Saints don't count on repeat in rematch


Panthers players and coaches have repeatedly been asked this week what they plan to do differently in Sunday's pivotal rematch against New Orleans.

Given that the Saints won the first meeting less than two weeks ago by 18 points, the same questions aren't being asked in New Orleans.

But while the Saints would love to see the same outcome, that doesn't mean they plan to just show up and count on the status quo to carry them to victory.

"Each game is different," New Orleans head coach Sean Payton said. "I don't sit down and say, 'This is what I expect to see differently.' But certainly coming off the last game you played, you look at both sides of the ball and you say, 'Hey, here's something they might want to do the next time based on what I just saw.' "

The most obvious difference between the two matchups is the venue. This one, which holds the key to winning the NFC South and earning a first-round playoff bye, will be played at Bank of America Stadium rather than the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Saints have the best road record in the NFL since 2009 at 24-15 but haven't been that team of late, losing four of their last five games away from home. New Orleans' victory over the Panthers in Week 14 improved them to 4-1 at home against the Panthers since 2009. Over the same time frame, the Saints are 2-2 in Charlotte.

"It's been a tough place for us to play ever since I've been here," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "They kind of feed off the opportunity to play at home just like we do, so you just know that any time you go on the road, especially in the division, especially to a place like that, you're going to need your best."

In seven home games this season, Brees has 23 thrown touchdown passes and three interceptions. In seven road games, he has tossed 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Brees certainly wants to improve his level of play on the road at Carolina's expense, so you would think he'd be happy with simply bottling his performance in the teams' first meeting and unleashing it Sunday.

Of course, it's not that easy, though Brees won't pinpoint how his approach to the rematch will differ. More accurately, he can't pinpoint it because like most elite quarterbacks, his approach will depend heavily on what he sees from the defense.

"I mean, so much of it is about execution and finding your rhythm throughout the game," Brees said. "Obviously, offensively you know we've got a lot of playmakers on our offense, a lot of guys to worry about. It's not until you get into the course of the game that you kind of see maybe who has the hot hands or who has the matchup, or just kind of where the ball is going.

"Obviously, we always want to be very balanced in what we're doing - run, pass. But I feel like we have the flexibility to do a lot of things based upon our personnel, and we try to mix it up and keep the defense off-balance and dictate the tempo."

That unpredictability is essentially the same thing the Panthers' defense wants to throw at Brees, so let the chess match for all the marbles begin.

"Everyone has a scheme that they play, but then there are new wrinkles in everything that you do, especially when you're playing each other for the second time in three weeks," Brees said. "Their personnel are so good in every phase defensively. They play what they play and they play very well, and we've just got to execute really well against these guys.

"We understand the importance of it. Obviously, your number-one goal every year is to win your division, and we have the opportunity to do that this weekend.  It's going to take a great team effort, and it's going to take our best performance in order to get it done."

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