As I have said for months, there was never a doubt that Sean Payton would be back with the Black and Gold at the end of the day. The news on Friday that the team and Payton had reached agreement on a deal reaffirmed that.
So, what about all the stuff playing out in the media, the rumors that Payton would entertain offers from Dallas? Was it just posturing by Payton’s people, or just over-driven hype by the media? Probably a little of both. The whole thing shows you how these negotiations can go, and how the truth can get twisted around in the process.
Remember, in a regular situation, Payton and the team would be in the same building every day. In the current situation, Payton was estranged from face-to-face contact, and that can stretch things out.
I knew that Sean Payton is a prideful guy who wants to go down in the lore of Saints team history. And, he’s got Mickey Loomis and Drew Brees, and the full hands-off support of the team’s owner. If I were head coach, there is no way I’d leave Drew Brees for another team.
Did it come down to money? Maybe, but, well, who’s got more money than Tom Benson?
Remember that Benson has backed Sean Payton through the entire “bounty” mess. I think Sean wanted to be back here, bad, but he wasn’t going to give away his hand.
The outpouring of support from the Who Dat Nation, both during and after the Super Bowl Season, and during Roger Goodell’s beating of the team, had to have also had an impact on Payton. I think he saw an obligation to the fan base, and to Mr. Benson as well, for sticking by him this last year.
The simple math says the Saints are out of the playoff picture. At 7 and 8 the Saints are playing for an entirely different goal in the final regular season game of the year Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
"You have a choice here, you can be 7 and 9 which is a losing record or you can be 8 and 8 which is .500," said Coach Joe Vitt. "There is not anyone in our building that will never be happy with 8 and 8, but the other option is to be 7 and 9 and that's a losing record."
The Saints haven't had a losing record since the 2007 season. New Orleans finished that year 7 and 9 in Sean Payton's second season at the helm.
The Panthers beat the Saints back in week 2 by a score of 35-27 in Charlotte. The Saints were growing into a new defensive scheme facing what they called an unconventional offense.
"You're going to get the pistol, you're going to get the zone read, and the option," Vitt said. The offense is orchestrated by Cam Newton. He got off to a slow start, but has caught fire in recent weeks leading the Panthers to a three game winning streak and a 6 and 9 record.
New Orleans is trying to avoid getting swept by the Panthers this season. Carolina took the first match up, and the Saints say regardless of records, the motivation is to get to a respectable 8 and 8 record and a 4 and 2 record in the NFC south. Coach Joe Vitt called this team one of his all time favorites because of the adversity they've battled this season, and if they can get to even for the season... I think It's fair to say it's pretty commendable after starting 0 and 4.
The 6 and 8 Saints have a chance to damage the playoff hopes of the Dallas Cowboys Sunday in Big D. Dallas is 8 and 6 and in a three way tie atop the NFC east with the Giants and the Redskins.
"We worry more about ourselves and trying to get a win," Saints Quarterback Drew Brees told me.
That might be true, but knocking the Cowboys out would certainly provide Saints fans a little sugar to an otherwise sour season. The players and coaches insist they're intent on finishing the season strong and not "mailing it in."
The Injury report:
Saints FB Jed Collins is the only player to sit out of practice on Thursday. Offensive lineman Zach Strief, running back Pierre Thomas, and running back Chris Ivory were limited. Coach Joe Vitt says they're making progress with the injured guys, and he feels good about several of them having a chance to play this week.
You could make the argument Dallas is catching fire at the right time, winning 5 of their last 6 games and making a push at the playoffs. The Saints won't pack it in, they're too proud. They'll play hard against Dallas, but I don't think it will be enough. Tony Romo might be the hottest passer in the NFL right now. The pressure is on in Big D for the Cowboys to make a post-season run.
Dallas wins this one at home against a valiant effort from the Saints... Cowboys 31 - Saints 30.
I hope I never have to type that word again! Frankly, I'm sick of talking about it. However, it was the dominant theme of Saints camp this week after former commissioner Paul Tagliabue vacated the suspensions of former and current Saints players.
Coach Joe Vitt had little to say about the ruling other than "I'm happy our players were vindicated."
Quarterback Drew Brees had much more pointed comments. "I think the NFL and the commissioner were more concerned with an outcome than a fair process." Brees added that the commissioner mishandled the entire investigation. "Our coaches, and players were lied to the entire time by the league in their investigation."
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vima remains steadfast in his effort to clear his name, continuing to pursue his defamation lawsuit against Goodell.
Banged up team:
Six players, three of them starters, dotted the Saints initial injury report when the team returned to practice this week.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins (hamstring), OT Zach Strief (groin), and FB Jed Collins (toe) missed practice. OT Charles Brown (knee), DB Corey White (knee), and RB Chris Ivory (hamstring) are also fighting the injury bug.
At 5 and 8 the Saints are in unfamiliar territory in their recent history... not having a chance at the postseason at his point in the year. Three consecutive years of post-season play is coming to an end this year.
12.12.12 Kristian@wwl.com - I think we learned what we expected when former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue rendered his ruling that vacated the suspensions of former and current Saints players. We learned the NFL's case and claims of an alleged bounty was not as air tight as they originally lead us to believe. However, we also learned that according to the findings of Goodell and Tagliabue, the Saints coaching staff, including Sean Payton, knew of the system in place and did nothing to stop it. In fact, they admitted to being less than truthful through the process. So, remove the fact there was no bounty system in place, but merely a pay for performance in place. Does that make it any less concerning? It shouldn't!
Head coach, Sean Payton, allegedly knew about it. If that's true, then it's a clear failure in leadership. The leader who has done such an extraordinary job of leading this team on the field, failed in the face of adversity. It was his job to stop it. Furthermore, Payton was a part of the coaching staff that misled investigators and encouraged players to cover it up. The simple fix would have been to knock it off. Wait, the real simple fix would have been to not allow it to go on in the first place. Payton has preached character from his players since arriving in New Orleans back in 2006. This kind of behavior flies in the face of men with character. So, it wasn't a bounty, but would we all agree there was a pay for performance system in place? Coaches and players have said they've never participated in a pay to injure program. Yesterday's ruling proves that. However, there was some less than above board behavior going on. That much I'm certain of. That much is disturbing. Leaders lead.
Now more than ever Payton owes the city, the fans, and the organization. Payton led the Saints into calm, crystal clear waters of a Super Bowl championship; he also led them into the choppy, murky waters of the biggest scandal in franchise history. Sean Payton, by his lack of action, was instrumental in a lost season that originally had Saints fans thinking Super Bowl in their own home town. I'm not too big on proving loyalty when it comes to negotiating contracts and in business. In this case I think Payton owes it to team owner Tom Benson, the organization, the players and you, the fans, to return and fix the mess he created with a lack of institutional control. He needs to take a stand for right over wrong. He's the head coach. He’s head honcho. He didn't act like it. Payton didn't show conviction when faced with tremendous controversy. He missed the mark of a truly great leader.
Can the Saints put this behind them and regain momentum that carried the Black & Gold to 41 wins in the previous three seasons? Time will tell, but the 2012 season is one they'll never get back. The window of opportunity is only open for a short time in the NFL. Let's hope the Saints can keep the window open just a bit longer and Payton rectifies the situation in 2013. 2012 is over, and for the most part so is the bounty mess.
Leaders lead. Now, Coach Payton…inspire us. Lead. Let’s do the job.
Have you ever seen one of those signs reading "help wanted" hanging in business? Well, the Saints should have one at 5800 Airline drive, because they need a lot of it to get to the postseason. At 5-7, The Saints do not control their own destiny and need a number of scenarios to play out in order to qualify for the tournament. None the less, the Saints remain confident they can run the table starting with this Sunday against Eli Manning (above) and the New York Giants.
The Saints are about as healthy as they've been... perhaps since training camp. Offensive lineman Charles Brown (knee) and defensive back Corey White (knee) were the only two players that missed practice Thursday. Safety Roman Harper (ribs) who was limited on Wednesday was "full go" Thursday.
The Saints have talked all week about getting pressure on Giants quarterback Eli Manning as a big key to getting the win over New York. That won't be easy. Manning has been sacked just 15 times this season.
"He throws the ball off his back foot, and does a good job with it. The ball is accurate and still on time. You can see he's in sync with his receivers. He's really tough to get to," Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins told me.
Jenkins added that stopping the run will go a long way in slowing down the Giants. New York averages 114 yards a game on the ground. The Saints are giving up over 150 yards a game on the ground this season. What gives?
It's hard to describe the Giants as a desperate team with a 7 and 5 record and leading the NFC east division, but they are desperate. The Redskins are hot on their tail, and their 3 game lead has evaporated to just 1. The Giants are at home, they need the win to stay atop the division. The Giants are favored by 4.5 points, and I like them to cover.
New York 34 - New Orleans 28.
The Saints will fall to 5-8, albeit disappointing, it kind of makes sense when you look at what this team has had to deal with this season.
The Saints say they got a "bonus day" of practice this week as they get ready for their match up with the New York Giants. Because they were off over the weekend, after playing last Thursday, the Saints did work out on their normal off day – Monday.
"We have an opportunity to do something special this weekend against the defending Super Bowl champions," said Saints defensive back Jabari Greer.
Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue wrapped up bounty appeals hearings this week in New Orleans. Reports say he will likely rule next week. Coach Joe Vitt was among those who testified on the behalf of defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Vitt missed Monday's practice to testify. Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer ran the practice in his stead. The Saints won't use it as an excuse, but the bounty saga has definitely zapped some energy from this team.
What might have been just as disheartening as the loss to the Falcons was the fact that the Saints defense played their best game of the season, holding the Falcons to 1 of 11 on third down and forcing 5 straight three and outs.
"We're trying to get to good, when we get to good, we're trying to get great, and then we want to be the greatest; we always want to improve," Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said.