Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
NEW ORLEANS -- Since they won’t say it, I will.
The New Orleans Saints are the best team in the National Football League. The only qualifier I’ll throw in is "right now." That’s a lot stronger than saying they’re the best team in the NFC, the NFC South or that out-of-date line about them being a great offense and a lousy defense.
The Saints are a great team, period.
“I feel like we’re a different team -- in general,’’ quarterback Drew Brees said in reference to two disappointing seasons that, now, are in the distant past and have absolutely no relevance.
The Saints have felt this way dating back to their offseason workouts and minicamps. Now, it’s time for the rest of us to catch on. What happened Sunday is proof to the world that the Saints are for real.
They don’t have to tell us they’re the best team in the league because they went out and showed it. The New York Giants, the team so many people thought was the best in the league, came into New Orleans and the Saints made them look like a lower-tier team. New Orleans won 48-27 and it wasn’t even that close.
The Saints had an extra point blocked. That’s about the only thing that hasn’t been perfect for the 5-0 Saints this season and it’s no fluke. The Saints no longer are one-dimensional. Their best dimension has gotten even better and, whatever you do, don’t call them a finesse team. They don’t like that a bit and you can’t really argue with anything the Saints are doing right now.
For the first time in a long time, they won a big game.
“The more big games you win, the more big games you play in,’’ offensive lineman Jon Stinchcomb said.
Well, get ready for lots more big games for the Saints. They’re the best team in the league and here are the four main reasons why:
1. Brees already was great. Now, he’s just about perfect. Brees was 23-of-30 for 369 yards and four touchdowns against the Giants.
“You are an idiot if he doesn’t amaze you,’’ receiver Lance Moore said.
The list of idiots is dwindling fast. It used to be easy to shoot Brees down and point to the Super Bowl rings Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have won when talking about the league’s best quarterback. A win against the previously unbeaten Giants, a team that’s not all that far removed from a Super Bowl championship, gives the Brees supporters some ammunition.
“What amazes me is how consistently great and special he is,’’ Stinchcomb said. “Every day, he’s at his best. Every day.’’
2. The offense isn’t all Brees anymore. The most amazing thing about Brees throwing for 5,000 yards last year was that he did it largely by himself -- with no true No. 1, or even No. 2, targets and he had almost no running game. That’s all changed. Wide receiver Marques Colston is back to full health after being banged up most of last season. So is tight end Jeremy Shockey. They both caught touchdowns Sunday. So did Moore and Robert Meachem.
The offensive line continued its stellar performance, allowing just one sack. But it’s not just about passing anymore. The Saints can run the ball. Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell shared the load against the Giants and the Saints sprinkled in some Reggie Bush. The Saints out-rushed the Giants 133 to 84 yards.
A finesse team? I don't think so.
3. The finesse label might not be a bad thing for an offense, but that tag used to fall on the defense. The Saints weren’t even a bend-but-don’t break defense the last two seasons. The D just broke down repeatedly, and that’s the main reason the Saints haven’t been to the playoffs since the 2006 season.
But that’s changed completely. The Saints got Eli Manning, who has won a Super Bowl, to throw an interception and lose a fumble. They also sacked him twice and shut down one of the league’s best running games.
Finesse defenses aren’t supposed to do that.
“I can’t tell you how much our offense feeds off our defense and vice versa,’’ Brees said.
New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and free-agent pickups Darren Sharper and Jabari Greer have brought a whole new attitude to the defense. They go out and make things happen and that’s translating into wins.
4. Sean Payton is a much better coach than he was last year. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis is their willingness to adapt and learn from the past. Payton’s always been a great offensive mind, but I didn’t think he was a very good head coach last year. Now, he is.
Payton realized he needed to do something drastic about the defense. He went out and got Williams and that’s worked. Payton realized he needed more balance in the running game. He’s let Thomas and Bell pound away at times this year and that’s worked. Payton also realized that part of the reason for last year’s rash of injuries was that he worked his team too hard. He’s taken his foot off the gas this year, lightening training camp a bit and giving his team some extra time off during the bye week.
“Coach gave us all the tools,’’ Greer said. “He gave us time to rest and recuperate.’’
The Saints are about as healthy as any team. They’re also clicking everywhere on offense and defense. That’s why they’re the best team in the NFL right now.