The New Orleans Saints want to win their next game Sunday in the worst way.
There’s nothing unusual about that, even though there may be a little more, let’s call it incentive, to get the job done this week.
But going out and defeating the San Francisco 49ers has nothing to do with revenge and everything — repeat, everything — to do with pushing their record above the .500 mark for the first time this season.
The Saints wouldn’t be human if they didn’t have tucked in the back of their minds memories of how the 49ers ended their season last January with a dramatic 36-32 divisional playoff win at Candlestick Park.
The bitter loss for the Saints was compounded one week later when the New York Giants slipped past the 49ers in the NFC Championship game and earned a trip to Super Bowl XLVI.
If the Saints had survived one of the wildest playoff games in NFL history — the teams combined for 34 fourth-quarter points, with 28 of them, as well as four lead changes, coming in the final four minutes — they would’ve hosted the NFC title game against the Giants.
What’s more, they would have done so knowing they had beaten the Giants into submission, 49-24, in the same building just two months earlier and might have been playing for a second Super Bowl title in three seasons.
But the Saints know they can’t let revenge, a word that has rolled off the tongues of fans since the schedule came out in April, come into play against the 49ers on Sunday.
Nor can they afford to have payback on their minds when they go against the NFC West leaders, who have one of the best defenses in the league and a 7-2-1 record to prove it after going 14-4 a year ago.
Perhaps a younger team that hasn’t experienced success would say they owe the 49ers one, but Drew Brees and others quickly shot down that notion.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Brees said. “A lot of people want to talk about a statement game and this and that, but the fact of the matter is every week is a statement game.
“We have something to prove every week, especially the position that we’re in. I don’t look at this as revenge. I don’t look at this as anything other than this is the next team on our schedule. … They just happen to be really, really good.”
While All-Pro guard Jahri Evans admitted that some of his teammates will have a chip on their shoulder, free safety Malcolm Jenkins said they can’t be overly emotional about it.
“I don’t think anybody’s trying to make up for last year,” said Jenkins, who said he watched that game four or five times in the offseason to pick up some things for the next time the teams met. “You don’t forget the loss but, at the end of the day, it’s a new year and this game is huge for us, regardless of who the opponent is.
“Our focus has to be on our preparation and make sure we don’t play the game before the game. We can’t get caught up in the hype and forget we’re trying to get a win.”
Interim coach Joe Vitt is making sure the Saints don’t get caught up in a game that was played 10 months ago.
“When that whistle starts Sunday, all of the stuff that happened a year ago is out the window,” he said. “You’re thinking about the present, and you’re thinking about this game.”
Which is, after all, the way it should be.