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John DeShazier: Winning never gets old for Saints Coach Sean Payton

Payton recently passed legendary Vince Lombardi on the all-time victories list

The hair may be flecked with a touch of gray, the eyesight a bit dimmer – hence, the gameday specs – and the times, they have a-changed.

"I think he even alluded to it, where his references are really starting to date him a little bit," New Orleans Saints right tackle Zach Strief said. "The musicians he picks out, the movies he references."

But the winning never gets old, and if a snapshot of its restorative qualities is necessary, find that video of rookie running back Alvin Kamara taking a screen pass in the second quarter against Tampa Bay on Nov. 5, and weaving and gliding his way 33 yards down the left sideline, absorbing one final tackle attempt between the 10- and 15-yard lines and keeping his feet by extending his left hand to the turf to keep his balance, then scooting into the end zone.

Watch the clip not for Kamara's gymnastics, but for the figure clad in black sprinting down the sideline, trailing the play with headset intact and playcall sheet in hand.

"I was kind of fired up," Coach Sean Payton said after the game. "Today, I was just fired up."

It was a good day for that kind of emotion. Because against Tampa Bay, the Saints won their sixth consecutive game after starting the season with back-to-back losses. And it was a good day for that kind of emotion because for the 100th time during the regular season, Payton coached the Saints to victory.

For the 100th time, he made sure New Orleans' fans had a reason to be fired up.

Payton, already the winningest coach in franchise history, scaled another mountain that day, too – he surpassed the legendary Vince Lombardi with his 106th all-time victory, including playoffs. And there are more rungs to climb for Payton, perhaps beginning with Sunday's game featuring the Saints (7-2) and Washington (4-5) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints' winning streak now has reached seven games after last Sunday's 47-10 victory over Buffalo.

New Orleans Saints photos of Head Coach Sean Payton through the years.

"You have to last a while, and you only last a while if you've had success," Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis said. "And he certainly has. He's been a great coach for us. (But) I'm more focused on his next 100 wins, not the past 100.

"There's 41 coaches that have had 100 victories or more. And when you go through that list and you see who the names are, it's really impressive. To be part of that list is quite an accomplishment."

There's more success to be had and there is time and opportunity for the 53-year-old, who only is in his 11th season as a head coach and has been one of the great offensive minds in the NFL. Since Payton was hired in 2006, the Saints haven't finished lower than sixth in total offense (six times, they've been No. 1) and twice led the league in scoring offense.

"I feel like it is early in my career," he said. "I have been with a lot of good teams and a lot of good players. I just feel like it's such a team game that it is hard to look at individual numbers like that. (After the Tampa Bay game) they gave me a hard time. There are so many guys that are involved in winning a game and I think it's a privilege to be able to coach and work with guys, (and) work with young players, too."

Of late, the young ones have been spectacular. Four rookies – cornerback Marshon Lattimore, offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, safety Marcus Williams and linebacker Alex Anzalone – were Game 1 starters this season and another, running back Alvin Kamara, wasn't listed as a starter but carries a starter's value and production.

Add them to a banner class from 2016 – defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, receiver Michael Thomas, safety Vonn Bell, defensive tackle David Onyemata and running back Daniel Lasco – and there's reason to believe that prosperity is in New Orleans' future.

But for those who have been significant contributors during the present and in the past, there's a better understanding of how grueling, and rewarding, the journey has been.

Payton was presented a game ball by quarterback Drew Brees following the Tampa Bay win, fitting because Brees has been the starting quarterback for each and every one of those victories, regular season and playoffs.

Brees wasn't aware of Payton's passing of Lombardi, but was well aware of the century mark.

"That's a big accomplishment," Brees said. "I've been here for all 100 of those regular-season wins, and all the playoff wins, too. The reason I'm here is because Sean Payton believed in me and wanted to give me an opportunity here back in 2006. Obviously, Mickey Loomis as well.

"But Sean being the architect of this offense and, I think, really building the foundation for this team and what would allow us all to be very successful here. It's hard to believe it's been 12 years (Payton missed the 2012 season), but it's been a ton of great memories along the way and hopefully, there's quite a few more."

Absolutely, there appears to be more within the structure and culture that Payton has helped create in New Orleans.

While three consecutive 7-9, non-playoff seasons were difficult for the coach and franchise to endure, part of the payoff has been watching a roster sprinkled with young talent rebound this season to become a balanced team capable of winning in several ways – shootout, slugfest, offensive close-out with a four-minute drive, or defensive finish-off with a crucial stop.

"I think that the thing to me that has always stood out, is I feel like he has continued to grow and learn and change," said Strief, who joined the Saints in '06 as a seventh-round draft pick. "I think the hardest thing for coaches, a lot of times, is to change what they do and believe in. And I think that Sean has been very open to that his whole career.

"Obviously on a personal level, I would do anything for Coach Payton. They've kept me around forever and has always been so good to me. But on a professional level, it's just been an honor to play for somebody with the mind that he has and that has set up the type of organization that he has. It's been amazing to be with him."

Everyone on the roster realizes Payton's influence.

"When you talk about everything that he brings to the table, in terms of how our schedule is, in terms of how we're going to prepare for a team, in terms of our (defensive) coordinator – you already know that he's got a plan for everything," defensive end Cam Jordan said. "And it's panning out. And clearly, 100 wins later, it's clearly panned out. I can only say that I hope to see 100 more with him."

 
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