New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton had a good feeling about what he saw in practice last week leading up to the game against the Jets at MetLife Stadium, and that feeling played out on Sunday in a 30-9 victory for the Saints in East Rutherford, N.J.
In ending a five-game losing streak, New Orleans (6-7) managed to do exactly what was necessary to take care of the Jets (3-10) – a solid balance across the board in all three units, spurred by the return of several key players.
"That was the case (Sunday)," Payton said. "We'd certainly gone through a stretch where we'd lost a few. I felt we had a good week of preparation, maybe a real good week, or a good feeling as a coach going in.
"The significance of players like (left tackle) Terron (Armstead), (defensive end Marcus) Davenport and then (running back) Alvin (Kamara) – Alvin brings so much, not just to the field but there's an element of confidence that he brings with him and that carries over to the offense."
Kamara ran for 120 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, and caught four passes for 25 yards to lead the offense.
"I thought our energy was good," Payton said. "I thought we did a good job of blocking and tackling in space. There were a lot of extended pockets, there was a certain way we wanted to defend (Jets quarterback Zach Wilson) and I felt we covered guys when the quarterback had additional time."
Wilson completed just 19 of 42 passes for 202 yards, was sacked three times and hit four times and had four passes defensed. Davenport, who'd missed the previous two games with an injury, only was credited with an assisted tackle. But his presence loomed larger; on Kwon Alexander's 8-yard sack in the third quarter, Davenport plowed over an offensive lineman to create a wide opening for Alexander to breach en route to Wilson.
"Sometimes it's a called play, sometimes it's kind of mind-set," Davenport said. "That one is just kind of one of those plays where it's kind of my job."
What job was that, exactly?
"Run through somebody, pretty much," he said.
Davenport's return coincided by Cam Jordan's absence for the game; Jordan was added to the Reserve/Covid-19 list last Monday.
"He's long, he's strong, plays hard," Payton said of Davenport. "In the absence of Cam, as one came back, the timing of that for us with Marcus being ready was significant."
Payton said the increased number of Covid cases around the league – Saints running back Mark Ingram also missed Sunday's game after being placed on the Reserve/Covid-19 list – is a concern.
"You cross your fingers each day when they come in," he said. "We've seen it all – last year (against Detroit), one (o'clock) in the morning waiting to find out if we had a fullback. And we saw what happened to Denver (last year, when the Broncos played the Saints after all their quarterbacks were ruled out due to COVID protocols), and our Carolina game (when the Saints had several assistant coaches miss the game due to Covid). Hopefully, the league, ourselves and everyone is kind of on the right half of the dial where it's going to gradually decrease, but certainly hasn't gone away."
He said the largest concern is what happens away from the team's facility.
"I think you pay close attention to it, especially when you come off of, like, we played a Thursday game and then guys had a little bit more time," Payton said. "It's not our bubble that you worry as much about, it's what's going on outside the bubble before it comes into our bubble. That's the big thing."