When the New Orleans Saints lost their starting quarterback and the team's living legend Drew Brees to a torn thumb ligament on his throwing hand over two weeks ago, the belief at that time among most expert analysts that cover the NFL was that the Black and Gold would be destined to suffer through a disappointing season.
But now only just two short weeks later, the Saints now suddenly find themselves sitting on top of the current NFC South Division standings with a (3-1) win-loss record, following an unlikely and somewhat unexpected pair of back-to-back victories over NFC Playoff contenders the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys, despite being heavy "underdogs" in each of those games.
And the credit for that stunning accomplishment clearly belongs to one man: head coach Sean Payton.
While the current 2019 NFL Season might only be one-quarter of the way complete (4 out of 16 scheduled games), the 55-year old Payton undoubtedly appears to be having one of the very best efforts of his entire 30-plus years coaching career; which dates all the way back to the late 1980's as a young college assistant position coach.
Yes, I know that the 2019 NFL Season is only a quarter of the way finished thus far
— Barry Hirstius (@BarryHirstius) September 30, 2019
And that effort in the eyes of many, makes him a clear-cut candidate for 2019 NFL Head Coach of the Year honors that will be announced at the end of the season. It's an award that he won once before in his current position; which he won originally in his very first season as the team's head coach following the 2006 NFL Season — when he led the team to a division championship and their first-ever appearance in the NFC Championship Game.
It's an effort that hasn't gone unnoticed by his players either; and in a recent interview with ESPN beat writer Mike Triplett; a few of those players openly expressed their appreciation for the job that their boss is doing, which essentially has made their own jobs much easier: which is trying to keep the team competitive and winning games while Brees remains absent and out of the starting line-up until his expected return early next month.
“I would say Drew's been the heart and soul, but Coach Payton is the leader of this team,” back-up #3 QB and jack-of-all-trades player Taysom Hill said to Triplett. “I would tell you, from the day we've arrived here until now, his spirits have been really positive, really good. And that energy and his positivity throughout the week has been something that we've all felt, and I know that I certainly appreciate it."
As it turns out, Hill wasn't the only player who shared that sentiment.
“It’s not normal to have a coach who’s gonna be the one firing up the guys,” starting offensive right guard Larry Warford told Triplett. “But he feels like he’s legitimately part of the team. He’s not like above us, he’s with us. So it’s good to have a coach like that in this type of situation.”
Warford's fellow O-Line mate and starting offensive left tackle Terron Armstead also agreed with that assessment of his head coach's abilities and unwavering leadership qualities, despite the adversity that they've all collectively had to endure and overcome.
“A lot of different things get Coach going. A lot of different things get his blood boiling and get him going,” Armstead said. “So whatever is fueling him for the day, we’ll take it, and we’ll feed off it.”
Assuming that Brees’ healing and rehab goes as planned, the Black and Gold only will need to get through 4 more games until they get him back under center — a stretch of games in the 2nd half of the season that will be crucial for the team’s playoff hopes.
After their back-to-back wins over the Seahawks and then the Cowboys the other night, the Saints next will host their division rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this upcoming Sunday at the Superdome; before they eventually go back on the road to face the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Chicago Bears in back-to-back weeks. New Orleans will then return home back to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, to face the Arizona Cardinals before their Week #9 Bye Week.
Even If the Saints only manage to win just one game in those next 4 games, it will give them a break-even win-loss record (4-4) and would still provide them with a great shot at contending in what obviously appears to be a “weak" NFC South Division this year.
While some of the so-called experts might think that the Saints aren’t capable of pulling it off, the only thing that truly matters at this point is that the team and organization themselves believe that they can.
And it’s all thanks in part to the man who has been in charge of everything for the past 13 years, and the man who has brought the Saints franchise its one and only World Championship victory in Super Bowl XLIV (44) ten years ago).
Payton's reputation as an offensive "mastermind" and his creativity at calling plays has long been respected; but this current season appears to be trending towards a referendum on his underappreciated qualities as a leader among men; and the steady and guiding presence that he provides for both the team itself and the entire Saints organization as a whole.
Payton. who just weeks ago signed a brand-new 5-year contract extension that wll keep him around as the team;s head coach through the 2024 NFL Season, doesn't really need to prove anything to anybody at this point.
As it was noted by Triplett: Payton’s longevity is already so rare that he is one of just six coaches during the Super Bowl era to have at least two 11-win seasons in his second decade as coach of the same team.
So the onus or expectation to produce results (as in, victories) isn't nearly as great, as it is more so about him proving to everyone that he do it WITHOUT Brees in the line-up — a predicament that he will inevitably face once again in the future once the 40-year old Brees retires for good.
Certainly the team's performance in these past two weeks has given Payton and the organization (and obviously the rabid and passionate "Who Dat Nation" fan-base) a reason to believe that he indeed can pull it off, in spite of the overwhelming odds and adversity that they've had to overcome.
The Saints have still managed to get to (3-1) with a phenomenal effort by their defense and special teams, and although their offense being led currently by back-up #2 QB Teddy Bridgewater still has some issues to work out and get corrected, their ultimate success or failure lies with the man responsible for making it all come together on NFL Sundays.
A man who if we're being completely honest given everything that's transpired in the last few weeks, deserves to be a clear-cut candidate to be eventually chosen as the 2019 NFL Head Coach of the Year....