NEW ORLEANS — Here are my four takeaways from the Saints game against Tampa.

  • Let’s start with the Saints defensive stars. Three guys were outstanding. Of course, saying Demario Davis played great is like saying grass is green. But, Davis played great. Fox Sports analyst Daryl Johnston pointed out on the TV broadcast the job that Marshon Lattimore on Mike Evans and he was terrific. And, Marcus Davenport has taken a large step forward. He played free, wild and ferocious in the exact way that the Saints need him to be. Those three stood out in a big way, but after re-watching the game, a fourth guy stood out as well. That’s defensive tackle Malcolm Brown, who was extremely effective inside. The Saints rotated eight defensive linemen and they dominated up front. Now the reason I re-watched the game, I was trying to see what happened to Shaquil Barrett, who is Tampa Bay’s star. He was the NFC Defensive Player of the Month. He was first in the league in sacks, first in quarterback hits, first in tackles for loss. If you didn’t notice him Sunday, do you know why?

  • Reason Number 3, Barrett was “Shaq-kled” by the Saints offensive line. He was invisible. Terron Armstead got him most of the time, but he was also on Ryan Ramczyk’s side at times. On stunts, Andrus Peat got him a couple of times. They all shot him down and what was interesting was, the Saints did not overplay Barrett, and, especially when Armstead, he made it look easy. Barrett had 0 sacks, 0 quarterback hits, 0 tackles for loss.

  • Reason Number 2, last week we called it Teddy Steps, because Bridgewater clearly took steps forward, even if it wasn’t super-noticeable. This week it’s called Teddy’s Leap. He got rid of the ball quickly, but he was also patient when he needed to be. And, he was accurate. Statistically it was the second-best game of his NFL career.

  • And, reason number 1, and for me it’s a three-game observation, but Sean Payton has never been better. A few years ago after the Brandon Browner signing led to a locker room culture that wasn’t good, Payton and GM Mickey Loomis talked about getting back to what they did in ’06, which is build with high character high character guys. It’s no accident that they signed Demario Davis and A.J. Klein and Larry Warford – good players, but also high character, grown-up professionals, the locker room is filled with them. Payton’s locker room is now built to withstand adversity, plus his play-calling the past three weeks has been near perfect. He was conservative with a lead in Seattle, and then when the Bucs’ defense sucked in because of all the short passes, he went over the top to beat Tampa Bay. Thanks to Payton’s x’s and o’s and his motivational magic, optimism has never been higher in New Orleans.