Saints focus on one thing they still control

METAIRIE, La. – The emotions coming out of New Orleans Saints camp were still a bit mixed on Monday after a crushing 17-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

But the message was pretty universal: All the Saints (10-5) can control now is how they respond in this week’s regular-season finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“We’re approaching this like a playoff game itself,” said coach Sean Payton, who said his main message to players on Monday was to avoid trying to figure out all the scenarios about how the Saints could clinch various playoff seeds based on the results from other games – and to just focus on what they can control on their own.

Win, and they’re in. And they wouldn’t want to get in any other way.

“It’s our last game, we’re playing at home, and if guys aren’t going to be ready to play then we don’t deserve to be in the playoffs anyway,” receiver Lance Moore said. “We have to take care of business this week, and everything should be OK. Once we are in, we still have a chance. It doesn’t matter where we have to go to play or who we have to play, getting in is our first goal this week.”

“Although that hurts to lose those types of games, we still know what we have and we know what we are capable of. So I think our confidence is still high,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “I think we know once we get into the tournament we are going to be a team to reckon with. But first, to get to there, we have to get this win this week. So I think all the focus goes there and fixing the things we need to fix.”

There was less consensus when it came to describing the emotions of Sunday’s loss – both in the postgame locker room and during Monday conference calls with Payton and the two veteran players. Payton and several players talked after the game about how encouraged they were by the team’s effort. But others, including Moore, said it was hard to be encouraged after the Saints let the game slip away in the final minutes.

“I wasn’t,” Moore said. “You know, Coach can speak for how he feels. But I wasn’t encouraged. I was disappointed. I was upset. I felt like we let one go, and I would be almost positive that most players would say the same thing.”

Regardless, the goal now is to move past that painful defeat and remain confident and energized enough to beat the Buccaneers and head into the playoffs with some momentum.

Payton said he’s not worried about the Saints being deflated. He said he thinks players were “fairly upbeat” on Monday.

"Obviously all of us hurt from that loss. It stung," Payton said. "But I think they felt pretty good about the preparation and the plan going in, and they did a great job of executing it."

Jenkins agreed with that assessment Monday, saying the team’s confidence won’t take a hit moving forward.

“I think today is probably going to be a little more on the somber side because it was a tough loss,” Jenkins said. “But I don’t think we have time to dwell on it, because we still have our goals. It might be a rougher road, we still don’t know what’s ahead of us. But we do know that if we win this week – and we must win this week – then we get into the tournament, and that’s all that matters. That’s what we’ve worked for in OTAs, in summer training, in training camp, all that, is just to get to the tournament.

“We don’t have time to sit here and lick our wounds and feel bad and think that we’re going to show up Sunday and just automatically get a win. We’re going to go prepared, just like we did last week, we had a great week of preparation. It’s got to be the same tempo, the same tone and intentions, and go out there and get a win.”