New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton brushed off a specific question Saturday night about how gratifying his team’s 26-24 playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles was, after he missed an entire season because of his Bountygate suspension.
However, later in the postgame news conference, Payton did briefly reference the suspension, lumping it in with all of the other reasons why he was so pleased with the way his team responded to adversity this season.
“With the injuries we’ve had -- and we’ve had a number of them -- and with all of the other stuff, including last year, we are sitting here with 12 wins. And I am extremely proud of them,” Payton said.
It’s easy to forget that the Saints experienced a bumpy start to the season because they began 5-0 and so quickly returned to elite status with Payton and new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan leading the charge. But Payton made a point even last week to make sure his players were proud of their 11-win season -- which he stressed is an impressive accomplishment in the NFL, especially considering their tough strength-of-schedule.
In the preseason, the Saints lost three potential starters to season-ending injuries: linebackers Will Smith and Victor Butler, and defensive end Kenyon Coleman. In the past two months, they lost starting cornerback Jabari Greer and starting safety Kenny Vaccaro, also to injuries, and role players Joe Morgan, Jonathan Vilma and Patrick Robinson.
Payton admitted during the Saints’ late-season slump that he still wasn’t sure of this team’s identity -- it’s actually a younger roster than most people realize. But he clearly has been impressed with the way it responded after some poor road performances by putting up a good fight at Carolina in a 17-13 loss in Week 16, then winning at Philadelphia.
In fact, Payton’s only regret Sunday seemed to be that the Saints didn’t win by a larger margin, after the way they executed so many things so well against the Eagles (the two first-half interceptions notwithstanding).
“When you look at the time of possession, third-down snaps, the rushing totals, total yardage, I thought defensively we did a great job considering some of the injuries we had [to cornerback Keenan Lewis and linebacker Parys Haralson during the game]," Payton said. "The running game really helped us, and in the kicking game we came up with the plays we needed. It was a great team game . . .
“Our job is to win, and our job is to be consistent and be successful whether we play at home or on the road. We played well enough yesterday to get that win.”