Saints embracing timely 3-game 'dome' stand

by Patrick Flanagan

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton sounds conflicted when the topic turns to his extraordinary success coaching in the Superdome in recent years.

METAIRIE, La. (AP) - New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton sounds conflicted when the topic turns to his extraordinary success coaching in the Superdome in recent years.

Payton is pleased to remind Saints fans that they can indeed create an advantage for their team by being excruciatingly loud at the right moments. He's less comfortable playing up the fact that he has coached 20 straight games in the Superdome without losing.

"There's a lot of stuff that's gone into that and none of it's applicable for this weekend's game" against San Francisco, Payton said of his personal winning streak in the dome. "It really isn't."

New Orleans (4-4) plays its next three games at home, starting against the 49ers (4-4) on Sunday, with contests against Cincinnati and Baltimore to follow. Given the Saints' success in the Superdome, an opportunity to build on their slim division lead in the shaky NFC South would appear to be there for the taking.

"It's nice to get in front of the home crowd," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "I feel like we've got some momentum going. We want to take advantage of this opportunity and this momentum we have."

The 49ers won in New Orleans as recently as 2012, but that was when Payton was suspended in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation - and it was the lone season in the previous five in which the Saints missed the playoffs.

Last season, San Francisco played the Saints close in the dome, but was hurt by a disputed unnecessary roughness penalty assessed to Ahmad Brooks on his sack and strip of Brees. Without the penalty, the Niners would have recovered the fumble with a 20-17 lead and only 3:12 to play. Instead, the Saints kept the ball and kicked a game-tying field goal, then held the Niners' offense before driving for a game-winning kick by Garrett Hartley as time expired.

Some Niners players expressed bitterness about that game, which could have put a dent in the Superdome mystique. Instead, it simply went down as part of New Orleans perfect 8-0 home record last season.

Including playoffs, the Saints were 9-0 at home in 2011, and most of those games weren't close. When Payton returned from suspension, New Orleans' home dominance picked up where it left off. The Saints have now won 11 straight in the dome overall since Payton's return and are 3-0 at home this season, most recently routing a Green Bay squad that had come in on a four-game winning streak.

"It's very difficult to play in the Superdome," 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. "I mean, the Saints are a great team, so they're going to be tough anywhere, especially at home."

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh added, "It's very loud. It's a great environment for football."

Just not necessarily for an opposing offense.

During the week of a home game, Payton routinely uses media conferences to remind fans to loudly get behind their defense when opposing offenses come to the line of scrimmage. This season, he's taken it a step farther, having players like pass-rushing outside linebacker Junior Galette record videos reminding fans to "get loud!" The videos appear on the dome's large video boards at moments deemed advantageous to New Orleans' defense.

Sometimes Galette looks up from the field and watches his amplified exhortation.

"I pump myself up," Galette said. "I'm like, 'Yeah, I've got to get it.'"

This season, the Saints average margin of victory at home is 12.7 points. Last season, the Saints' won their eight home games by an average margin of 18.4 points.

"Hopefully, we keep that streak going for a while," Brees said, but then cautioned, "just because we're playing at home, it does not entitle us to anything."

Notes: Four players missed Wednesday's practice: RBs Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder) and Khiry Robinson (arm), RT Zach Strief (chest) and LB David Hawthorne (hand). ... TE Jimmy Graham (shoulder) participated fully, while RB Mark Ingram (shoulder), WR Kenny Stills (thigh) and C Jonathan Goodwin (knee, ankle) were limited.