Brian Allee-Walsh

Sean Payton and enigmatic Saints better find ‘it’ in a hurry

Saints coach Sean Payton challenges the officials during the team’s loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday in New Orleans.
Saints coach Sean Payton challenges the officials during the team’s loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday in New Orleans. AP

The National Football League is a bottom line business.

The bottom line is the 2016 New Orleans Saints lack what it takes to be a good team on a weekly basis, no different than in 2012, 2014 and 2015 when they finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs under coach Sean Payton.

No stronger evidence than their past two games:

  • In Week 12, an inspired 49-21 victory at home against the overwhelmed Los Angeles Rams.
  • In Week 13, an uninspired 28-13 loss at home against the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions, a prohibitive road underdog in most betting parlors.

It wasn’t that the Saints lost, it was how they lost.

The Lions played with a purpose, in a higher gear, with a strong mindset, and put forth a total team effort for 60 minutes. They are what their 8-4 record says they are.

The Black and Gold (5-7) played as if it were the last game of the regular season with nothing at stake.

Here’s the rub for me.

Afterward, Payton acknowledged “it starts with me.”

Yes, it does.

It starts and ends with him. It revolves around him. Everything Saints goes through him, in him and around him.

The good, bad and ugly.

Super Bowl XLIV. Conference and division championships.

Bounty gate.

Prolific offensive units with sure-fire first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees.

Historically bad defensive units under multiple coordinators.

Underwhelming special teams with 11 different kickers in as many seasons.

Indeed, it all starts with Sean Payton, the $9 million-a-year coach who’s widely considered a brilliant offensive mind.

That said, whatever “it” is, the Saints haven’t had it in a while.

Consider:

  • Since Bounty Gate first became public knowledge in early 2012 and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed down the unprecedented sanctions against the Saints’ organization and top officials, the Black and Gold have had one winning season (11-5 in 2013), made one playoff appearance (2013) and posted a cumulative regular-season record of 37-39.
  • With one home game remaining this season (Tampa Bay, Dec. 24), the Saints are 10-13 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome since the beginning of the 2014 season. Their last winning season at home came in 2013 when they went 8-0.

And yet, the Saints are still alive in the NFC South race. They may be on life support but they ain’t dead yet.

Three of their last four games come against division co-leaders Tampa Bay and Atlanta, including Sunday’s road game against the streaking Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.

Whatever “it” is, Payton and the Saints better find it in a hurry.

Brian Allee-Walsh is a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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