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Payton pushes right buttons as of late to right Saints' ship

Sean Payton has moved swiftly to restore the confidence of his New Orleans Saints squad after a long December of mostly frustration.Sean Payton has moved swiftly to restore the confidence of his New Orleans Saints squad after a long December of mostly frustration.

There's more to coaching than football than X's and O's. And, last week New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton proved once again that he understood the dynamics of wildcard playoff week.

He took the Saints "can't win on the road" theme and turned it on its head.

From Popeye's Chicken on the plane, to a different color Gatorade, to a much talked about change in sweatsuits, Payton diffused the issue.

His team overcame two first half interceptions by Drew Brees, and rallied to win at Philadelphia, 26-24.

What's Payton telling his team this week?

He knows the dynamic has totally changed. The pressure is all on Seattle.

The Seahawks are the number one seed at home, playing in front of the noisy 12th Man, in a place where they are at least a touchdown better than on the road.

"The pressure is all on them," Payton could be saying to his team this week. He would of course by absolutely correct.

"Hang in there, don't give up cheap scores, and then let's see how they respond, when the pressure is on in the fourth quarter," Payton might say. Also, a correct statement.

The Saints have several issues heading to Seattle though but one big one appears to have been resolved. Cornerback Keenan Lewis, who suffered a blow to the head in Philadelphia and was then held out of the game by medical personnel, will apparently play Saturday.

Lewis has to pass NFL concussion protocol before he is allowed back on the field.

"I will play," Lewis told reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Without Lewis and his man-to-man cover skills, coordinator Rob Ryan would have far less flexibility in his defensive plan.

Outside linebacker Parys Haralson is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. He was placed on injured reserve.

Haralson had pieced together a solid season with three and a half quarterback sacks. A solid run defender is now unavailable with nothing but tough power-running opponents left in the NFC postseason.

Weather will be a factor again in Seattle as well. The forecast calls for a 100 percent chance of rain, and it could be heavy with fierce winds.

It is a perfect time for New Orleans to again trot out an improved run game.

Against the Eagles, the Saints rushed for 185 yards. In three road playoff losses during the Sean Payton era, the Saints rushed for a total of 170 yards.

A late season swoon by the Saints cost them the number 2 seed and a first round bye. But Payton was determined to improve his team and did so.

Rookie left tackle Terron Armstead made his third consecutive start and appears to be improving rapidly. Veteran placekicker Shayne Graham is 6-for-6 in field goals since he joined the Saints after a loss at the Rams.

A win Saturday would be one of the best of the Payton era. In the meantime, Seattle is convinced that this is their season. It is Super Bowl or bust.

In the meantime, the head coach of the Saints might be telling his team something like this:

"Let's hang in the game, and see if they can handle the heat."

In the rain and the cold of the Pacific Northwest, it is sound logic.


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