Lions-Saints Preview

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Archie Manning vividly remembers the unbridled joy of narrowly avoiding a winless season. He also recalls the pain of being the first to lose to a winless team.
Manning can relate as well as anyone to what the Detroit Lions are going through -- and what the New Orleans Saints have to watch out for Sunday.
"I never played in a playoff game and won it, never have, in the NFL, been in a championship game. But I don't think a championship win could be better than to get that monkey off your back," Manning said this week. "I don't think I've ever enjoyed a win as much as we enjoyed that one."
His Saints were 0-14 in 1980 before pulling out their first and only win that season, 21-20 over the New York Jets. So his advice to his former franchise in New Orleans is: Watch out.
Some people see this Sunday's game in Detroit (0-14) as a trap game for New Orleans (7-7), which fell out of postseason contention after an emotional, overtime loss in Chicago last week.
"I know the Saints are out of the playoff picture, but they don't need to go up there and wallow around," Manning said. "They need to be up and mentally ready to play as hard as they ever have. To me, if I'm a coach, I would rather be going in there to play an 8-6 team instead of an 0-14 team."
Manning has been on both sides. In 1977, the Saints became the first team ever to lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which went 0-14 in their inaugural season (1976) and lost their first 12 games of the following campaign before marching into the Louisiana Superdome and rolling to a 33-14 victory.
Manning said leading up to that game that it would be an embarrassment to lose to a team that was 0-26 in its history. Based on some of the comments he heard from Buccaneers players in the dome that day, he deduced that his comment had become a source of motivation for Tampa Bay.
"That's the worst feeling I ever had in football," Manning said.
So, warning No. 2: Don't say anything to give a winless team more motivation than they already have, especially when that team is trying to avoid being the first to go winless since the NFL's regular season expanded to 16 games.
When current Saints quarterback Drew Brees discusses Detroit, he isn't making that mistake.
"Do they want to be the team that goes through the season without a win? Heck, no," Brees said. "I watched a ton of their games, and you look at every one of them, especially the last probably six in a row, where they have (usually) had a chance. They were winning by double-digit points at some points during the game, some of them, going into the fourth quarter. This is a team that has been right there in a lot of games and just for whatever reason -- bad luck, a play here and there -- has not been able to finish them out. So we know what they're capable of."
Incidentally, the Saints have history of losing to winless teams. In 1999, the expansion Cleveland Browns got their first victory in the eighth game of the franchise's new era when Tim Couch completed a desperation, 56-yard Hail Mary pass to Kevin Johnson with 2 seconds left. That play produced a famous photo of then-Saints coach Mike Ditka lying face down on the sideline. Of course, that game was played on Halloween in the Superdome, which was built on a cleared graveyard, so the Saints may have been doomed going in.
Even since Brees joined the Saints, they haven't been immune. Last season, New Orleans had just rattled off four straight wins and was on the brink of getting back into the NFC South playoff picture when they hosted 0-8 St. Louis. Coach Sean Payton was so worried about a letdown he employed rat traps as props, strategically placing them around the team's training center where players would see them. Alas, his worst fears were realized. Final score: Rams 37, Saints 29.
Manning, who still lives in New Orleans and remains a local media personality, has experienced most of these low points in Saints history in one way or another. So last week, as Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts prepared to host the Lions, the elder Manning stressed during conversations with his son that Detroit must be not be taken lightly.
With the game tied at 21, the elder Manning's stomach was turning. Would Peyton have to endure the same misery Archie did 31 years earlier against the Bucs?
"When a team like that gets a little momentum and can smell a victory, I said, 'This is going to be tough,"' Archie Manning recalled. "Fortunately, Peyton was able to take Colts on a good drive and score."
The Colts pulled it out, 31-21, leaving the Lions to wait at least another week.
For Brees, the key is to treat Detroit like every opponent, blocking out the records, the lack of playoff implications and the fact that there's a bit of NFL history at stake.
"We're not trying to go out there and say, 'Let's do whatever it takes to not lose this game,"' Brees said. "That's absolutely the wrong attitude, even though that's what people want to talk about. And inevitably for (the Lions), they're trying to get that first win. We just happen to be the team that has to go up there and fight it out with them."


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