NEW ORLEANS — The story of Sean Payton’s return to the sideline has certainly been discussed ad nauseam as September bleeds into October.
Everyone inside the Saints’ locker room likely wants to move on, burying his absence in the past like the team buried in 2007 symbols of the 2006 season.
Yet, it’s hard to ignore this one small, simple fact – New Orleans was 0-4 without him in 2012 and they’re 4-0 with him a year later.
As Malcolm Jenkins said in the quiet of the locker room Monday night after the giddiness of New Orleans’ 38-17 devouring of Miami dissipated, this team is a reflection of its coach.
They’re undoubtedly Sean Payton-like – confident with a side of killer instinct.
“Whenever you have your head guy back and leader here, that’s what they do,” Jenkins said. “The team is going to reflect your leadership and he’s the leader of the team. Obviously he has us motivated to play hard, to play fast and to go after the jugular on teams, to really go out and win.”
There’s no doubt about it, this version of the New Orleans Saints feels like it’s on the way to something big.
They’re 4-0 and have yet to play a complete game. They’ve still got problems to correct and issues to resolve. But they won’t apologize for who they are because Payton would never do so.
“You see his aggressiveness as a coach even in this game at the end of the game,” long-time Saint Zach Strief said. “We’ve got the pedal down and we’re going to keep running our offense and try to put points up on the board.”
They’re confident and getting much more so as the season moves along and, one quarter of the way through it, they might be the least talked about unbeaten team in the NFL.
Not a bad place to be as Denver, Seattle, Kansas City and New England play in the heat of the national spotlight.
“The hardest thing to deal with is success,” Jenkins said. “Everybody can get motivated and come back after a loss, a tough loss, a close loss. That’s easy to get motivated for. But when you’re winning and everybody is comparing you to Super Bowl years and all that stuff, it’s hard to ignore that and not believe the hype.
“That’s one of our biggest emphasis, that’s what we’re really focusing on – just really staying the course. We work hard every week. We do the little things in practice so they show up in games. We’re going to continue to do that and not going to believe the hype.”
That undoubtedly gets back to Payton, who was so laser-focused after a 21-point victory that by the end of his 3-minute, 10-second news conference, he could have been described as less than jovial.
Since being let back into the NFL in late January and since the league calendar officially flipped over to 2013, Payton has been on point.
“From the moment that he stepped back in the facility in April, he has been locked in,” Drew Brees said. “He has never let an opportunity go by without communicating a message. He has not let anything go unsaid.”
That’s what was missed in 2012, the singular message that one person can bring that allows a team to blossom into something better than just winless.
“The biggest thing to have your head coach back is you have a clear cut vision and plan of what your team will look like,” Jenkins said. “He set the tone in the offseason for what his plan was as far as preparing for the season and what he’s looking for as far as his players. Now we’re just playing out that plan.”
That’s Sean Payton’s plan, just in case you weren’t sure.