BradleyHandwerger / Sports Reporter
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NEW ORLEANS ― Carl Nicks sat in his locker late Sunday night, in no mood to consider going 4-0 in the past five weeks of football a major accomplishment, even after a 31-17 win over Detroit.

Don't misunderstand the Saints Pro Bowl left guard. He understands how important this past month has been for New Orleans, who at one point sat at 5-3 and off track.

It's just that the smart and ever-quotable fella knows there's so much more at stake.

'It means something, don't be wrong, because the month of November is a crucial month going into December,' he said. 'But it doesn't mean anything. We're two-and-a-half ahead (of Atlanta) and we're really trying to catch the 49ers in trying to catch that second seed.'

Yet, what the affable lineman didn't admit is this the Saints don't have a chance at chasing that second seed if they're not playing their best football since the Super Bowl-winning season.

What makes this four-game stretch more impressive than last season's six-game streak is about who the Saints have faced.

New Orleans has put away teams fighting for the playoffs, teams considered, at least at the time they played, legitimate threats to battle for divisional and conference supremacy.

'It's huge, especially this time of year in November,' receiver Marques Colston said. 'That's when the jockeying for playoff seeding begins.'

There it is again, the playoff seeding thing.

The Saints have been here before and they understand the importance of playing clean, mistake-free football.

So, while Detroit is personal fouling its way out of the playoff hunt and the Giants are finding new and painful ways to lose (it's four in a row now), the Saints are playing poised.

New Orleans hasn't turned the ball over in the past three games, have given up only two sacks in the past four and have forced opponents to play catch-up during this win streak.

That's not who the Saints were in the middle of the season. Not when they were playing painfully bland football, losing winnable games at Tampa Bay and at St. Louis.

Four games after that loss to the Rams, though, and that's exactly who the Saints are.

'The main thing is we've taken that next step and we have to stay there,' linebacker Scott Shanle said. 'We have to keep going. For the guys who were here in '09, these past four weeks, there's something that kind of resembles it and we just need to keep that going.'

It's how the Saints reacted in the playoffs after the 2009 regular season, when people questioned just how good they were despite being 13-3 because they dropped the final three games of the season.

It's how the Saints reacted in 2006 when people questioned whether the city and franchise could recover from everything that went down the year before.

'The one thing since I've been a part of this team is that when we're challenged and something looks daunting in front of us, we rise up and overtake it,' Shanle said. 'I'm proud of the way we played against four really good teams.'

So now the Saints sit at 9-3, two ahead of Atlanta and two games behind San Francisco when tie-breakers are brought into the equation.

'Definitely impressive,' linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. '(But we're) still not finished. This is four good teams, four contenders. We've just got to win December now and we'll be alright.'

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