ATLANTA — They don’t all have to be pretty.
Not in the NFL.
Not on the road against a divisional opponent no matter how badly that team is playing.
And certainly not when it’s the third game in 12 days.
New Orleans beat Atlanta 17-13 Thursday night and while those watching probably scored it as an underwhelming affair, the Saints don’t care.
Because in this league, there are no polls, there is no voting and there certainly isn’t anyone you have to impress.
“It’s not about style points,” Saints inside linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “We just want to win. I don’t care if we win by one point or 100 points. As long as we get that win at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”
The Saints are 9-2 and heading to 10-1 Seattle for the biggest NFC game of the season and neither got to this point with all beautiful wins.
Thursday night against Atlanta, the Saints showed once again that they’re not the “finesse” team of Coach Sean Payton’s past.
They can grind games out, getting into a defensive clash in which you’re not holding your breath and wondering if it’s possible for them to hold just once.
The Falcons forced the Saints into that kind of game four days after a similar one against San Francisco.
New Orleans had just eight true possessions in the game and punted on four of them. Meanwhile, two second-half Atlanta possessions ended in Saints territory, one in a fumble forced by Keyunta Dawson and the other a missed 52-yard field goal by Matt Bryant.
And when it was in the offense’s hands to run out the clock in the end, they did it, burning 2 minutes, 14 seconds of the final 2:19 off by running the ball four times for 28 yards, passing it once for 18 and converting two first downs.
That may not be style points in the college sense, but it’s fashionable in the league where guys get paid.
“That’s the game you can’t lose,” Saints right tackle Zach Strief said of Thursday night. “You just can’t lose it and yet you’re on the road, a divisional team against a team that’s always close, always seems to be at the end and you know, it’s a character builder.”
“A win is a win, but especially on the road it’s tough,” tight end Benjamin Watson added. “You have to do what you have to do to win. Everything didn’t go exactly how we thought it might go but we kept fighting and stayed in there and got the win.”
Which gets back to one thing – the Saints got to 9-2 and it doesn’t matter how they got there, just that they did.
While there aren’t polls, there is playoff seeding. And when the Saints finally get on the turf at CenturyLink Field, that’s exactly what it’s going to be about.
“Listen, they’re all big but obviously we understand the implications of this one,” Brees said.
This year more than ever, the Saints may be positioned to win the type of game Seattle is going thrust upon them, what with one of the league’s nastiest defense’s and more dynamic offenses combined with the ear-splitting noise of the famed 12th Man.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Strief said. “There’s going to be a lot of energy. The same way there’s a lot of energy in the Dome, obviously a place that loud in a situation like that – on Monday Night Football – it’s hard to get a game more amped up than that one is going to be.”
And if the Saints win that one and it’s not pretty, just like the wins over Atlanta and the 49ers weren’t, they’ll be just fine with that.
Because then the Saints will be in the only poll that counts.