If last season for the New Orleans Saints was a failed chemistry experiment in the locker room, this one so far has proven to be a more harmonious blend.
Through an 0-3 start that went to 1-4, players and coaches never veered from the belief that this locker room had the right mix of players, and people, to overcome and to persevere. To a man, the mantra was that the Saints of 2015 were built to handle adversity.
Two consecutive victories later, with an opportunity to reach .500 via a victory over the New York Giants on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, it appears that players and coaches were offering more than clichéd platitudes.
"We know what we're capable of," running back Mark Ingram said. "We're confident in each other, we feel like we have the right guys in this locker room, enough talent, the right camraderie with each other.
"It's just about continuing to improve, continuing to get better, continuing to have faith in one another and we'll be OK."
New Orleans is moving closer and closer to OK each day. A victory Sunday would even the record at 4-4 and be the first time the Saints were at .500 since they were 4-4 at the midpoint of last season.
A 3-1 second quarter of the season, after going 1-3 in the first quarter, would suggest that the Saints, indeed, remained calm and that players continued to believe in the system and in each other.
"We hear a lot of different terms – the culture, the makeup of a team, all those different terms," Coach Sean Payton said. "I think it allows you, and gives you a chance when all of a sudden you hit a (tough) stretch, there's enough mental toughness, there's enough work ethic, commitment to each other, all the things in team sports that really haven't changed over the years.
"It's the same in our league right now. I mentioned after the tough loss in Carolina, that picture that captured part of the bench area on the incomplete pass, that inspires you as a coach as well. That gets you fired up. That's something that, ultimately, is paramount in having a chance to win."
Specifically, Payton referenced the emotion and passion displayed by Saints players on the sideline as a fourth-quarter pass attempt from Luke McCown to Willie Snead slipped off Snead's fingertips with 2:27 left, the hookup attempt occurring in front of the Saints sideline while the team was endeavoring to overcome a 27-22 deficit to the Panthers.
That loss dropped the Saints' record to 0-3, but not their belief that they were close to breaking through because of the team's collective character.
"I like this team," safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "We have fighters on this team. I think we have guys that can handle adversity. I think we mesh together (well). I think we have nowhere to go but up.
"We have a lot of young players but everybody has a lot of heart on this team. I truly mean that. Day in and day out, guys come into work with a smile on their face, regardless of what happened on Sunday."
That, Drew Brees said, is paramount – having teammates who are in the high-character category, who believe that working together eventually will pay off.
"It's really *the *most important thing," Brees said of improving the team's character level. "It outweighs talent every day of the week. Because there's always going to be tough moments, and you hope that there's more good moments than the tough ones, but every team that reaches any level of success is going to face adversity.
"I've said it before, but look at the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks last year. Early on in the season, both those teams were at .500 and everybody was talking about how disappointing that was, and yet, they had the type of people, the type of character to turn it around and those were the two teams that played in the Super Bowl.
"I think that, for us, we've built this team that way. All offseason that's all that we talked about. (General Manager) Mickey (Loomis) and Sean, that was their No. 1 priority, getting the right type of people here. And obviously you need guys that can play ball, that love to compete but at the end of the day, that are solid character guys and really enjoy being around one another.
"And I can genuinely say that about our team. We have fun, guys enjoy being around each other, we enjoy coming to work every day, enjoy practice. We have our moments where we have fun, we cut loose a little bit. It's kind of know when to work, know when to have fun, know when to take care of business."
locker room photos from the Saints-Colts game on Sunday, Oct. 25 2015. Photos by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos)