The last thing New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton wanted to see last week was a frustrated Indianapolis Colts team coming into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome looking for its first win of the season.
Despite the often unpredictable nature of the NFL, the Saints managed to survive as they set club records for points and largest margin of victory in a 62-7 romp over the Colts.
But after easily clearing that hurdle, Payton needed to see another winless team this week like he needed another banged-up knee.
But that’s just what he and the Saints (5-2) will be facing at noon Sunday when they go against the St. Louis Rams (0-6) in the Edward Jones Dome — another double-digit underdog starving for a victory.
“We didn’t take Indianapolis for granted, and we can’t take St. Louis for granted,” Saints defensive end Will Smith said. “These guys are getting paid. … They’re hungry and they want to win also.
“Who better to beat than the New Orleans Saints?” he said. “We have to go into the game prepared, focused with a lot of energy, and ready to go play. We know if we don’t, any team can beat you in this league.”
That may be true, but the Rams are struggling as much — perhaps more — than the Colts.
Already dealing with multiple injuries at wide receiver and in the secondary, the Rams go into the game without quarterback Sam Bradford, who’ll miss his second straight game with a high ankle sprain.
In his place will be journeyman A.J. Feeley, who made his first start in four years last week when the Rams were routed 34-7 by Dallas.
Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson has also missed time with a leg injury, but is back to help a Rams offense that has scored a league-low five touchdowns and just 56 points in six games.
Both of those totals were surpassed by the Saints in just one game when they struck for eight touchdowns and 62 points — both club records — in the demolition of the Colts.
The Rams, who rank 28th in total offense with 301.2 yards per game, rank 29th in completion percentage and have allowed a league-high 23 sacks.
If nothing else, they’re keeping a stiff upper lip.
“We’re doing well … everyone’s working hard,” Jackson said. “The approach is like Week 1. The most important thing is getting that first win, and, from there, build off that.”
Their defense has suffered as well.
They rank 31st in points allowed at 28.5 points per game, which is a major concern with the Saints leading the league in scoring at 34.1 points a game.
The Rams also rank 29th in total yards allowed at 410.3 yards per game, while the Saints are second in total offense with 467.1. Also, after being gashed for 294 rushing yards by the Cowboys, they go against a Saints running game that piled up 236 yards against the Colts.
It all points to another mismatch, but the Saints aren’t buying that after an 0-8 Rams team came to the Superdome in 2007 and pulled off a 37-29 victory.
While most of the players from that game on both sides have moved on, Payton has surely issued the warning time and again this week.
“I think a challenge, year-in and year-out, is you play a 16-game schedule and it’s avoiding the two or three letdowns throughout the season,” he said. “More importantly than even that is really the focus on the things that we can control.
“If you aspire to be a really, really good team, then you can’t be back and forth. You have to have some consistency in your play.”
That’s what the Saints are looking for this week in their final game before facing the two teams they lead by one game in the NFC South standings — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons — before their open week.
“In our league, that line that separates really good teams from good teams, or good teams from average teams, is very thin compared to the collegiate game,” Payton said.
“We know the type of team we can be and how we can play,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “We don’t want to be a week-to-week team.”
At this point, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo would love to be a one-week team. After missing the playoffs by one game last season with Bradford running the show, his team has regressed in a big way.
“When we’re coming in this building, we’re working,” Spagnuolo said. “Certainly, in this league, it’s all about results. We haven’t had the ones we particularly planned on, but we function properly — which is focusing on what we’re doing here and focusing on the next game.”
The Saints on Saturday added running back Chris Ivory to the active roster and waived tight end Tory Humphrey.
Ivory missed the first seven games while on the physically-unable-to-perform list as he continued to rehab from surgery on a fractured left foot in January and sports hernia surgery in August.
A second-year pro, the 6-foot, 222-pound Ivory is expected to be a part of the backfield rotation Sunday because leading rusher Mark Ingram won’t play because of a bruised right heel.