In the NFC South, one of the league's most competitive divisions, there's a very small margin between winning and losing. Truth be told, besides the New England Patriots, it seems to be a very level playing field league wide. That's why the Saints are putting a big emphasis on winning close games.
“If we took 16 games, pick a game, it'd be hard find one where that game didn't have relevance in the last two minutes,” says Sean Payton. “The key is to show up on the better end of those games, and I think the last two years, we've been on the bottom of those games.”
The numbers back that up. In games decided by eight points or less last year, the Saints were 6-7. When the outcome was as close as three points or less, they were just 2-4. It's no surprise that when you look at their more successful seasons, those results are a lot different.
“I can go back to 2009 and point to games like Washington and Miami where we found a way to win,” says Payton. “So that's important.”
Adding experience in that category could be safety Rafael Bush. He's familiar with the Saints, having spent most of his career in New Orleans, but also familiar with winning close games. His team last year, the Detroit Lions, played in 13 games decided by a touchdown or less and won eight of them.
“I think all of our games came down to the last two minutes,” says Bush. “We trailed in every game, but we were there mentally. We knew what offenses we were going to get, and we were in tune. The details of the game were very fine tuned, and that's something that I want to try to bring here.”
“It's generally execution,” says Payton. “It's generally a confidence born from demonstrated ability.”
And certainly, when you look at the Saints first four games at Minnesota, home against New England, at Carolina, and then against Miami in London, there are sure to be some tightly-contested matchups.
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