Not even a broken leg and torn-up knee can slow the New Orleans Saints these days. To the coach, that is.
Sean Payton suffered a torn meniscus and broken tibia in his left leg when he got the worst of a sideline collision as Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was tackled against Tampa Bay on Oct. 16. Payton underwent surgery the next day and will be on crutches for the next two months.
"A lot of ice, a lot of treatment, a lot of movement in rehab," Payton said Wednesday in a conference call with St. Louis reporters. "Their training room has changed a little bit with the coach sitting in there every morning, every afternoon, and every evening, so I don't know that it has the same dynamics maybe as it had before the injury. It's kind of like your parents being at your prom dance."
Because of the surgery, Payton was less involved in game-planning for last Sunday's game against Indianapolis. On game day, Payton was upstairs in the coaches' booth, with offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael taking over the play-calling duties from Payton.
The result was an amazing 62-7 victory over the Colts. It was the most lopsided victory in Saints history, and it matched the most points scored by an NFL team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Payton may not have a leg to stand on, but he still has his team's ear.
Following that 26-20 loss to Tampa Bay, Payton challenged his team to play its best against Indy. He said the Saints hadn't played up to their potential, and it was time to do so. Boy, did the Saints respond to that message — at the expense of the Colts.
"I think generally you're making progress or you're not," Payton said. "I just felt a week ago we hadn't put our best game together yet."
Then they went out and totally destroyed the winless Colts. "I was encouraged by how we played Sunday night," Payton said, in the understatement of the year.
Quarterback Drew Brees completed 31 of 35 passes for 325 yards and five touchdowns. And the Saints' three-headed backfield of Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles, and Pierre Thomas combined for 236 yards, the team's highest rushing total in five years.
"Obviously we are pleased with the victory," Brees said. "I mean, we felt like we played well in every phase of the game — offense, defense, special teams. Yeah, we were challenged before the game to start playing kind of up to our standard. ... I think we can walk away from that one and say we won in every phase of that game, but really there's still things we can continue to improve upon and get better at."
So yes, just in time for the winless Rams (0-6), it appears as if the light switch has been turned on for the Saints (5-2).
"I don't know what more you can say other than how explosive they are," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "But they've got a lot of talent. They've had that for the past few years, and they've got a guy — the triggerman (Brees) — that makes all that talent even that much better."
New Orleans, ranked No. 2 in the league in total offense, is the fourth top 10 offense faced by the Rams this season, and the third in a row following Green Bay (No. 4) and Dallas (No. 6). And as mentioned by Spagnuolo, there's no doubt that Brees is the straw that stirs the drink for New Orleans.
Brees has put together some monster seasons since joining the Saints in 2006, including five straight seasons of more than 4,000 yards passing. He has completed 70.9 percent of his passes, which is ahead of his league record of 70.6 set in 2009. And he's on pace for 5,661 yards passing, which would obliterate Dan Marino's NFL record of 5,084 set in 1984 with Miami.
"I always go back to all these quarterbacks we've talked about that we've faced this year, and the other ones that are out there," Spagnuolo said. "They're able to manage the game and put their offense in a position. They see something — it's a chess game — and they put them in something that's going to take advantage (of a defense), because you can't cover everything."
Brees does that as well as anyone in the NFL. And let's face it, the Rams haven't covered much of anything this season on defense, be it the run or the pass. And the problem with the Saints is that they have so many options, so many threats to account for, be it in the passing game or running game.
Ingram's status is questionable for Sunday, because of a bruised heel, but the Saints still have Thomas and Sproles and rank ninth in the league in rushing. Sproles, the former San Diego Charger, is just as dangerous receiving as running. He and Graham at tight end are tied for second in the NFL in receptions, with 45 apiece.
"Now they only have 11 guys (on the field) at one time, but it seems like they've got 15 weapons," Spagnuolo said. "It does. They've got them all over the place. They've been doing it for a number of years."
And now, they come to St. Louis for Sunday's noon kickoff at the Edward Jones Dome, playing as well as they ever have."