Sean Payton is back.
That storyline has been played more than those Honda commercials this offseason. But what does it really mean?
Since Sean Payton was hired in 2006, the Saints have compiled a 67-37 overall record, including 5-3 in the postseason, in games Payton has coached. Payton has led the charge to three division championships, a conference championship and a Super Bowl win.
In the six seasons prior to Payton’s arrival in New Orleans, Jim Haslett’s inconsistent teams compiled a 45-51 record with one playoff win.
That’s the obvious, major difference Payton brought to the team — wins.
But his impact, as last season proved, goes much deeper. As the Saints stumbled to a 7-9 record while Payton sat out his year-long bounty-related suspension, the team’s numbers stumbled too. Drew Brees threw for 5,177 yards and 43 touchdowns, but also tossed 19 interceptions — the second-highest total of his career.
In 2011, with Payton in his ear, Brees completed 71% of his passes (63% in 2012), threw for 5,476 yards, tossed 46 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions.
The running game was a shadow of its Payton-influenced self. In 2012, while Aaron Kromer and Joe Vitt were at the helm, the Saints ran for 1,577 yards. In 2011, under Payton, the team tallied 2,127 yards.
And the defense. Let’s not even discuss what happened with the defense.
Sean Payton obviously means a lot on the field, but his presence off the field is probably more valuable. At practice. In meetings. Game planning. In the locker room. At team meals.
Payton just being Payton gives the team an extra kick in its step. He holds players accountable. He demands excellence. And no matter what the players said prior to last season about putting the bounty distractions aside and “doing their job” for Sean Payton, it wasn’t possible. It was overwhelming and it caught up with the team. The 0-4 start was too much to overcome.
Sunday marks the beginning of a new, distraction-free season. A fresh start. The aura of the bounty suspensions is gone and a return to the playoffs (playoffs?!) dominates conversation.
So what’s the best way for the Saints to put a forgetful 2012 behind them and get back on track? Roasted Falcon.
Sean Payton is back.