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DATELINE: NEW ORLEANS, LA (Saints embrace Payton's pending tough love)

The substitute teachers are no longer in charge and soon the visor will be back leading his classroom. The Saints know full well he won't return happy and will be hungry to crack the whip again.

Its like an impending storm on the horizon but these Saints know exactly what will hit them---soon Sean Payton will be back in their faces.

"I already know he'll probably sit me down for two and a half hours and rip me," Jimmy Graham told me.

Yeah Sheriff Sean Payton is poised to come back to town and put his team back on the same track that he left them on. That track won't be 7 wins or a defense giving up over 7-thousand yards. Following the Saints unlucky 7th season in the Payton era (albeit without Payton this time around) the team knows full well---life will now be tougher and more challenging.

Its an environment they can't wait to dive back into again. The Saints have missed a lot about the coach that brought all of them to New Orleans---first and foremost his ability to teach and make them better.

"His ability to see things from a far, (is) what in alot of cases other guys don't see," Drew Brees told me when I asked him what he thinks Sean Payton has thought about what he's seen since being suspended for the season. Brees knows what this team has missed and is eagerly awaiting the return and more importantly the insight that Payton will instantly bring back to the team. "He's able to boil it down to a couple of critical things that really make all the difference for you, Brees told me, "its one of his great strengths its why he's the best."

Credit the Saints for believing they could carry on the Payton torch this season---something they tried to talk themselves into during training camp but clearly it was easier said than done. Any team would miss a coach on Payton's level--can you imagine the Patriots losing Belichick or the Packers losing Mike McCarthy? You miss the adjustments, you miss the steady hand and yes you miss the intimidating presence of a coach you are often scared to disappoint. There is simply no replacement for any of the above.

Joe Vitt and Aaron Kromer in many ways were put in no win situations. They were expected to take over the role of leading the team, knowing in just a few months  they would have to go back to being assistant coaches and being peers with the same men they were once presiding over. It was a recipe for disaster and played out that way this season with the franchise falling out of the playoff picture and falling below the 500 mark for the first time in 5 seasons.

I asked several Saints after its last game versus Carolina what they will expect it to be like when they see and meet with Sean Payton again. While the answers were different the reactions were the same---every player I talked to started smiling and gave off the aura that all would be right in the world again. They know nobody is harder on them than Sean Payton but at the same time no other coach has ever made them collectively better either.

Brees says he never "stressed out" about talk that Payton wouldn't come back but he learned something about himself with the absence of his head coach this year. "Gotta keep pressing on," Brees told me, "especially at times when you want to beat yourself up." Drew clearly tried to do too much at times this season without having the ultimate security blanket in his ear all year.

The Saints quarterback and his team know Payton will bring a different perspective when he returns as their Head Coach. Payton endured a different view from above this fall and his players are anxious to hear all of his feedback which surely isn't all positive.

You know one aspect of this team Payton has liked is his guys' attitude. They lost its first four but didn't give up winning five of its next six. They then lost its next three only to not give up on its final three efforts. "The good thing about this team is we've always stayed together," Graham said after the Carolina finale.

That was surely the case this season. The Saints didn't take advantage of its substitute teachers---something its man in charge has taken notice of the past season in his perch from a far. A perch where the notebooks are full and the memory bank is on overload. Soon Sean Payton will return---get ready Saints-- surely you know what's coming.


BREES BONUS: Drew Brees missed his coach but you couldn't tell it by the numbers. He became the only QB in NFL history to throw for over 5000 yards in back to back seasons and three separate seasons. His 5,177 yards was the second best total in his career. Drew also threw 43 TD's which was the second best total of his career where he joined Dan Marino as the only QB's to pass for more than 40 in two different years. He's the first to do it in back to back years.

WORST DEFENSE EVER? They say stats don't lie and if that's the case this Saints defense which has improved in the 2nd half of the season has still given up the most total yards in NFL history and became the first unit to ever surrender more than seven thousand--finishing with 7,042. Its the worst total since the 1981 Baltimore Colts who actually won 10 games plus a playoff contest that year.

MOORE FROM LANCE: Lance Moore had an outstanding finale leading the team with 121 yards to put him over 1000 yards for the first time in his career. With the loss and the season, Moore told me the milestone was "bittersweet.' Jimmy Graham was 18 yards shy of 1000 which would have given the Saints three 1000 yard targets which believe it or not has happened five other times in NFL history---08 Cardinals, 04 Colts,93 Falcons, 89 Redskins and 80 Chargers.

MIGHTY MARQUES: Colston led the Saints with 1,154 receiving yards--the 6th time in his NFL career he's eclipsed the mark. (How has this guy never made the Pro Bowl??!!) Colston set the team's career touchdown record this year and against Carolina tied Eric Martin's club record with 532 career receptions.

2013 SCHEDULE: We don't know the dates but we know the destinations for the Saints' 2013 schedule.
         HOME: Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Miami, Arizona, San Francisco, Dallas
         AWAY: Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay, New England, NY Jets, St Louis, Seattle, Chicago

NOBODY ASKED ME BUT: Being 16 million over the Salary Cap will translate into a multitude of changes this offseason especially on the defensive side of the football. The biggest unrestricted free agent priority will be left tackle Jermon Bushrod where the Saints can only hope another suitor doesn't overpay him on the market. I wouldn't be surprised if we've seen the last Saints game from Devery Henderson, Sedrick Ellis and Scott Shanle. Other cap casualties could be Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith and maybe Roman Harper. A lot of changes will occur this offseason where Drew Brees told me afterwards its always hard to finish the season knowing you won't see this particular team together again.

Mike Nabors

Mike Nabors's photo

By: Mike Nabors

An Emmy award winning sports reporter who covers a wide variety of events for CST. Primarily, Mike serves as the network's reporter for Saints coverage.


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