Saints admire Lions' knack for winning in clutch

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The Lions have defied the odds throughout the season, pulling off one improbable win after another.

Golden Tate

If there’s one team that can relate to Detroit’s roller-coaster season, it’s the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints (5-6) have had eight games decided by seven points or less but haven’t had the same success or dramatic flair as the Lions (7-4), who have won all of their games on four-quarter comebacks.

New Orleans boasts a 3-5 record in one-score games, including two thrilling wins and four heartbreaking losses by three points or less.

Saints coach Sean Payton admitted he was a bit envious of  the Lions’ ability to persevere and claw out victories from the clutches of defeat.

“Well listen, I’m jealous,” Payton said during a teleconference call with reporters on Wednesday. “That first game against Oakland comes down to a final drive and a tough call and then the way we lost the Denver game with the PAT being blocked and returned for two points, those are gut-wrenching losses and tough ones to bounce back from.

“We had a real low-scoring game on the road at New York (Giants) and I think that it tests your grip a little bit. Obviously to credit Detroit. They’ve been able to win those games and I think that there’s a little bit of confidence, if you will, when that starts happening you expect it to happen and that’s a credit to how they’ve played.”

Payton added the Lions’ knack to continually come up with key offensive and defensive plays late in the game embeds a contagious belief that someone will somehow find a way to put the team in position to win.

“They’ve gotten it from both sides of the ball, the kicking game, they get the interception the other day (against the Vikings) from (Darius) Slay and that’s a huge play,” Payton said. “I think that they, too, look at it with the division on the line and recognize where they’re at as a team.”

One person who’s isn’t surprised with what Detroit has accomplished is Saints defensive end Darryl Tapp.

Lions brace for shootout against Saints QB Brees

Tapp, who spent the past two seasons with the Lions, said the team “built something special” during his time there and is merely taking the next step.

“That’s the team that Coach (Jim) Caldwell built. We were in the same situation last year,” Tapp said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump. The same tight games we had last year, they’re having this year and they’ve figured out a way to close it out.

“(Matthew Stafford) is playing tremendous ball. He’s been that guy. I tell a lot of people around here that kind of get caught up in the way he’s playing. (Stafford) has been that guy his entire career and definitely the last few years I was there, but I think this year he just has a chip on his shoulder because it’s been a lot of people that don’t really know football that think his career is because of ‘Megatron,’ because of Calvin (Johnson) and that’s not the case at all.”

Tapp said the difference he’s witnessed with this year’s team compared to last season’s is a growing mindset that it will prevail in close contests.

“They had a couple tough losses early in the season and I think after they finally won that first tight one, you can see the momentum starting to build and once momentum starts going and your confidence gets high, you have the invincibility factor,” Tapp said. “That’s something I think that they’ve developed. I think that’s something they continually believe in each and every week and it’s also a big thing when your star players have that kind of confidence and that momentum.

“With (Stafford) and Slay playing at a high level, having Ziggy (Ansah) coming back, starting to look like himself a lot more on film. Tahir (Whitehead) is manning the middle. Golden (Tate) is looking like Golden out there catching the ball with YAC yards. They’re doing a really good job. It’s going to be a tall task for us, but I’m looking forward to it, man. I’m excited about the opportunity.”