Rewind one year ago and the New Orleans Saints sat at 0-4. At the start of Week 5 one year later, the team sits at 4-0. This has come from wins over the Atlanta Falcons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Arizona Cardinals and the Miami Dolphins. They have played their way back into the conversation as Super Bowl contenders and you can’t help but ask if their success this season has come from the return of head coach Sean Payton.
It helps that Saints have a talented quarterback, Drew Brees, who has nine consecutive games of 300-yards passing. He wore the weight of the team on his shoulders last season in Payton’s absence and will agree his coach’s return has been vital to the team’s success to-date.
Brees said via ESPN.com, “He’s our lead man. I tell you what, from the moment he stepped back in the facility in April, he’s been locked in. He’s never let an opportunity go by without communicating a message. He has not let anything go unsaid. Maybe that’s the perspective coming off last year. Maybe it’s just feeling like he hasn’t been around, so he wants to make sure everything is communicated, especially to a lot of these young players, about our program and what we do on a daily basis, our work ethic, building a foundation, the history. I feel like we’re building some history here.”
The Saints are playing their greatest football since 2009–the same year they won the Super Bowl. Along with Brees’ solid play, his weapons are playing well. Tight end Jimmy Graham is on pace for a record-setting season. Entering this Sunday, he had 27 receptions for 458 yards and six touchdowns. In the offseason he had wrist surgery and for now he appears unstoppable as Brees’ favorite target (accounting for more than half of the quarterback’s touchdowns).
And he capped off September’s play by winning the Offensive Player of the Month Award–a first for a tight end to win this honor.
Versatile running back Darren Sproles is also having a good season, especially against the Miami Dolphins.
But that’s just the offense. There’s also the much-improved defense and this has come from addition of new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. He’s brought some swagger to the group and his defensive line with Junior Galette, Akiem Hicks, JJohn Jenskins and Cam Jordan are tops in the league with their play.
However, the team does circle back to their success with Payton. Linebacker Curtis Lofton, who is playing under the coach for the first time, recently said, “Sean brings an accountability factor and just the competitive edge and the confidence and swagger.”
The coach will snap at his defense and Lofton added, “As a defense, you want to shut him up. All that carries over to the playing field.”
For now, this Saints team is showing they can score, make turnovers, run the ball and win. Rewind one year ago and this wasn’t the case. What’s the difference a year later? Payton is back and at the time of this writing, his team is headed to their fifth straight win.
Welcome back Saints!