<
>

Saints will play starters, treat Week 17 like any other

METAIRIE, La. -- Sean Payton insisted the New Orleans Saints will treat Sunday's season finale at Tampa Bay like any other game, even though they've been eliminated from playoff contention.

The Saints (6-9) will play their starters -- and they'll play to win.

"Listen, the guys will have the right mentality," Payton said after acknowledging it was a "tough day" to come back in to work Monday after a 30-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons sealed their fate. "It's important to finish strong. It's an important game for us to play. Obviously, it doesn't have the relevance that we had hoped for. But that being said, it's important for every player, every coach. ...

"It was part of the message this morning. This is a game we're playing as if it were the most important game of the year. And you know what, it's the next one. It's the one we have to play. So we'll get ready."

Payton also said he won't use this week to audition younger players.

The Buccaneers (2-13) will likely take the same approach, even though they would actually be risking the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft with a victory.

NFL teams have never overtly "tanked" for better draft picks like some teams do in other sports. When asked why that is, Payton responded firmly.

"Listen, obviously each sport or each sport's teams are different. We would never do that," Payton said. "We'll have our best guys out there and preparing and doing everything we would normally do if we were playing for a playoff spot. It won't be a bit different."

One of the differences between the NFL and other sports, Payton said, is that they have just 16 games for players to put their "resume" on film -- which adds to some of the pride and competitive nature that motivates them.

"So everything goes in to putting your best stuff on tape," Payton said. "And when you're out there executing, functioning -- you're doing it for the New Orleans Saints, you're doing it for your teammates, you're doing it for your own record or history in regards to how you're playing when other teams grade you."

Various players made similar comments.

"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't [difficult]," Saints linebacker Parys Haralson said. "But it's something you have to do. You can't just sit around and feel sorry for yourself all day. The season didn't go the way you wanted to but you've got this last game right here to go and still get to do what you love to do. ...

"Go out and play for your pride, play for each other, play for this organization because you get paid to play 16 games."

Payton realized this is the first time he's missed the playoffs since 2008 since he was suspended during the 2012 season.

He said "shock" isn't the right word, but it's definitely disappointment.

"It drives you," Payton said. "There's nothing like winning and that feeling of being successful and having a chance to get in the tournament and play for something. When there's that finality of not accomplishing that there's disappointment, there's all those emotions."