As they prepared to play the Jacksonville Jaguars two weeks ago, the New Orleans Saints were focused on getting off to a faster start.
After scoring on their first possession in nine games in both 2009 and ‘10, the Saints failed to put points on the board in their first three games this season and had a total of just 10 first-quarter points.
They fixed that in the last two weeks, scoring a touchdown on their first offensive series against the Jaguars and Carolina Panthers - which helped them to a pair of important road wins.
Finishing what you start is another weekly emphasis for the Saints, especially since their Super Bowl-winning season in 2009, and it showed in Sunday’s 30-27 victory over the Panthers.
It’s a trait all the good teams and great quarterbacks have, being able to get the job done in the clutch, and the Saints and Drew Brees gave a textbook lesson on how it’s done with a methodical 13-play, 89-yard drive to the game-winning touchdown with 50 seconds to play.
It was the 19th time, counting postseason play, that Brees has engineered a game-winning drive when they were tied or trailed in the fourth quarter since he joined the team in 2006.
“We’ve tried to, as a team, emphasize finishing,” coach Sean Payton said this week. “That’s kind of a broad statement, but we’ve tried to emphasize the importance of having that staying power to play as well in the latter part of a game as you might in an early part.
“That’s stamina and mental focus and all the things that go into trying to do that when your body’s tired or it’s hot or you’re down four points or you’re ahead and having to finish out the game. ? That aspect of finishing is something that’s an important element that we talk about each week.”
So what goes through Brees’ mind when he steps into the huddle in that situation?
“For me, anytime you get in that situation you’re just thinking about positive plays,” he said. “You’re thinking depends on how much time is on the clock and do you need to take chances.
“It’s about converting third downs, moving the ball, keeping the clock running, putting yourself in position to win it in the end with a touchdown. There might be a breakdown here and there, so let’s just make sure that what happens is an incompletion or something that gets us back to the line of scrimmage and not into a negative play.”
The key in those crucial situations, Brees said, is preparation and concentration.
“You really have to zero in and make it about one play, one at a time,” he said. “The fact is in that situation, if you can’t execute that play there might not be another play.”
And when it’s your turn to make the play, no matter if you’re on offense, defense or special teams, you have to be ready.
“We practice it, we talk it, preach it, prepare it,” a smiling Brees said. “That’s why we feel like we’ve been pretty good in that situation.”