METAIRIE, La. – December will always be the dreariest month of the NFL’s regular season, what with the weather turning frightful and end of season injuries generally piling up.
And for the Saints, there’s no more apt description for the month of December than the word average – New Orleans is 10-9 under Sean Payton in what’s supposed to be a month of celebrations and frivolity.
“Those numbers can be a little skewed because we’ve been fortunate enough to be in a position in ’06 and last year to play December differently at the very last week,” Payton said.
That’s not exactly true, however.
A season ago, Minnesota was breathing down the Saints’ necks in the final month and the No. 1 seed hadn’t been secured until the final week of the regular season, which was in January. New Orleans lost to Dallas and Tampa Bay in December to finish 2-2.
In ’06, however, Payton is correct to a point. Like in ’09, the Saints had secured the No. 2 seed by the final week, so the 3-2 mark is more like 3-1, his best record in December with the Saints.
Always the motivator, Payton has let it be known that the Saints need to have a better December this time around.
It helps that, as the 9-3 Saints host the Rams (6-6) on Sunday at 3:05 p.m., New Orleans is fighting for a playoff spot.
“I think we want to finish the season on a good note,” Saints defensive end Will Smith said. “I know we’ve struggled in the month of December throughout the years. That’s something that coach has stressed on.
“We want to make sure we go out and take it one game at a time. We can’t look ahead of St. Louis because they’re a threat, also.”
When asked about whether he would change things this time around, Payton said he wouldn’t. Instead, he said he would stick with what he has been doing for the past few years.
Mainly, pulling back on practice time.
“You make sure that you’re cutting back some of the snaps and getting them off their feet a little earlier than earlier in the year,” Payton said.
The Saints close out with the Rams, at Baltimore, at Atlanta and with a home game against Tampa Bay.
With New Orleans a game behind Atlanta for best record in the NFC, but only a game ahead of the Packers and Giants for the final two playoff spots in the NFC, this December might be the most important yet for Payton.
“We just finished an important month and obviously the last four weeks of the season are critical, never more so than this year when you look at both the AFC and the NFC,” Payton said.