Saluting Sean Payton

Saints head coach masterful in keeping team focused
Sean Payton has been masterful in keeping the Saints focus despite setbacks. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)


Er’rybody on the Touchdown Teddy train now. As renowned New Orleans trumpeter Kermit Ruffins says, “All Aboard.”

It’s been quite a turnaround of affection for Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Four weeks ago, when he was forced into action against the defending NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams when starter Drew Brees went down with a torn thumb ligament in his throwing hand, many Saints fans doubted the backup’s ability to lead the team. The Saints lost that game 27-9, but have gone 3-0 since with Bridgewater under center. Last week, as the Black & Gold put it to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, chants of TED-DY, TED-DY, TED-DY reverberated throughout the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The accolades were well deserved. Where many thought the Saints’ chances to make Super Bowl LIV were dead on arrival once Brees was sidelined, the team has continued its winning ways. Many national experts have the team ranked as high as second best in the NFL, behind only the 5-0 New England Patriots.

Earlier this week, I heard something I thought I’d never hear. On his nationally syndicated radio and television show, Fox Sports analyst Colin Cowherd admitted he was wrong about the Saints. Although he says otherwise, Cowherd has a bit of a perceived anti-New Orleans bias. Before the season kicked off, he predicted the Saints wouldn’t make the playoffs. Too much drama surrounding the team in regard to their postseason exits the past two years would affect them going forward, he seemed to argue.

Cowhers wasn’t alone in questioning the Saints’ character. The team was bounced from the NFC Divisional Round in 2017 by the Minneapolis Miracle, a last-second touchdown on a missed tackle that sent the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship. Last year, they were the victim of, arguably, the worst non-call in NFL history, when an obvious pass interference wasn’t flagged, which prevented the team from claiming the NFC Championship and a trip to Super Bowl LIII.

Too much to overcome, they said. Yet, here the Saints are, 4-1, standing tall. Taking all challengers’ attempts to bring them down.

While the players, especially Bridgewater, running back Alvin Kamara, wide receiver Michael Thomas and the magnificent play of the Saints defense, have lifted the Saints to 4-1 and received the majority of accolades given the team, there’s not enough that can be said about the tremendous job head coach Sean Payton and his coaching staff have done with this team.

A heartbreaking loss in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2017? Payton responded by fielding a team that was one of the best teams – if not the best team – in the NFL last season.

A soul-crushing loss in the NFC Championship last season? A return to the top tier of teams in the league in 2019.

Losing a surefire Hall-of-Famer, the best player in franchise history, to an injury that most thought would sink the team? An undefeated record in the games since the backup quarterback had to assume responsibility for carrying the team to glory.

Payton has been, simply, phenomenal.

Jerry Glanville, former head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, was famously quoted as saying that NFL stands for Not For Long, as in winning and keeping your position in the league is fleeting. Proof of the adage is everywhere. A team can be a winner, on the doorstep to greatness, one day and seemingly mediocre the next. Take a look at his former team, since losing Super Bowl LI – after having a 28-3 lead in third quarter of the game – the Falcons – even with a roster full of players who appeared in the championship game – have gone 18-19 since. They have a sharp quarterback, one of the best receiving corps in the NFL, and talent on defense. But their win total has dipped from 11-5 in their Super Bowl year to 10-6, 7-9, and 1-4 currently.

Of course, Saints fans love to pick at their archrivals, but there are other examples, too.

Since losing the NFC Championship to the Eagles, the Vikings have gone 11-9-1.

Since losing the Super Bowl last season, the Rams are 3-2, having dropped their last two games. There is still a lot of time left in the season for the team to improve, but current trends don’t look good.

Sure, the Saints slipped after they won Super Bowl XLIV, but, first, they won a championship, and, second, they’ve returned not only returned to the top tier of teams in the NFL, they’ve maintained their level of play through adversity.

Which brings me to my final point. The Saints, after losing a player of Drew Brees’ caliber, could have sulked, claimed they are cursed, and given up. They haven’t. Instead, they’ve adjusted. Much of that credit goes to Payton and his coaches. He’s tailored his game plan to fit the players he has. Payton and his team are winning because he’s put them in a position to succeed. He’s been simply masterful in not only building a winner, but getting his guys to buy in, believe in each other, and continue their winning ways. Simply, it’s one of the best performances of the season, and, surely, if the Saints continue their winning ways – has him positioned for consideration as coach of the year.

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