Brian Allee-Walsh

Saints play inspired in win over Falcons

"Well look, it's a start.''

No truer words have been uttered by New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, who aptly summed up his team's wire-to-wire 31-21 victory Thursday night against the overwhelmed Atlanta Falcons inside the Black and Gold fun house.

Perhaps, that impressive, long overdue 60-minute performance will kick start a run of wins that will get the Saints back in the NFC South hunt.

The Falcons (5-1) and the Seattle-bound Carolina Panthers (4-0, though they could be 4-1 by nightfall Sunday) remain in control of the division.

The future looks more promising now for the Saints after Thursday night's prime-time smackdown, but one good win does not a season make. Beating Indianapolis on the road in Week 7 and the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans at home in Weeks 8 and 9 would help matters immensely going into a Week 10 road game at Washington.

A trifecta of wins would put the Saints at 5-4 and above .500 for the first time since the 2013 season.

So, here is a multiple choice question:

Where has the Week 6 Saints team been the first five weeks?

(a) On paid sabbatical.

(b) Learning how to play complementary football.

(c) Trying to find its inner self.

(d) Waiting on the Falcons.

(e) All of the above.

I can make a case for (e), all of the above.

(a) They continued to get paid well, even though they collectively failed to show up for more than a month of the regular season.

(b) A team's best chance of winning usually occurs when all three phases contribute -- offense, defense and special teams. In the immortal words of Iron Mike Ditka, "We became a team today! We became a team today!'' The very next week, Ditka's team imploded and he wondered if he was the right man for the job. It turned out he wasn't.

(c) Yes, the Saints roster features a plethora of new/inexperienced NFL players. And yes, they've had numerous medical hardships. So what. They are paid to show up and do their best, and that includes Payton and his assistant coaches. They haven't done that ... until Thursday night.

(d) The night turned out to be a perfect storm. Think about it: The undefeated Dirty Birds, on a national stage, inside the loud and boisterous Mercedes-Benz Superdome, on a night when the spotlight fell on ALS afflicted former Saints special teams player Steve Gleason.

It didn't hurt that Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones probably wasn't himself with a tweaked hamstring, taking nothing away from Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux who played brilliantly in pass coverage.

It didn't hurt that the Falcons' O-line couldn't block Saints defensive lineman Cam Jordan (3 sacks, fumble recovery).

It didn't hurt that the Falcons have no pass rush, enabling Saints quarterback Drew Brees to weave his prime-time magic and continue his mastery over the Falcons.

It didn't hurt that the Falcons couldn't cover Saints tight end Benjamin Watson (career highs with 10 catches for 127 yards and one TD). In five previous games, he only had 15 catches for 139 yards and one score.

It didn't hurt that the Falcons had trouble holding onto the ball (five fumbles, three lost).

It didn't hurt that no one accounted for Saints linebacker Michael Mauti, who blocked a punt, recovered the loose ball and ran four yards for a momentum-changing touchdown.

That block, scoop and score, Mauti said afterward, is for Gleason.

That huge team win, the players said afterward, is for Who Dat Nation.

But Payton said it best: "It's a start.''

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

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