Payton warns against making too much of fast start
On opening day in the NBA, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton chose a basketball analogy to illustrate how he feels about the second-best start in the 43-year history of the New Orleans Saints. "If a month from now when (NBA fans) are talking about 'If the playoffs started today,' with 60 games left, that would be similar," Payton said Tuesday. "We have a lot of tough games left on the schedule." Next Monday night against Atlanta in the Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans has a chance to match the 1991 Saints for the best start in team history at 7-0, which would also keep New Orleans atop the NFC. The Saints are now the only undefeated team left in their conference and have put themselves in pole position of the race for a top playoff seeding heading into the final 10 weeks of the season. Payton, however, is wary of such talk. After the Saints' 46-34 comeback win at Miami last Sunday, Payton responded to a question about his team's fast start by contrasting the NFL to college football's Bowl Championship Series. "In the BCS you've got to pay attention to that, but it means nothing after six weeks" in the NFL, Payton said. "The Alabamas and the LSUs and the Ohio States, well it means something for them, but it doesn't mean anything for us." As far back as training camp, Saints coaches and players spoke of how they believed they had a chance to be special this season. They said they had the talent to win and had learned the hard lessons from numerous close losses in 2008, when they were defeated five times by three or fewer points. "I don't think anybody's surprised here because, me, in all honesty, I feel like we paid our dues," said running back Reggie Bush, whose soaring touchdown on a reverse helped the Saints storm back from a 21-point deficit against the Dolphins. "We've come a long way. So everybody understands that we have something special here. ... We're making the most of it and we're understanding and appreciating it because of what we had to go through the prior years to get to this point." The Saints haven't been to the postseason since 2006, when Payton began his head coaching career by cobbling together a playoff team from the remains of a squad that went 3-13 while displaced to San Antonio because of Hurricane Katrina. During the past two years, however, the Saints were plagued by inconsistency, going 7-9 in 2007 and 8-8 in 2008. Now that they're 6-0, players who have fresh memories of last year's frustration don't want to get ahead of themselves. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma echoed a comment made by his position coach, Joe Vitt, saying, "6-0 means you can't go 5-11. That's really about it." "For us, it's such a long season," Vilma continued. "It's not like college football, where you get 10, 11 games. You have a 16-game season. Things can switch easily and quickly." Longtime Saints fans know that as well as anyone. That 1991 team that started 7-0 had some key injuries later in the season, including starting quarterback Bobby Hebert's sprained shoulder. The Saints lost five of their last nine games - four losses came while Hebert was out - to finish 11-5. They then lost their first playoff game. "I do think it's premature - that's just my opinion after six weeks, knowing that there are 10 games left - to begin talking about seeding," Payton said. "We have a lot of football that we have to play and we don't take that for granted. We understand why there is interest in a team that's 6-0, and yet we do understand that we're still two games away from being at the halfway point."