Brian Allee-Walsh

Dismantling of Colts has New Orleans Saints back in wildcard picture

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton speaks to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton speaks to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) AP

Two thoughts flooded my brain Sunday as I watched the New Orleans Saints dominate the Colts for 41 minutes, then hold on for dear life at open-air Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.

One, Why would Sean Payton want to coach the Colts?

Two, this is the best team in the AFC Gone-South? At 3-4, they are the first team with a losing record to lead a division after seven games since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

I lied.

Actually, three thoughts raced through my mind.

If I'm Colts owner Jim Irsay, I know who I'd want coaching my football team next season, and it isn't Chuck Pagano.

Not based on what I saw Sunday.

Not if reports out of Indianapolis are true that Pagano and Colts GM Ryan Grigson exchanged verbal punches in their locker room after the game. The Colts were not prepared to play and that falls squarely on Pagano, who was thoroughly out-coached by Payton.

In fact, with upcoming games against the undefeated Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos on the horizon, Pagano may not last the season.

Again, not based on what I saw Sunday.

Not if Colts quarterback Andrew Luck plays against the Panthers and Broncos as he did for the first 41 minutes against the Saints. Of all the highly acclaimed quarterbacks the Saints have faced this season, Luck seemed overwhelmed, frustrated and totally confused by defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's passive/aggressive, mix-and-match game plan and ill-equipped to solve the inspired play of Ryan's young defensive unit.

Luck also didn't look fully recovered from a sprained throwing shoulder that sidelined him in Weeks 4 and 5, which played well into Ryan's scheme.

Luck's final stats were terribly misleading -- 333 passing yards and three TDs. On the scoring passes of 86 and 47 yards to T.Y. Hilton, Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux slipped down in coverage enabling the wide receiver to make the catch and run free into the end zone.

Until those scoring plays on back-to-back possessions late in the third quarter, Ryan's defense had been pitching a shutout against the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft who led the Colts into last season's AFC championship game against New England.

Of the six QBs the Saints previously faced this season, I would rank Luck behind Carson Palmer, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, Sam Bradford and Matt Ryan and ahead of only Dallas Cowboys backup Brandon Weeden in terms of game-day performance.

So now, the Black and Gold has climbed back into the playoff picture, albeit the NFC wildcard hunt because the Carolina Panthers (6-0) and Atlanta Falcons (6-1) remain entrenched at the top of the NFC South.

It is what it is.

The Saints just need to keep sawing wood, continuing Sunday against the NFC East-leading New York Giants (4-3) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. A win against the G-Men would make it three straight and elevate the Saints to 4-4, unthinkable only a month ago after opening the season 0-3, including an inexplicable home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2.

Keep in mind, the Saints reached the .500 mark at 4-4 the day before Halloween last season with a 28-10 win at Carolina on national TV. Then, they self destructed, losing to Cincinnati, Baltimore and San Francisco at home, eventually finishing 7-9.

I'll leave you with this thought: It speaks volumes about the Saints' current position in the NFL when a two-game winning streak and getting to the .500 mark at mid-season for a second consecutive year has Who Dat Nation all in atwitter.

Atwitter ... as in nervously excited, not a posting on the social media website.

Oh, the times they are a changin'.

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