<span style="">The New Orleans Saints, 4-0 for just the third time in the team's history, earned a well-deserved day off from Head Coach Sean Payton today at the beginning of their bye week before returning to practice tomorrow at the team's Metairie headquarters.
Following their 24-10 win over the previously undefeated New York Jets in a late afternoon showdown at the Superdome, the Saints players can allow their bodies to heal from not only the first four games of the regular season, but also the team's four preseason games and before that, a physically demanding training camp. The Saints' bye week actually falls pretty much in the middle of football calendar season, as the team has been together for 10 weeks thus far in 2009 counting the beginning of training camp and with 12 weeks following their bye of regular season action in front of them.
"Looking back, that was a big win for us entering the bye week," said Payton. "The bye is going to be beneficial for us and allow us a chance to get some guys who are nicked up a little bit, like (RB) Mike Bell, (LT) Jermon Bushrod, (CB) Malcolm Jenkins and (TE) Darnell Dinkins, to get better and get back in the lineup."
It is also a welcome departure from what the team had to contend with last season, as they spent the first day of their off-week simply commuting back to New Orleans from London, and the team had to contend with having to re-adjust to a schedule that was thrown for a six-hour time difference. In addition, the team can build on the confidence that the four-game winning streak has built, something Payton attributes to a more mature team this season.
"The obvious benefit is the record," Payton said. "Winning in this league has a tendency to build confidence, yet I think that the team knows there are things we need to continue to improve on and there are going to be corrections that we need to make in order to keep improving."
Payton, who earned his 30th win as the Saints' head coach on Sunday, has moved into first place on the team's all-time list for winning percentage among head coaches with a 55.8% winning percentage and owns the third-most wins of any head coach in team annals, trailing on Jim Mora (93) and his predecessor Jim Haslett (45). Yet the team's early season success, which bested Payton's previous best start of 3-0 (2006), was properly put into perspective by Payton, who stated, "It's good to get four wins, but that doesn't really get you anything in this league. It's just a good starting point and something to build off."
"We've been working hard and taking it one game at a time," said defensive end Will Smith, who registered two sacks, four tackles and a pass defensed against the Jets. "Now that we're 4-0 we can reflect on the four victories and we've played balanced football. Some games offense won the game. Some games defense won the game. We know that we have a rough road ahead of us and we have to take it one game at a time, enjoy this week off coming up and prepare for the Giants."
The first four weeks of the season has been an illustration of a total concept in team football from the Black-and-Gold, as the offense, defense and special teams have each embraced opportunities to make big plays and work hand in hand in producing wins. As a result, the Saints sit atop the standings in the NFC South, a game-and-a-half in front of the Atlanta Falcons (2-1), three-and-a-half games in front of the Carolina Panthers (0-3) and four games in front of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-4). Both the Panthers and the Falcons were idle yesterday, but return to action next weekend.
"It's a team game and it is not about one side of the ball or the other," Payton said. "All three phases are needed to win football games. We went into the game with a pretty clear idea of what we wanted to do and play a certain way because we felt that would give us the best chance to win. We were able to do a lot of those things, but that being said, there are still things that we need to address and I am confident we will have the players attention in getting those corrected."
One area that does not concern Payton is the fact that QB Drew Brees hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in the past two games, even though he is tied for the league-lead with Payton Manning for touchdowns with nine. "It is not a concern," Payton said. "Drew knew that each of the past two games that we needed to get certain things accomplished. I don't think he is worried about it, I know I'm not, and I'm pleased he managed the game exactly like we wanted him to from his perspective."
The Saints' prolific offense is once again in the top spot in the NFL, tied with the Indianapolis Colts, with an average of 414.3 yards per game and in a change from last season, is touting the top-ranked rushing offense (166.3 yards per game), even though injuries have sidelined two of the team's top rushers (Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell) for two full contests.
Defensively the Saints are 10th in the NFL in total yards allowed (295.3 yards per game), but mostly importantly, have surrendered the seventh-fewest points per game in the NFL (16.5 points per game).
Blending the offensive and defensive prowess is further evidenced as 12 different players have scored for the Saints through the first four games, with nine players on offense finding the end zone, two defenders and, of course, leading scorer John Carney with a team-high 36 points. In addition, the Saints are tied for second-place in the NFL with a takeaway/giveaway ratio of +7, highlighted by a league-leading 13 takeaways (10 interceptions and three forced fumbles). Last season the Saints, through 16 games, mustered 15 interceptions and the team is very much on pace to challenge the team's mark of 30 interceptions in a season, which was set in 1980. Leading the thievery efforts for the defense has been veteran FS Darren Sharper, the NFL's active interception leader (59), who has registered an NFL-best pickoffs this season for an astounding 275 yards in return for a 55.0 average and two scores (a 97-yarder and a 99-yarder).
The Saints' special teams, which is perhaps overlooked because of the big-time performances from both the "O" and the "D" has been representative, as well. Rookie CB Malcolm Jenkins, who missed Sunday's game with an ankle injury, has been a catalyst for Special Team Coordinator Greg McMahon's various special teams units. The rookie from Ohio State has forced two fumbles that directly led the Saints touchdowns, while the rest of the special teams units have been steady and helped the team gain favorable field position throughout the season. Payton also expressed his satisfaction with the play of rookie punter Thomas Morstead, who in addition to boasting a 43.7 punting average with four punts downed inside the opposing teams' 20 yard-line, has also been extremely effective as the team's kickoff man. "We used a fifth round pick on him and all I remember hearing was how many people were up in arms about that," Payton said. "I like the way that's turned out for us. He's doing a very good job in both phases."
Thus, all said and done through four games, there seems to be a growing sense of confidence growing within the Saints, and well positioned for the next quarter of the season to begin. Although it's just going to have to wait a week begin before re-commencing.
Week 4 (Oct. 4, 2009) – Quotable from NFL GameDay Final
& NFL GameDay Highlights on NFL Network
(Airs Sundays at 7:30 PM ET & 11:30 PM ET)
"The Saints are getting our attention as a complete team."
-- Steve Mariucci on 4-0 New Orleans Saints
"He anticipates almost as well as Ed Reed."
– Deion Sanders on Saints S Darren Sharper, who had two interceptions vs. Jets
"You can add the New York Jets to the endless list of people who left New Orleans with a pounding headache."
-- Rich Eisen on Jets' first loss of season; a 24-10 defeat at New Orleans