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Gazzolo Column: Saints now fighting for their playoff lives

Last Modified: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 5:28 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Suddenly, a season that just three weeks ago had so much promise is now on the verge of collapse.

It wasn’t that long ago the Saints went to Seattle with thoughts of winning home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

They did so while telling us just how good a football team they were on the road.

Then came the cold slap of reality, a brutally bad loss to the Seahawks.

But a week after that things were once again all good. The Saints proved they were great at home and beat Carolina, taking control of their division and appeared headed for the NFC’s second seed.

Maybe New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees was right and the Saints were fine. He told us so after the Seattle loss. Even had those great road numbers to prove it handy to spit out after the game.

It was almost like he was trying to convince himself, but we bought it.

Besides, after the Carolina win the next road game was indoors in St. Louis.

But last Sunday the Saints looked bad against the not-so-good Rams and lost their fourth road game in their last five tries.

Now they must go outside for the final time this year and a lot is on the line.

They travel to Carolina with perhaps their season in the balance.

A loss to the Panthers would knock New Orleans out of first with one game to play. It would also keep their playoff hopes in question.

Fact is, if the Saints lose their next two games they could be at home for the postseason. That seemed impossible just three weeks ago.

Back then they were a team playing for playoff position. Next Sunday they are playing for their playoff lives.

Even if they get in as a wild card, the Saints look nothing like a team that could win three straight road games.

This is not where this team expected to be.

The Saints still have it all in front of them. They win their next two games, or even just the next one, and the division is theirs. The No. 2 seed and a playoff bye is theirs.

A home game in the first round of the postseason is theirs.

But ...

First they have to prove that Brees was right when he stood before the cameras and proclaimed his team as a good road club.

Past numbers may say so, but recent history tells a different story.

The Saints, who have never as a franchise won a road playoff game, will have to win three in a month if they are to make the Super Bowl and not win next Sunday in Carolina.

That would seem highly unlikely if not impossible.

And with the Arizona Cardinals just a game behind them for the wild card spot, things could get ugly in a hurry.

Maybe that is why head coach Sean Payton called his team out after the loss in St. Louis. He wants them to play with a sense of urgency, which they should clearly have now that their season is on the line.

We do know one thing, the Panthers will be ready.

Their head coach, Ron Rivera, is for sure. After the Saints beat his Panthers two weeks ago he said they got us today but we will see what we can do at our place on the grass.

Even their foes know the Saints are a different team away from the Superdome.

Good news is, they will get the chance to prove Rivera wrong.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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