Saints settle old score with Gregg Williams, breathe new life into season

NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints' offense exploded Sunday on former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and the Los Angeles Rams -- and coach Sean Payton appeared to relish every minute of it.

Payton also appeared to be calling his own plays for the first time this season in between post-touchdown fist pumps and smirks, as the Saints opened up a can of everything in their playbook in a 49-21 victory over the Rams.

The icing on the cake was a trick-play touchdown with 10 minutes, 15 seconds remaining -- when Saints receiver Willie Snead (a former high school quarterback) threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to running back Tim Hightower to expand the lead to 28 points.

Payton was not asked directly if he was motivated to beat Williams. When asked about being so animated on the sideline, Payton said, “I was a little excited. Listen, it was an important win for us.”

But Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief acknowledged the obvious, saying, "It does, it means something. There’s more there. So, good for Coach."

"I didn’t see anything out of him, necessarily. I just know better," Strief said. "The message all week was, ‘Our back’s against the wall. ... There’s no room for error.’ At no point did he ever say or act differently that I could see. But I’ll be honest for him and say there’s no way [it didn't matter].

"And I understand why people can’t say that. Nothing was different in his actions that I could see, but I know better."

Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro added, "[Payton] was fired up. We all know why."

Payton continued to have some fun on social media Sunday night, tweeting out a link to a "Circle of Life" video -- though the specific reference was unclear.

Earlier this week, Payton and Williams downplayed the relevance of Williams' first game back in the Superdome since his exit in 2012 and the Bountygate scandal that soon followed.

But it seemed apparent that from Payton's standpoint, there might still be animosity over the alleged pay-for-injury program that Williams coordinated in New Orleans from 2009 to 2011 -- and feelings that Williams cooperated with the league's investigation.

Payton and Williams were suspended for a full season in 2012.

The Saints coach shook hands with Rams coach Jeff Fisher, quarterback Jared Goff and several others after the game, but he and Williams never appeared to cross paths on the field.

Payton was asked if it helped him to be so familiar with the defensive coordinator from a playcalling strategy, but he said that’s overrated since teams have so much film on one another.

The closest Payton came to taking a jab at Williams in his postgame news conference was stressing more than once that he “clearly” thought the Saints’ offensive line won the physical battle up front against the Rams’ defense.

Meanwhile, as the Saints (5-6) were settling an old score, they were also breathing new life into their season following two painful losses by a total of five points in the previous two weeks.

Their 49 points and 28-point margin of victory were season highs. Their 555 yards of total offense ranked second on the season.

They were also surprisingly dynamic even with their most explosive playmaker, receiver Brandin Cooks, being held without a catch.

Drew Brees threw for 310 yards and four touchdowns, adding another on a 1-yard run. He now has 30 career games with four touchdown passes, behind only Peyton Manning (35).

Running back Mark Ingram had 14 carries for 146 yards, including a 61-yarder. He had a 10-yard touchdown run and a 21-yard touchdown catch.

And rookie receiver Michael Thomas made two spectacular touchdown receptions and finished with nine catches for 108 yards, as his stellar rookie year continues. It was his second 100-yard game and second two-touchdown game.

The Saints' defense had trouble with Goff early, allowing three touchdown passes. But it continued its recent surge by shutting out the Rams and holding them to a total of 60 yards in the second half. Rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins forced a sack-fumble, and Vaccaro snagged an interception.

Up next is another home date with the Detroit Lions (7-4), as the Saints look to make a late-season playoff run. Unfortunately for New Orleans, the 7-4 Atlanta Falcons didn't let up on their NFC South lead Sunday.

The Saints might have to win out -- or maybe surrender one loss, tops -- to have a chance to climb within one game of the Falcons before they meet in Atlanta in Week 17.