There are a couple of ways to go about making a case for Sean Payton as the NFL’s Coach of the Year for 2012. The first route would be the Peyton Manning as NFL MVP 2011 route. With Manning forced to sit out the entire 2011 season while he rehabbed his neck injury, the Colts fell from 10-6 in 2010 to 2-14 in 2011, with much of the same roster. There wasn’t a voter who deemed Manning worthy of an MVP vote, but if I had one, he would have been a consideration. Likewise, if you look at where the Saints were in 2011 (13-3, bounced by the 49ers in the divisional round) to where they were through the first four games of the 2012 season (0-4), it’s pretty easy to make a case for Sean Payton as being the most important coach in the NFL. Sure, there were player suspension, and others who were suspended, but it is fairly clear where the true genius of the franchise lies.
The other way to show his value to the team, and the dramatic effect he has on Saints’ players would be to consider how they have played since the beginning of week 5. Drew Brees petitioned the NFL to allow Sean Payton in to the Superdome, so that his coach would witness him break Johnny Unitas’ record for most consecutive games throwing a TD pass, and that request was granted. Brees not only broke the record, but he led the Saints to their first win of the season defeating the Chargers 31-24. Clearly, the Chargers have not been a very good team to this point in the season, but a win is a win, no matter who the victim is.
Following their week 6 bye, the Saints took out the Tampa Bay Bucs yesterday 35-28 yesterday. Now the Bucs are another team that aren’t exactly crushing teams, and it did take a review that overturned a last-second TD for the Bucs for the Saints to hold on to the victory, but again, they won. For those keeping track at home, they’re 2-0 since Sean Payton and the Saints were all under the same roof.
The next two weeks should prove whether or not the Saints might be able to fight their way back in to the NFC playoff picture with games at Denver next Sunday night, and then at home versus the Eagles the following Sunday. If the Saints are able to top both of those teams, that would leave them at 4-4. At the halfway point of the season, it would be likely that they would be out of the South division chase, but still quite alive in the NFL wild card chase (unless you buy in to the thought that Arizona and/or Seattle is good. I don’t.) Once you get by current division leaders, there hasn’t been a whole lot of consistency from any one team in the NFC. It seems as if Green Bay has finally righted their ship, but at the same time, it seems unlikely that Minnesota will continue playing .714 ball. At some point in time, they’ll remember they’re the Vikings and come back to Earth.
If the Saints were to reach that point, I think it would be important to remember the man who would have inspired that run. No one whose vote counts is going to throw one Sean Payton’s way, for any number of different reasons. I can’t help but believe that having Payton in the building for that one game helped inspire the Saints, and it might have also helped them come together as a team. They may have been reminded of everything they have been put through by the NFL’s decision to make them out as the Most Evil Franchise in the NFL, and used it as motivation to step their play up. They’ve got a long way to go, but with Brees at the helm, I wouldn’t count him out. I also wouldn’t forget the man who helped get him to where he is today.
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