CHICAGO — Of the many things Sean Payton preached to his players in the week heading into Sunday’s game in Chicago – the turnover battle, the field conditions, the weather – only one really hit home for those who have been with the team since 2006.
To do things you haven’t done before, you have to do them. You have to complete the task.
So in the moments after New Orleans’ 26-18 win over the Bears in Soldier Field when Payton says that the eight-point win meant only that “it was game five,” he’s outwardly ignoring the truth.
While Payton refused to show some positive emotions to the public after a win, his players generally pass along the message.
And Sunday, they told us it definitely meant something to Payton to win in Chicago. No question about it.
“It’s about that time,” said quarterback Drew Brees, one of six players to have lost all three times in Chicago with the Saints. “Man, we’ve come up here quite a few times, in some big games, and unfortunately we were never able to walk away with a victory. ’06, ’07, ’08, three consecutive years. We’ve been waiting for that opportunity to come back.”
Added right guard Jahri Evans, also a member since 2006, “For the guys who have lost here – being one game out from the Super Bowl in ’06, I think we lost one that could get us into the playoffs – the guys who went through that, I think it was special for the guys. Even the guys who didn’t, they knew we went through that and hadn’t been successful here and today we were. Coach emphasized. He said it.”
It’s a message Payton delivered to the 2009 team and that season ended with a first-ever Super Bowl.
Four seasons later, the message is still pertinent and it still resonates.
“You’ve got to get over those hurdles that you haven’t been able to overcome to get to where you want to be,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said this week. “This is the next hurdle.”
The Saints cleared the hurdle in a different way Sunday than the rest. While they dominated with defense in the opening two games and dominated the past two weeks with flair on offense, it was a combination of both that worked against Chicago.
That’s why Sunday felt like many things but it never felt as close as the eight-point game that it finished.
Now it’s onto the next hurdle. While the Saints have a 24-hour rule, and no doubt there will be some celebrating a big win at a tough place, New Orleans next plays at New England, those perpetual Super Bowl-caliber Patriots who are coming off of a loss.
Getting to 6-0 is much tougher after the Patriots lost to Cincinnati.
But Payton has managed thus far to find the right message and the right tone to take with his team. There’s a reason the Saints are 5-0 a year after starting 0-4.
“Obviously circumstances this year are different than they were a year ago,” Payton said. “Winning teams do certain things that give them a chance to win each week. But when you don’t play good defense or you don’t rush the football, you become one dimensional. Those are tough things to overcome.
“I think this is a different team. There are a lot of different players in this locker room than were here a year ago.”
A week ago, Payton’s message was about not eating the cheese, about not buying into what the public at large was telling them. This time it was about doing something that hadn’t been done before.
What is different about this team is its youth and its willingness to buy into Payton and he’s selling. While the list of things the Saints haven’t done is beginning to look barren, those inside the locker room know something will come up.
“I’m pretty sure there’ll be something,” Jenkins said. “There’s always something we’ve never done.“
That, however, is for next week. So yes, while Payton won’t externally show his appreciation for the win, others will.
Special teams do big things and winning in Chicago is one of those things, especially for a group that had gone 13 years without a win there.
“Coach (Joe) Vitt and Sean told us, probably every day, ‘Listen guys – you want to be great, we’ve got to do something we’ve never done,’ ” rookie Kenny Vaccaro said. “And we’ve never won at Soldier Field. So it was good to get the win.”