After breakout win at home, Saints feel like road breakthrough is next

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints remained confident -- almost defiantly so -- after their 2-4 start, knowing they were close to a breakthrough. And that resilience paid off with a commanding 44-23 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night.

Now the Saints will take the same approach to their road woes as they head to Carolina for a Thursday night game.

Although the Saints are 0-4 on the road this year and 2-10 over their last 12 road games, including the playoffs, players insisted they feel like they're on the right track.

After losing three of those road games in the final two minutes this year, the Saints know they need to figure out how to finish -- but don't need to go searching for any major overhauls.

"We're on our way to getting that first win on the road in a while, and we all believe it's gonna be this week," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "We're not making it any more difficult or any bigger deal than it already is. We're just gonna play our game."

Offensive tackle Zach Strief pointed to the inspirational cartoons that are still hanging on each player's locker after they were put there by coach Sean Payton last week -- an illustration of two men digging toward a pile of diamonds. One man was inches away when he quit. The other was a few feet away but still furiously digging.

"Look, these pictures in the lockers are pretty telling. Keep hitting that rock, keep digging, keep doing what you're doing. Because it's gonna break eventually if you're doing the right thing," Strief said. "And I think we have been."

Strief acknowledged, though, that it will require a combination of that confidence and a hyper-focus on what has been losing these road games for the Saints.

Strief said one of the keys to the Saints' improvement in recent weeks has been more communication on the sideline about what's required in every situation -- even seemingly obvious things like protecting the football and staying inbounds to burn clock.

"I think people are understanding that very small mistakes are causing big issues at the ends of these games," Strief said. "And again, it's on us, it's on leadership to make sure that message is consistent."

The big stuff has been killing the Saints, too -- especially late in games.

Their latest road loss at Detroit two weeks ago was the biggest collapse yet, with the Saints blowing a 13-point lead in the final four minutes, thanks to a 73-yard touchdown pass by the Lions and an ill-advised interception by Brees.

But the finishing problems date back to last year -- including New Orleans' last trip to Carolina in Week 16 of 2013. After holding quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers' offense in check all day, the Saints allowed him to cruise downfield for a 32-second touchdown drive in the final minute of a 17-13 Carolina win.

"I think it's something we definitely have to do better. It's been well-documented by everybody here (in the media) that we need to finish better," Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan deadpanned. "It's been a process that we have to be a hell of a lot better in if we want to win these games. And so it's something that's constantly on our mind."

Ryan said there's not really any such thing as playing "prevent" defense with a lead in the NFL anymore. The key is just to make big plays in big moments.

The Saints "finished" early against Green Bay by making game-changing plays on both sides of the ball when the game was still tied at 16 midway through the third quarter.

Ryan said that's what the Saints need to keep doing in the most critical situations.

"We took a step in the right direction this week, but we need to keep doing it," Ryan said. "That's something that this team has been used to, the Saints. All the winning, you do that by finishing games as a team, offensively, defensively and special teams. And we need to hold our end up."