Physical November a key for Saints

Associated Press
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Preston Parker (87) drops  a pass as the official throws a flag against New Orleans Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Preston Parker (87) drops a pass as the official throws a flag against …

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Saints coach Sean Payton wanted to show the importance of playing physically against Tampa Bay so he bought the players baseball bats.

Heading into an important NFC South game at Atlanta, Payton said his players understand the key to getting to the postseason begins with winning tough November games.

But he won't be using any gimmicks this week.

"That was unique and we just felt like it made sense with this home game, especially with the way the first game kind of unfolded," Payton said.

After being outrushed by 47 yards the first time around against the Buccaneers, New Orleans had an 111-yard advantage on the ground in the rematch, finishing with 195 yards rushing.

Despite New Orleans (6-3) being known as a pass-first team, the Saints are 6-0 when rushing for 100 or more yards this season. They're 0-3 when held to fewer than 100 yards rushing.

Payton said that a strong ground game, where the running back is constantly gaining 5 or 6 yards per carry, can be demoralizing to an opponent.

"There's no question," he said. "Having done this long enough, when teams are having success running the football against you and it's second-and-2 or second-and-4, that has an effect on your team. When you're the team that's having success and are able to run the football, that's important."

And it will still be important heading into a key division game against Atlanta (5-3) on the road.

"We've got to run the ball against that team because they're going to run the ball," left guard Carl Nicks said. "We've got to get our defense rest and establish our tempo and open play-action pass. We've got to get a run game going next week."

Free safety Malcolm Jenkins said that while it's easy to get away with lapses in the early part of the season, the message Payton has delivered is that the Saints' playoff hopes begin to get set now.

"This is the month in which you separate from being a playoff contender or not," Jenkins said. "Teams that win in November are usually teams that make the playoffs."

New Orleans is 1-0 in November. But it still has two games against Atlanta and games against Detroit and the New York Giants among its final seven.

Jenkins isn't worried about whether he and his teammates will continue playing as physically as they played against Tampa Bay, at least for this week.

"I think the fact that we have a bye week helps in that we can let it loose knowing that you have some rest coming up and then you're back at it for some other tough games," Jenkins said.

The Saints know they can't afford to take a step back after the win over Tampa Bay.

"That's why the emphasis is on this month," Jenkins said. "We don't have that margin of error anymore. Earlier in the season, our goals were still in hand. Any loss in this month is crucial to what we want to do.

"I think guys recognize the seriousness of it."

Notes: Cornerback Tracy Porter was back at the Saints' training facility Monday after tests and X-rays on his neck came back negative. Porter was on the Superdome turf for more than 10 minutes Sunday after colliding with Tampa Bay receiver Mike Williams on the second play of the game. "Basically he's dealing with some chest and upper back soreness from the collision," Payton said. "All the news with his injury is positive so that's encouraging."

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