Talk of the demise of Saints, Brees and Payton may have been premature
Perhaps Sean Payton, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints aren’t quite done yet.
It has become fashionable lately to call the Saints’ run of success featuring Payton and Brees over. There has been recent speculation that other NFL teams could pursue Pay ton after this season for to-be-vacant coaching jobs and attempt to persuade the Saints to let him out of the remainder of his contract in New Orleans. There has been talk that Brees, at age 36, no longer is capable of being a top quarterback.
All of that might turn out to be true. By season’s end, it might be time for the Saints to consider moving on and starting over. But on Thursday night, at least, they put such notions on hold and knocked the Atlanta Falcons from the ranks of the NFL’s unbeaten teams with a 31-21 triumph at the Superdome.
The Saints entered the game with a record of 1-4. They were 8-13 since the start of last season. They were coming off an ugly ,22- point defeat at Philadelphia last Sunday. There was little reasonto suspect they had such a spirited performance in them.
“Every time out, you want to win,” Brees said in a postgame interview with CBS, which carried the game. “But obviously coming home after a disappointing loss last week, kind of the situation we’ve been in early on in the season, we needed a win like this against a very good opponent, an undefeated Falcons team.
“The team really came together and played great tonight in all three phases. Can’t say enough about our defense. They did a phenomenal job — got a bunch of takeaways, which was big time. Offensively we were able to sustain drives, get points when we needed to. Certainly I think we left a few out there still. But that’s something to build on.”
The Saints still have a long climb back to respectability. But Brees, who missed a game earlier this season because of an ailing throw-
ing shoulder, was back to his old, productive self Thursday, connecting on 30 of 39 passes for 312 yards and a touchdown.
Veteran tight end Benjamin Watson did a pretty good impersonation of Jimmy Graham, the once-prolific pass catcher traded to Seattle in the offseason. Watson had 10 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown. He probably would have had an 11th catch and a second touchdown if Brees had not zipped a throw too high toward Watson late in the first half for an incompletion.
“That’s my guy,” Brees told CBS. “Probably one of the greatest teammates you could ever ask for. He’s a phenomenal worker. He’s a great leader, a great person. He’s a great family man. He’s everything you want in a teammate. I look up to him so much. It motivates me and inspires me every day. For him to have a night like tonight was fantastic. I wish I could have brought that ball down a little bit for him in the two-minute drill because he would have caught that and scored.”
The Falcons have been one of the league’s most pleasant surprises in the early going this season, but they gave a sloppy performance Thursday in Dan Quinn’s first loss as an NFL head coach. They lost three fumbles. They allowed quarterback Matt Ryan to be sacked five times. They surrendered a first-half touchdown on a blocked punt.
When they pulled to within 24-14 early in the fourth quarter on a touchdown run by tailback Devonta Freeman, another Falcons comeback seemed possible. Four of their five victories this season have come in games in which they overcame fourth-quarter deficits. But the defensecouldn’ t get the stop that Atlanta needed.
The Falcons area good team that should stay in the thick of the NFC playoff race all season. But they aren’t an NFC heavyweight on even footing with Green Bay or Arizona, at least at this point. That much was evident Thursday.