Season could be one of Payton's best coaching jobs

Season could be one of Payton's best coaching jobs

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Season could be one of Payton's best coaching jobs

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wwltv.com

Posted on December 23, 2013 at 5:10 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 24 at 10:02 AM

OPINION

Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
Email: bhandwerger@wwltv.com | Twitter: @wwltvsports

METAIRIE, La. - As the emails poured into the WWLTV inbox Sunday and Monday, the disgust, disillusionment and depression over the Saints loss to Carolina was painfully obvious.

I get that.

New Orleans started out 5-0, got to 9-2 and appeared headed for a late postseason showdown with Seattle for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. 

The fall to 10-5 with a possibility of missing out on the playoffs altogether is hard to imagine and difficult to digest.

But let’s think about it a little differently for a second.

Maybe just getting to 10-5 with a chance still at getting into the nation’s favorite tournament is the best this team should actually have been.

Maybe Sean Payton has pulled off one of his greatest coaching jobs since taking over in 2006.

The Saints didn’t re-sign left tackle Jermon Bushrod. Key offseason acquisition Victor Butler was lost on June to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Defensive end Will Smith was lost to the same in August during a preseason game.

Between September and today, cornerbacks Patrick Robinson and Jabari Greer have had season ending knee injuries. 

The offense, meanwhile, boasted a line that is a year older at four positions. And the fifth spot, the one Bushrod had occupied since 2009, was up in the air. We've seen since the result with Charles Brown and now Terron Armstead.

The receivers are largely the same ones who have plied their trade in New Orleans since Payton arrived. Marques Colston and Lance Moore will go down as all-time Saints greats, but they've been taking hits and putting miles on their legs since '06; they're a bit slower than they used to be.

Yet, New Orleans still boasts one of the league's better offenses. 

Then there's the defense

When Payton was welcomed back into the league, he found himself the owner of a defense that was the worst-ever in yards given up and 31st in the league in points allowed per game.

That was just when he returned.

Now the defense ranks No. 4 in total defense and No. 5 in points allowed. They're allowing 134 fewer yards per game than a season ago and are three percent better on third down this season, twice holding teams conversion-less in a full game.

And Payton missed an entire season, lost time with one of the game's elite quarterbacks and most prolific offenses. 

While you don't necessarily forget how to do a job, you can become rusty and those on the other sideline can get better.

These Saints aren't nearly as talented as  some of Payton's past teams. They're older at some positions and immature at others. They're better in some places and a tick worse in others.

We all said Payton was worth about three wins. The teams won seven I games in '12. They're at 10 wins now.

If you were told in late July, about when training camp began, that New Orleans was sitting with 10 wins and had a chance at the playoffs, you would have taken it. 

So, yes, the way the team has played in the past month has been wrenching for fans. But 10-5 is much better than 7-9 was a season ago.

And remember, the Saints can still make the playoffs, where the past three Super Bowl champions have been crowned after playing at least two road games and last years King won all three away from home.

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