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New Orleans Saints have effectively dealt with nuances presented by challenging 2020 season

'No excuses'

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There are the things that are controllable, and there is 2020. Those two barely are to be mentioned in the same sentence and if they are, it certainly isn't due to an affectionate link.

But the New Orleans Saints, as well as any NFL team, have managed to handle the things they can control, and navigate around the things they can't, en route to a nine-game winning streak and 10-2 record entering Sunday's game against the Eagles (3-8-1) at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

Whether the twist has been Covid-19-related, the turn has been injury-influenced or the whip-your-head-around moment has been opponent-driven, New Orleans appears to have seen a smidgeon of everything through its first 12 games.

"Look, how could 2020 not be considered a year with more twists and turns?" Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "I mean, it's a turn every 10 steps, and then pretty soon you just get used to making turns.

"I think there's a schedule and a routine that can begin to fall in place that you get used to. And, knock on wood, every morning early when I get up, I look at my email to make sure there wasn't a positive (Covid-19) test. But that's right around the corner, you see. I mean, you're dealing with that a little bit every week.

"So it is a little different and yet, there's still a routine to it. It goes by fast, it always does. It's hard to believe we're in Week 14. We've had a bye. The next thing you know, you're on another trip, you're on another plane and there you are standing for a national anthem for another game. It goes by very fast. So there's a routine element to it, but it definitely is uniquely different."

Not knee-buckling different, but different.

Six starters missing against Detroit, including both starting cornerbacks, and a false-positive Covid-19 test that spilled over from day before the game until game day morning, that disrupted the sleep of several players, coaches and medical staffers? New Orleans went on a 35-0 run and posted a 35-29 victory.

Star receiver Michael Thomas, missing six games due to injuries and a team discipline? The Saints won the final four of them, two in overtime and all four by a total of 15 points.

Receiver Emmanuel Sanderssidelined two games by a positive Covid-19 test after finding his groove on offense? New Orleans won both games.

Quarterback Drew Brees sidelined by cracked ribs and a collapsed lung, injuries he played with for a series? The Saints won the game in which he was injured, and have taken the next three with Taysom Hill starting at quarterback.

Opposing team without a quarterback because of Covid-19 protocol issues? New Orleans pounded Denver, 31-3, and did so after completely altering the offensive gameplan to make it as conservative as a Saints plan ever has been under Payton. And they ran 44 times for 229 yards and four touchdowns.

Likely, those only are a few of the hiccups presented, among the list that was public. Add in the inevitable behind-the-scenes brushfires, and the fact that New Orleans is on the cusp of winning its fourth consecutive NFC South Division title, and currently holds the No. 1 seed for the playoffs, is all the more notable.

"We talked about it at the very onset of the season," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "No excuses.

"There's going to be excuses for every single team as to why this year isn't the year. But for us, we've been so close for so many years in a row that we want to make this opportunity our year. So there's going to be no excuses. We're not going to use Covid, or injuries, or any of those things to make excuses to why we didn't accomplish our goals.

"And with that being really the crux of our culture, then it's really no surprise with how we work, how we go about our business, our demeanor in games and how we've arrived to the point where we are now."

Where they are, is right where they expected to be, even after a 1-2 start this season.

"I think the leadership in this locker room – starting with (Executive Vice President) Mickey (Loomis) as a GM, and then Coach Payton," Hill said. "The philosophy is, like, man, the show must go on. And they've done a really nice job of making sure that everyone's prepared, not just the starters.

"And then I think, the leadership has put a high expectation that if you're not an every-down guy, you've got to make sure that you are ready to step into that role if the opportunity calls. That's the expectation around here."

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