NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Saints linebacker Craig Robertson sounded confident that he knew the main reason why New Orleans looked as locked-in as the club has been all season during a lopsided victory over Los Angeles Rams.
It wasn't because of a motivational speech. It wasn't because of a desire to show up a certain former Saints defensive coordinator now serving in the same capacity in Los Angeles.
And it wasn't because the Saints have adopted as their theme song "The Circle of Life" from the Disney movie, "The Lion King," which blared from the Superdome sound system after a second-half touchdown.
"Really there's only one factor," Robertson said. "We just know we have to win. That's it."
In their 49-21 victory over the Rams on Sunday, the Saints improved to 5-6, keeping them two games behind Atlanta (7-4) in the NFC South and 1½ games behind Washington (6-4-1), which is in the final wild-card playoff spot.
Like Robertson, right tackle Zach Strief suggested that a sense of desperation might have brought out the best in the Saints.
"I don't know how exceptionally motivated anybody was by the Rams game so much as the fact that we're essentially in a win-or-go-home situation," Strief said.
"This team right now feels like its back is against the wall and we don't have any room for error.
"And maybe, for this team, that's what we need," Strief said.
New Orleans has five games left to make up ground, starting when the Detroit Lions (7-4) visit the Superdome this Sunday.
The recent adoption of the "Lion King" theme song is coincidental, said Strief, who declined to get into specifics of why the song has meaning to the club beyond saying it has to do with "the position that we're in and the mentality that we need to have going forward."
The Saints have played in a slew of close games this season, but often struggled to pull them out. Five of their six losses have come by six or fewer points, including four by a field goal or less, one by two points and one by a single point.
Saints coach Sean Payton said that with so many close games across the NFL, the ability to minimize errors and make plays in the clutch can be the difference between a successful season and a disappointing one.
"It's an emotional game to begin with," Payton said. "If you had the exact recipe each week, it would be a lot easier."
The Lions, Payton noted, have "found a way to win some of those (close) games, and as a result of that, they're having a real good football season."
Detroit has won five games by four or fewer points, including its most recent triumph over Minnesota on Thanksgiving Day, won by a late field goal set up by an interception.
Time will tell if the Saints are evolving into the type of team the Lions have been to this point.
There are several reasons for optimism, though, starting with a league-leading offense that put up a whopping 555 yards on a Rams defense that arrived in New Orleans ranked sixth in the NFL.
Meanwhile, New Orleans' defense has steadily performed better while benefiting from the return of key players who'd been injured earlier this season — namely, defensive tackle Sheldon Ranks, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Delvin Breaux.
Rankins, a first-round draft choice last spring, had a sack and strip that resulted in a turnover in the red zone against the Rams. Ellerbe also had a sack for a third game in a row.
And while Saints defenders lambasted themselves for first-half breakdowns that allowed the Rams to score 21 points, they were pleased at their ability to make adjustments at halftime and shut out Los Angeles the rest of the way.
By game's end, the Saints had limited a second straight foe to fewer than 300 yards — a far cry from their first five games, when four teams gained more than 400 yards.
"This team feels we're better that our record shows," Strief said. "We put ourselves in this situation, but this team still has a chance to do something special and I think there's confidence in the building that we can still do that."
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Posted on Tue, November 29, 2016
by BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer