METAIRIE, La. — It’s not about revenge.
Not the way the Saints are describing their pivotal NFC clash with San Francisco at 3:25 p.m. Sunday.
“It’s nothing about owing,” said quarterback and team leader Drew Brees. “It’s nothing about revenge. This is our next game. It gets us to 8-2 (if we win), and it allows us the opportunity to beat a very, very good opponent.”
And yet, it’s undeniable that this 49ers game may, privately, mean a little bit more to those inside the Saints’ locker room.
The past two games against the 49ers have been losses. Both were knockout punches to New Orleans’ season. And both were hard to stomach for those on the losing end.
In the NFC divisional round of the 2011 season playoffs, the Saints’ lost at Candlestick Park in one of the great NFL postseason games in recent memory.
The loss ended New Orleans’ season two games short of its goal, keeping what might have been the franchise’s best team from having a chance to earn a championship.
A year later, the Saints had won three in a row and 5 of 6 to get to .500 after beginning the season 0-4. But San Francisco left New Orleans with a win thanks, in part, to two pick-6s thrown by Brees.
The loss put the Saints below .500 for good and the team never contended again for a postseason push.
“Yeah, we kinda owe them a couple knockdowns, you know what I’m saying? That’s how we feel as a team,” right guard Jahri Evans said.
Now, for the third year in a row, the teams play with something on the line. This time, New Orleans holds the rights to the No. 2 seed, as well as a one-game lead on hard-charging Carolina, with seven games to play. San Francisco is fighting to keep pace with Seattle, the current leader in the NFC West.
Those facts alone make this game big enough. Safety Malcolm Jenkins says what’s on the line makes what happened the past two year irrelevant in regard to the focus on this game.
“The things that we got around this game right now makes it a huge game for us,” Jenkins said. “We got a home game in the NFC to an opponent that was the NFC champs last year. That’s big enough. We know that for future reference, if we want to do anything, we have to go through this team.”