Saints used negative talk as motivation too

The Vikings weren't the only team using negative talk about their recent performances as motivation once the playoffs started. The Saints had heard enough about bad performances at the end of the regular season and poured it on in their first playoff game.

By the time the Saints kicked off to the Arizona Cardinals in an NFC Divisional Playoff Game on Saturday, they had heard all they wanted about being rusty and having no momentum and not having a shot at advancing.

So they went out and took it out on the Cardinals, 45-14, to advance to the NFC Championship Game for the second time in four seasons under coach Sean Payton.

As a result, the Saints (14-3) will be trying to reach the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history when they play the Minnesota Vikings (13-4) on Sunday in the Superdome — a place that will be rocking after the Saints earned the right to host the NFC Championship Game for the first time by crushing the Cardinals.

When they easily took care of the reigning NFC champion Cardinals, outscoring them 45-7 after Arizona scored on its first play from scrimmage, it was no shock to the Saints — despite everything they'd heard since ending the regular season on a three-game losing streak.

"I don't think anyone in this locker room ever lost confidence in what we were capable of doing," Saints wide receiver Marques Colston said Sunday. "You don't just win 13 games in this league by accident. So we knew the formula and it was just a matter of putting it together for 60 minutes."

The Saints certainly did that against the Cardinals. Actually, they did it for 59 minutes and 41 seconds after Arizona took the opening kickoff and then watched Tim Hightower's 70-yard touchdown burst on the first play from scrimmage.

After that, the Saints got three touchdown passes from Drew Brees in the first half to take a 35-14 lead into the locker room. Then, Reggie Bush, who scored on a 46-yard run in the first quarter, polished off the Cardinals with an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third period.

It was quite a performance from a team that had scored just 44 points in losing its final three games.

"We pretty much had our fill of hearing about stumbling into the playoffs," said Pro Bowl right tackle Jon Stinchcomb, who helped give Brees the time to complete 23 of 32 passes for 247 yards.

"We all see the team that won 13 games in a row," Brees said, "not the team that struggled against the (Dallas) Cowboys and let one get away from us against Tampa Bay."

NOTES

  • With their 45-14 blowout of the Arizona Cardinals in an NFC Divisional Playoff Game on Saturday, the Saints snapped a two-game losing streak for the conference's No. 1 seed in the divisional round.

    Going into Saturday's game, the top seed in the NFC was 17-2 in its playoff opener since the NFL expanded the postseason field to six teams from each conference.

    The No. 1 seed was unbeatable from 1990 to 2006, but the last two top seeds — the Dallas Cowboys in 2007 and New York Giants a year ago — had fallen until the Saints reversed that trend with the win against the Cardinals.

  • The Saints reached several milestones with their 45-point explosion against the Cardinals.

    First, they became the 11th team in NFL history (and first in NFC divisional play) to score 21 points in the first quarter of a playoff game and only the ninth team on league history to score 35 points in a half.

    The 45 points scored was a franchise postseason record for the Saints, topping the 31 points they put up in a 31-28 wild-card victory against the St. Louis Rams in 2000.
    Finally, their 31-point margin of victory was the largest in club history and was the biggest in an NFL playoff game since Indianapolis walloped Denver, 41-10, in 2003.

  • Rookie punter Thomas Morstead regained his kickoff duties for the Saints after kicker Garrett Hartley handled them in the regular-season finale against the Carolina Panthers.

    Morstead drove seven of his eight kickoffs into the end zone with three of them being downed for touchbacks. That wasn't his only highlight of the day, however, as his first career post-season punt traveled 66 yards.

  • Reggie Bush's 83-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter of Saturday's game was the third-longest in NFL postseason history.

    Bush finished the game with 109 yards on three punt returns. That was just 43 yards shy of the 152 yards the Saints accumulated in 16 regular-season games this year. They ranked 31st in the league with a 4.6 average.

  • TE Jeremy Shockey hobbled off the field a couple of times with a toe or lower leg injury in Saturday's game with the Arizona Cardinals and his status for the NFC Championship Game was not known Monday.

  • WR Robert Meachem appeared to hurt his ankle in the game with the Cardinals and his availability for Sunday's game with the Minnesota Vikings was unknown.

  • RB Pierre Thomas, who did not play in the regular-season finale because of three cracked ribs, played against the Cardinals and seemed to have no medical setbacks.

  • WLB Scott Shanle played the entire game against the Cardinals and showed no ill effects from the concussion that forced him to miss the final two regular-season games.

  • LDE Bobby McCray, who has missed practice time with a back injury all season, started for an injured Charles Grant in the divisional playoff game with the Cardinals.

  • WR Lance Moore played against the Cardinals after missing the last two regular-season games with a sprained ankle.

  • CB Malcolm Jenkins played mostly on special teams after missing practice time with a hamstring injury.

  • FS Usama Young, who had surgery for a sports hernia in December, was able to play against the Cardinals.



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