METAIRIE, La. — Back in April, when the NFL announced each team’s 2013 schedule, eyes in New Orleans focused on this next stretch of four games for the Saints.
New Orleans plays Dallas, San Francisco, Atlanta and Seattle, the latter two on the road, in what now appears to be one of the toughest stretches in the NFL this season.
Call it Amen Corner, a four-week period in which prayers just might be needed to get the team through it unscathed and in control of its destiny.
But while fans acknowledge what’s at stake in the next month, the question is, do the players?
“Yeah, we’re not crazy,” Saints defensive end/outside linebacker Junior Galette said. “It’s human nature. You look at how well other teams are playing and you’re like, ‘OK, this is the stretch.’ ”
The other teams are playing well in this case.
Dallas leads its division at 5-4. Seattle leads the NFC at 8-1 and San Francisco is 6-2. Only Atlanta, at 2-6, would be considered an underwhelming opponent, though New Orleans (6-2) plays in Georgia on a Thursday night four days after hosting the 49ers.
And yet, those inside the program promise they’re not looking beyond Sunday’s 7:30 p.m. game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against Dallas.
“Dallas. Dallas. Dallas,” Galette said. “It’s human nature you want to think about, ah man we’ve got San Francisco. No. Then you’ll lose focus and be like, OK, what if I do this. No, let the main thing be the main thing. And the main thing right now is Dallas.”
Added tight end Benjamin Watson, “Honestly, it’s all about one game. Teams that get ahead of themselves run into trouble. There’s nothing you can do about the next week so what’s the point in worrying about it. When you take care of each game, it’s amazing how the next game comes and you take care of that one.”
There might just be something to that.
Since Coach Sean Payton arrived in 2006, the Saints are 20-9 in the month of November. They’ve been even better since 2009, when this run of success began, going 14-3.
It’s no coincidence that Payton said the team changed from breaking the season into quarters to looking at each week individually around the same time the franchise’s winning percentage took off.
“I know it is a little cliché, but it is for a reason so then it is not really cliché,” Payton said. “That’s how you do it. I really believe that. That is the only way you can do it.”
Payton has hammered home the idea that the NFL’s best teams play their best football beginning in November.
“To be able to play the next phase of the season, the playoffs, you’ve got to play your best football in November and December,” Galette said. “September and October I’m not saying it doesn’t count, but November and December, we know that’s when you have to step up and play your best football period.
“Even if we had the bottom feeder teams eight games in a row, you have to play your best game. You have to finish strong going into the postseason.”
Added Watson, “You work the whole year for 16 days in the fall and they determine what’s going to happen for the rest of the year and the postseason. Shoot, for a lot of people, for the rest of their careers. Each game is important for us.”