Tafoya's Notebook: Wildcard Saturday - NBC Sports

Tafoya's Notebook: Wildcard Saturday
January 6, 2014, 4:30 pm

They couldn't win in the cold.


That's what outsiders were telling the New Orleans Saints, who were 0-3 in outdoor playoff games in the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era.


So Payton embraced that theme and installed some changes.


The color of the gatorade changed.  New traveling sweat suits were purchased in time for the team's Friday flight to Philadelphia.


And on Friday morning, Payton showed the players a music video.


The song:  Bing Crosby's "Walking in a Winter Wonderland."


The visuals:  Cuts ups of twelve different Saints -- including Drew Brees, Darren Sproles, Jahri Evans and Curtis Lofton -- playing in cold-weather games in college.


Dry ice was employed to create a wintery, foggy atmosphere in the room.


The message?  Let's have some fun with this.  Let's make light of this notion that we can't win in the cold.


Then they flew to Philly and won in the cold.





Derek Long couldn't remember the time his phone rang so much.  The defensive coordinator at Westlake High School when Brees was there and the head coach for Foles,  Long was being bombarded by questions about the rare NFL match-up between two quarterbacks from the same high school.


According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there has been one other postseason game in league history featuring starting quarterbacks who graduated from the same high school.  That was in a Steelers win over the Bills in 1974 and the quarterbacks were Terry Bradshaw and Joe Ferguson from Woodlawn HS in Shreveport, LA.


The now-retired Long never envisioned his players getting to the NFL.  He just wanted to get them into college.  His philosophy was that high school football should be a fun, learning experience, and that players who put football above all else put too much pressure on themselves.  Brees and Foles had taken the right approach, according to Long.





Coach Long pointed out that Westlake graduates Foles, Brees and Ravens Kicker Justin Tucker all wear #9.  He can't understand why no one has mass produced a Westlake jersey with the number 9 on it.  What kid in Austin, Texas, wouldn't want one of those?


I think the coach should take the idea and go make some money.





Three weeks ago the Saints moved rookie Terron Armstead into the staring left tackle role.  The first week he struggled.  The following week he was much improved.


Coming into the Wildcard game, Eagles LB Trent Cole -- a nine year vet -- told me he couldn't wait to test the rookie.


"I'm coming.  No mercy," he told me.


Do you expect the Saints to give the rookie some blocking help, I asked?


"They better," Cole said smiling.  "He still has that new car smell."


Armstead told me he watched Trent Cole put his stamp on the league as a pass-rusher.  As far as getting help, the rookie told me "It will come in certain places."


Payton told us, "I like that match-up... with all due respect to Trent Cole."


The coach hinted Cole might not be the force he had been four or five years ago.


Cole came into the Wildcard game having registered seven sacks in the previous six games and looking very much like his old self.


On Saturday night he registered one sack and five tackles, but the rookie more than held his own against him.


Before the game Armstead told me he never really wanted to be an offensive lineman.


"I wanted to catch the ball -- or be a defensive end," said the Arkansas-Pine Bluff product.  "But those are past illusions."


Midway through college, Armstead -- who was the Illinois High School State Champion in the shot put -- settled into his role as an offensive tackle.


"Now I'm in love with (the position)." 





Brent Celek has received rave reviews all season from his head coach, Chip Kelly, for his abilities as a blocking tight end.


When I brought that up with the former Cincinnati Bearcat he said, "I like blocking.  It's fun being one on one with guys that are sometimes bigger than you." 


Of course it is.


And the key to blocking the edge?  "When you're going against guys that weigh a lot more than you," said the seven year vet, "you've gotta use great technique at the TE position.   That's what I try to focus on:  technique and fast feet."


Celek also had two catches for sixteen yards in Saturday's loss.





While the specifics of the Sports Science program Kelly brought with him from Oregon to Philadelphia are guarded like classified information, players are more-than-open about what it's done for them.


Celek told me in the 7 years he's been in the league, this is the best he's felt -- hands down.  Guard Todd Herremans told me never before has he felt this fresh this late in the season, and he's in his ninth year.


"It's crazy what we're doing here," said Celek.  "I feel like it's week one."



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