Saints eager to overcome Lambeau mystique, Kickoff trend

  • By Associated Press
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METAIRIE, La. -- No one has to remind Sean Payton about the dangers of Thursday night NFL openers.

The New Orleans Saints' coach is well aware that since defending Super Bowl champions began hosting these prime-time games in 2004, they are undefeated, while visitors are a woeful 0-7.

He and the Saints will be on the road Thursday against the Green Bay Packers. But despite the odds, Payton looks at the big picture and sees reasons to be thankful the NFL looks at his team as one worthy to showcase.

"Certainly, you look to become one of those teams that is having success. You understand and appreciate that with that comes Thursday night, Monday night, Sunday night, NFL Network Saturday night and Thanksgiving games," Payton said. "That comes when you are playing well. When you start getting a bunch of 12:00 or 1:00 games throughout the course of the season, then that's a bigger challenge."

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Payton has experienced both sides of Thursday night openers.

The Saints lost 41-10 at Indianapolis in 2007 and won 14-9 over visiting Minnesota last season. This will be New Orleans' third Thursday night opener in the last five years, a sign of just how far the franchise has come. There were many Sundays the Saints weren't even on local television because they were so lousy that they had trouble selling out.

"What we do know about this game is that it is a media and fan spectacle with all the stuff going on and the unveiling of the championship banner and all those things," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "The biggest thing for us is just understanding that we need to hunker down, eliminate distractions, focus on the game and not get caught up in all the hoopla -- understanding how excited they're going to be and they're going to come out all jacked up just like we did last year. We just need to weather the storm and really stay focused on the task."

Payton tends not to buy into historical trends. From the time he arrived, he was quick to say nothing that occurred during the Saints' predominantly losing history before his arrival applied to his regime. He also bristled when asked in 2009 whether he was concerned about a three-game skid to end the regular season, something no Super Bowl winner had done before.

Payton had the last laugh, of course, as the Saints rebounded with a three-game winning streak during the playoffs, enough to carry them to the first Super Bowl title in franchise history.

Yet, even while Payton might delight in defying historical trends, he still studies them.

"We go through the history of the game," Payton said, noting from memory that the first Thursday night regular-season game was held in 2002, with the San Francisco 49ers visiting the New York Giants, but didn't involve a defending champion.

"You do study the challenges," Payton said. "The challenges are going into a venue with added excitement because there is going to be a recognition of last year's championship.

"When you go in to an environment, especially a place like Lambeau Field, it's without a doubt the most historic stadium in our league ... you learn about your team, and it's a tremendous challenge."

While the Saints have studied the trend of home-team dominance in an effort to break it, Packers veteran cornerback Charles Woodson isn't so sure there's any home advantage inherent in a matchup of the past two Super Bowl winners, both of whom made the playoffs last season.

"You've got two well-coached teams going into Thursday night," Woodson said. "I guess the only advantage we have is playing here at Lambeau. They'll be prepared, we know that. And we'll be prepared as well.

"You have two teams ready to play, fired up. It's the only game on, it's the first game of the season, so each team will have that anticipation going into the game. I just look forward to it being a very fun game, high tempo, with a lot of guys flying around. So it'll be fun."

Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said he doesn't find the home-team dominance all that surprising since defending champs started hosting the season opener, but he added that if the visiting team sees itself as a contender, it should embrace the challenge.

"The first thing starts with the fact that it's always the defending champ. It's not like it's a slouch team," Jenkins said. "I don't know if it's a trend or a coincidence, but it's a tough game. The crowd's into it, and that team has talent because they're the defending champs.

"The fun part about it is you get the best challenge right out of the gate," Jenkins continued. "If you win it, it can really accelerate you as far as confidence and just some momentum going into the season."

Notes: Saints WR Lance Moore missed practice for a second consecutive day because of a nagging right groin injury that has bothered him for about two weeks, but he said he remains optimistic that he'll be ready to play by Saturday night. "I feel good. It's just a matter of how things will progress," Moore said. "I think it has to do a lot with fatigue and not being on the practice field for almost two weeks. Things are going to get a little bit sore when you get back out there. Hopefully I'll be ready to go." ... Payton said Moore is a player he would trust in a game even if he hadn't practiced much of the week, "because he knows what we do cold." ... Moore and K Garrett Hartley were the only players missing Tuesday's practice. Veteran John Kasay is expected to kick in Green Bay.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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