Saints, Lions insist Monday night clash is important to them

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Drew Brees doesn't want to hear about how winning late-season games might hurt New Orleans' draft position come next spring.

Regardless of the playoff picture, Brees said, the Saints' roster is full of young or relatively new players who need to learn what it takes to win together now.

That would mean a lot more to the franchise's future than a draft pick that may or may not pan out, he added.

''Confidence is gained from demonstrated ability. The more that you can demonstrate the ability to go out, execute a game plan, do the right thing, make the plays and win, you gain confidence,'' Brees asserted this week, as New Orleans (5-8) prepared to host the struggling Detroit Lions (4-9) on Monday night.

''The more confidence you gain, that will carry on with you for your whole career. In many cases, it might just be a game, a moment or a play that is a turning point for a player in his career or a team, in regards to building the foundation of something.''

Only a couple of years ago, it appeared the Saints had a strong foundation as they finished their 2013 season in the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.

Now, however, New Orleans is one loss away from a second straight losing season - something that has never happened since coach Sean Payton arrived in 2006.

The Lions are already guaranteed their third losing season in four, although they did win 11 games just one season ago. So it's unclear what the future holds for coach Jim Caldwell. Perhaps a strong finish will save his job, perhaps not.

''There's no, `Down the road,' for us,'' Caldwell said. ''It's a here and now and what helps us at this particular point to get in the best position to win this particular game.''

As long as players such as quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson are on the field, Detroit has the potential to be dangerous.

Some things to know about Lions-Saints:

COMPROMISED CALVIN?: Detroit's Johnson is banged up and hasn't been as prolific as usual lately. This week, he's been listed as questionable with a sore ankle. In last week's loss to St. Louis, Johnson had only one catch for 16 yards. ''I'm feeling alright. I will leave it at that,'' Johnson said. Saints safety Jairus Byrd said his unit will keep a close eye on Johnson as long as he's on the field. After all, he still has 981 yards and seven TDs receiving this season. ''He hasn't changed. You know, 6-(foot)-5. ... I don't care if it's a down year or whatever. He can make it happen, so he's definitely got our attention.''

BUSY COOKS: Second-year Saints receiver Brandin Cooks, whose rookie season was cut short by a hand injury, continues to fulfill the potential that made him a first-round draft choice in 2014. This season, he leads the Saints in catches with 64, yards receiving with 869 and TDs with seven.

''He's good. Fast. Explosive,'' Lions safety Glover Quin said. ''They like going to him deep, and they find ways to get the ball to him in other ways, too, because he makes things happen with his hands on the ball.''

MOORE'S RETURN: The game marks Detroit receiver Lance Moore's first in the Superdome since he left New Orleans - where he spent his first eight NFL seasons - after 2013. Moore, who has 27 catches for 321 yards and four TDs this season, said it will be ''weird going back to the place that pretty much it all started for me.''

''It's somewhere that is really important to me and always will be, but my focus is on the game and not so much on my emotions,'' he added.

COMPELLING COMEBACK: Saints running back Tim Hightower became New Orleans' featured back last week, scoring his first touchdown since 2011. He spent three seasons out of the league because of complications from a major knee injury. The Saints have had him on the roster for five games, but didn't give him much action until Mark Ingram (shoulder) went on injured reserve. Hightower responded with 95 yards from scrimmage in a victory at Tampa Bay.

PRIME TIME: Even during seasons in which the Saints struggle they still seem to play well in night games at home. The Saints have won both such games this season. Including the playoffs, they've won 16 of their past 17 night games in the Superdome.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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