Nearly five weeks ago, Curtis Lofton sat at his locker beneath CenturyLink Stadium in Seattle, a pained look painted across his face.
He didn’t talk that night but that picture said everything you needed to know.
The Saints lost 34-7 to Seattle and it wasn’t that close.
Fast forward through two more road losses, costing New Orleans the NFC South and a home playoff game, and three wins and Lofton was once again situated in front of a locker.
This time, there was no pained look, no perplexed aura cascading from his face.
Just focus and determination.
With all due respect to Philadelphia and the monumental win beating the Eagles 26-24 represented for New Orleans, this season has been all about one thing since Dec. 2 – getting back to Seattle somehow, some way.
“Left a terrible taste,” Lofton recalled Saturday of that night in the dreary Pacific Northwest “A very sickening stomach after that game. The thing that made it so sickening for us is we didn’t play the way we know we should play. We didn’t put forth the effort that we’re used to putting forth.
“We just wanted the opportunity to come back and play a great team.”
There should be no effort problem this coming Saturday when the Saints (12-5) get another shot at the Seahawks (13-3), the NFC’s No. 1 seed and suddenly the franchise’s ultimate trolling nemesis.
In that December matchup, billed then as the game that would determine the NFC’s top seed, New Orleans was completely outmatched.
It finished with just 188 total yards, the fewest in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era. The seven points represented a scoring low for the team since 2006. The 27-point loss was the worst since the 2007 season opener against Indianapolis.
And it began a month-long discussion about New Orleans playing poorly on the road, giving people reason to question if the Saints could do anything outside of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Yet, within the locker room there was never any question.
When Payton spoke with the team after that Seattle loss, he had one message – remember the feeling and remember the night because he planned on getting back for a second shot.
They secured the rematch with a gritty last-second come-from-behind win in Philadelphia, the franchise’s first-ever true road playoff victory.
“It’s obviously going to be a huge game for us,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said after the Philadelphia win. “You won’t have to look far for motivation. They’re a great team; obviously, the class of the NFC. But I think we’re confident and we have what it takes to win.”
The Saints aren’t the same team they were at that point. Then, they were an overconfident, defiant group of young players. Think of them as a group trying to take their final exam having only gotten to the mid-point of the semester.
They’re no longer young, defiant no more.
They’re educated in the move-on-or-go-home feeling of a playoff game. They know what it takes to win on the road in the postseason. And they know just who Seattle is and what the Seahawks do.
If they can replicate most of their performance against Philadelphia – 434 total yards, including 185 on the ground, on offense; 256 yards and just 3 of 12 third downs allowed – they’ll have a chance to knocking off Seattle.
“They’re a great football team,” New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said. “We’re going to need our best effort to beat these guys. But if there’s a team that can do it, I believe it’s us.”
Payton won’t have to change sweats or Gatorade color or add extra sauce to the beefy mac this week. He’ll just have to put on loop video of that Dec. 2 loss at Seattle.
What you saw a little more than a month ago likely won’t be what you see in the divisional round of the playoffs.
“We learned a lot from that game,” Lofton said. “Just what we have to do, what we can’t do and just when we go into a game like that, be mentally prepared from d-line, linebackers, secondary, just the entire team.
“We’ll be ready this time.”