the road.
“Are you going to show up? Are you going to throw punches?” Lofton said. “I think this team, we’re looking forward to it. Carolina is a good team but we’re going to be ready for them.”
Ultimately, it’s about the end result for New Orleans today. Win and the Saints not only are in the playoffs, they’ll earn a first-round bye and a home game.
“All that matters, despite what has happened over the past few weeks and all that stuff, the fact of the matter is we go on the road this week, we get a win, we win the division, we secure the two seed,” Brees said. “That’s all that matters, so that’s where our focus is.”