METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints had an extra few days to stew over their most bitter defeat of the season, a 20-17 loss to the rival Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night that left them upset over the officiating, the barrage of injuries and their own failure to close in the final minutes.
“The last one sucked. Especially being Atlanta,” Saints left tackle Terron Armstead put it bluntly on Monday.
But Armstead and others insisted that the Saints (9-4) aren’t about to let that derail the terrific season they’ve been building for three months.
They know that if they win out (vs. the New York Jets, vs. Atlanta again, at Tampa Bay), they’ll be the NFC South champs.
“We still control everything, and that’s what you want late in the season,” said Armstead, who said the Saints aren’t dwelling on the fact that they’ve lost two of their last three games any more than they leaned on winning eight straight before that.
Punter Thomas Morstead agreed, adding recent history into the equation. “We’re looking forward to making a really strong push, and everything we want to achieve is achievable. And that’s really exciting, because it hasn’t been like that for a long time around here,” Morstead said of New Orleans’ three consecutive 7-9 seasons that preceded this one. “To have a chance in December is what it’s all about.”
Perhaps the anger from Thursday’s loss can even serve the Saints well.
“I think a lot of guys felt like we should have won that game. A lot of guys had some real ill feelings towards that game. So definitely add that to our preparation this week to go out and make it a point to win this game and then get on to our last two,” defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. “Overall it’s the beauty of this game, especially at this point: There’s always another week to go out and prove yourself.”
The NFC standings also provide plenty of motivation and urgency. The Saints are currently the fourth seed in the NFC. And there are three teams within one game of each other in the NFC South (Carolina at 9-4, Atlanta at 8-5).
“Anybody in this locker room who tells you they’re not looking at it, they’re probably lying to you,” Rankins said. “But we can only control what we can control. If we go out and win our remaining three games, it puts us at 12-4, great season. And then wherever we’re ranked at that point, it is what it is and we’ll go from there.”
Safety Rafael Bush said the most important thing for the Saints is playing their best football heading into January, regardless of their playoff seed. “I think guys understand how good we can be. We still have some improvements to do ... [but] I think going into the playoffs, you don’t have to be the team with the best record. It’s mostly the team who’s the hottest,” Bush said. “Who’s going into the playoffs the most healthy and who’s just going in with that momentum. So we just want to gain momentum and focus on ourselves.”