NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Drew Brees couldn't quite suppress a smirk as he deadpanned the Saints' prescription for playing better on the road, which is where they'll be for the playoffs.
"There's three main things we need to do," Brees began. "We're going to change up the Gatorade flavor, we feel good about that. We're going to change our travel sweats. We're going to change, at the hotel, the beefy mac (and cheese) recipe the night before, just kind of give it a little extra kick. We feel like those three things are going to help pull us through."
For one last time this season, Brees and the Saints proved how tough they are to hang with in the Big Easy, clinching an NFC wild-card spot Sunday with a 42-17 rout of the downtrodden Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brees was his usual prolific self, passing for four touchdowns and even running for a score as New Orleans (11-5) concluded the regular season 8-0 at home.
But the Saints went 3-5 on the road this season, and they had little time to celebrate their widely anticipated triumph over the Bucs before fielding questions about what they can do to change their fortunes outside the Superdome.
"We're going to be told all week long that we can't win on the road," right tackle Zack Strief said. "We all acknowledge why people say that, and yet, the other games don't matter — not anymore."
If the Saints can indeed summon Superdome-like performances in the coming weeks, they'll be a dangerous No. 6 seed. New Orleans opens the playoffs Saturday night at NFC East champion Philadelphia.
Three of Brees' scoring strikes against Tampa Bay went longer than 40 yards — 76 to Kenny Stills, 44 to Lance Moore and 41 to Robert Meachem. Brees passed for 381 yards, eclipsing 5,000 yards in a season for an unprecedented fourth time. He finished the season with 5,162 yards to go with 39 touchdowns.
"We did a lot of things well today at time when we needed to," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "I'm proud of how they finished. ... It's hard to get 11 wins in this league."
Brees' other TD was a 10-yard pass to tight end Jimmy Graham.
Mike Glennon passed for 219 yards and two TDs for Tampa Bay (4-12). With doubts swirling about the future of second-year Bucs coach Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay closed the season with losses in its last three games, and four of its last five.