When it comes to the NFL’s marathon, 16-game regular-season schedule, every coach emphasizes how important it is to start fast and finish strong.
But it doesn’t hurt to play well in October and November as well, especially November, which is what Sean Payton’s message to the New Orleans Saints was last week after they finished October with a thud.
The Saints were 3-2 in October, but a mistake-filled setback to the Tampa Bay Bucs and an unexpected and unsightly loss against the St. Louis Rams last week left Payton’s team with a 5-3 mark heading into Sunday’s huge rematch with the Bucs.
So with only three games on the November schedule because of their upcoming bye week, Payton made sure his team knew just how critical each of them will be in a stretch that started with the Bucs game, continues Sunday at Atlanta, and ends Nov. 28 against the New York Giants.
So while they were pleased with a hard-earned 27-16 victory over the Bucs, the Saints know there’s a whole lot more to do before December and a final playoff push arrives.
“Coach Payton kind of hit that note this week,” running back Chris Ivory said after he helped the Saints rush for 195 yards, their second-highest total this season. “It’s the month of November, and he harped on that. He told us that November will say a lot about this team and where we stand.
“We had to come out with a win, and with the play we had, I felt we did pretty good,” he added. “But coming out with this win at the start of November, that says a lot.”
It’s little wonder that Payton wants to focus on his team’s three games this month. At 5-3, the Falcons are just a half-game behind the 6-3 Saints in the NFC South standings, and the Giants lead the NFC East at 6-2.
And even though it’ll come in the first week of December, the 6-2 Detroit Lions will visit the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. So Payton is hoping a strong November carries over into the season’s final month — especially that week.
But here’s why Payton is placing so much emphasis on November: He’s 9-0 in that month since 2009 — going 5-0 in the Super Bowl-winning season of 2009, 3-0 last year and 1-0 this season after the win over the Bucs.
In his first three seasons, the Saints were a so-so 6-6 in November, with several of those losses contributing to 7-9 and 8-8 finishes in 2007 and ’08, respectively.
We all know what happened then. They missed the postseason both times.
They certainly don’t want it to happen again after advancing to the playoffs the past two seasons and winning it all two years ago.
“This is a pretty critical time for us,” quarterback Drew Brees said after leading a balanced offensive effort against the Bucs. “November is the time when a lot of teams separate themselves from the pack.
“We want to be one of those teams. We want to be on a roll, and hopefully this was the start of that.”