Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter
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NEW ORLEANS Saints offensive lineman Ben Grubbs once opined the only thing man is granted is hope.

It's not far-fetched to say that before Sunday night, that's about all New Orleans had to show for itself after an 0-4 start to this anything-but-normal season.

There was no swagger.

There was no confidence.

There was no, well, no bravado.

Just hope.

Nearly three-and-a-half hours after Sunday night's game began, as Oct. 7 turned into Oct. 8, it's safe to say they've still got hope thanks to a 31-24 win over San Diego.

And now they've got the swagger and confidence and bravado they sorely lacked in the opening quarter of the season.

Thanks to a change in game plan and maybe even philosophy, the Saints were able to show us who we thought they were.

Know who you can thank for that? Yep, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

The Saints defense went from a passive-aggressive rush-four-and-drop-into-coverage bunch into a swash-buckling, blitzing, havoc-wreaking unit.

Kind of reminds you of the past three years.

'We said all week we wanted to get pressure on this quarterback and move his feet,' Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said. 'Whether it was with four down linemen or bringing pressure, we did that tonight.'

As much as Sunday night was about Drew Brees and his record-setting exploits on the surface, the lessons go far and away beyond that.

The Saints defense held the Chargers to just 139 total yards in the second half and came up with four straight stops, forcing turnovers on the final two San Diego series.

Meanwhile, the offense picked up 215 of its 404 total yards in the second half and scored two touchdowns and a field goal on its final three series.

For the first time in five games, the Saints put their feet on the throat of their opponent and held it there.

And for the first time in five games, the locker room wasn't somber.

It was relieved.

'You never would have thought we would have been 0-4 but that's the way the cookie crumbled this year,' Lofton said. 'We just needed to get a win to prove to ourselves and to everyone else that we're still a good team and we can still play football.'

'To be honest, I think everybody is believing,' added safety Malcolm Jenkins, whose biggest play of the night was a tipped pass to fellow defensive back Roman Harper.

New Orleans was in position in Week 3 against Kansas City to put a game away. It didn't and it paid, losing to the Chiefs in overtime.

The Saints had a chance in Week 4 against Green Bay to put a game away. It didn't and it paid, losing to the Packers when the defense couldn't hold on.

Against the Chargers, they said had a chance and took advantage. And that's confidence they can take to the bank.

'I think we can kind of draw back on this and say look, we can find a way and we've got to find a way and we're going to find a way to win a game when it's close at the end,' right tackle Zach Strief said.

They knew they were close. Now the monkey is off the Saints' back. They've used their first few carabiners and bit of rope to begin their ascent up the mountain.

'I said we were close,' interim head coach Aaron Kromer said. 'We had to get over the edge. We brought our climbing shoes to walk to climb that mountain and we did it tonight.'

The Saints now have a bye week to rest and get healthy. Lance Moore and Jonathan Casillas didn't play in the game and Jimmy Graham left with a boot on his right ankle.

No one is saying the Saints are back in the hunt. They're just 1-4 and there are a lot of games left to play.

But what they did Sunday night was take the first step in reclaiming things they'd lost earlier in the season, that confidence, that swagger, that bravado.

And yes, they've still got hope.

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