Check out the Saints battle the Falcons in their final game of the 2016 season.
Quick bites from New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton's season-ending, Monday teleconference:
- Place the coaching rumors in the move-along-nothing-to-see-here line, or in the don't-believe-it-till-you-hear-it-from-me file for Payton. Several reports have surfaced citing mutual interest between the Los Angeles Rams, who have a head coaching vacancy, and Payton, who signed a contract extension last offseason with the Saints. "I was reading the comments the players made, (and) I was real fired up," Payton said. "Because what they said, and the same thing our organization has said, is correct. We're not going to address rumors, reports. If we answer to those every time, it would be silly. I didn't answer it yesterday (after the Atlanta game), and I won't answer it on this conference call." Payton said he read a report about a meeting between him and General Manager Mickey Loomis, presumably to discuss his possible departure. "Which was completely false. Mickey and I, for the last 11 years, after every game, share the same locker room. We come in, we have a Gatorade. We talk. Then we get a cheeseburger, and we get on the plane. But if I'm going to answer questions to a report like that, that's inaccurate, then we only just feed or turn the rumor mill. So I won't. And that's just the way it is."
- Payton has alluded to it several times, and once more Monday stated the fact that he doesn't believe all 7-9 teams are created equally. The Saints have finished 7-9 for three consecutive seasons, yet are optimistic about the gains made this season. "I think, clearly, we're younger," he said. "There's the right makeup, in regard to the type of players we're looking for in the locker room. We played in the second-most, one-possession games this year (games decided by eight points or less). We've got to be better in that area, we finished 5-7 (in those games). That was one thing we discussed. We talked about a fast start, we weren't able to accomplish that. And we talked about our margin for error in close games. But I think there's a certain amount of toughness and grit with this team. We had a good offseason with regard to personnel. We've got to be better as coaches, especially when it comes to those games."
- Defensive tackle Nick Fairleypossibly had his best NFL season. He finished with a career-high 6.5 sacks and was a disruptive force on the interior. Fairley again is an unrestricted free agent. "He played well. He gives us some pass rush. I think this is a place that he feels comfortable. It was a tough year, with the death of his mother, but I know this: There's a lot different opinion and feeling, at least on our end, about that player and that person after having been with him a year. I think he clearly has got good football in him."
- In the NFC South, the Saints know what it's like to be the hunted and to be the hunter. After three consecutive 7-9 seasons, they know which category they fall into. "Clearly, the team we played last night (division-champion Atlanta, in a 38-32 loss) is the team that needs to be caught in our division," Payton said. "I think (Falcons coach) Dan(Quinn) and those guys have done a great job. That's an explosive offense. To some degree, it was almost like full circle in '11, when we were in that position and toward the end of the year, probably one of our better offenses and playing Atlanta. You felt that we could score on any possession (the Saints beat the Falcons 45-16 in the next-to-last game of the regular season, and won the division with a 13-3 record), and I'm sure they probably felt the same way last night. Making the playoffs is one thing, winning your division and feeling like you have a team that can make a push for a championship is another. This offseason is going to be important."
- The 2016 rookie class made significant contributions this season. First-round pick Sheldon Rankins(No. 12 overall) was extremely productive in limited time, coming up with four sacks, a forced fumble and 20 tackles in nine games (he missed seven while recovering from a broken fibula). Receiver Michael Thomas, the first of two second-round picks (No. 47 overall), set franchise rookie records for receptions (a team-leading 92), receiving yards (1,137) and receiving touchdowns (nine). Safety Vonn Bell, the team's second second-round pick (No. 61 overall) started 14 games and finished second with 87 tackles, tied for the team lead with two forced fumbles and produced a fumble recovery and a sack. Fourth-round pick David Onyemata(No. 120) was an important rotational player at defensive tackle and had 18 tackles. And seventh-rounder Daniel Lasco(No. 237) made his mark on special teams, though he also showed promise at running back. "I think they did a number of things well, and we'll have a chance over time to see how they measure up," Payton said. "There may not be the numbers there (in terms of the amount of picks), but I am excited about the players. It's going to be important to continue to build and add more pieces."