There's something definitely different about the Saints this year. There's no drama surrounding New Orleans football, the team is 3-0 and they've gotten there in a pretty quiet fashion. Might it have something to do with the return of Sean Payton?
Drew Brees, appearing on CBS Sports Network's "ROME" Monday, certainly implied as much. He said the thing the Saints missed most when Payton was gone during 2012 -- he was suspended by the NFL for the full year over the bounty scandal -- was his ability to provide "a singular focus."
"I think the thing we missed the most was just his ability to communicate a message, a singular focus each and every week," Brees said. "As a teacher and mentor for a lot of guys as a guy who really sits atop and can manage the whole team. Even though he's very much an offensive guy, he's the play caller, as a head coach your responsibilities go well beyond that.
"There were plenty of times last year where I knew we were in a situation where hey Sean would say this and yet he wasn't there to say and to be honest with you he's the only guy who could say it. Because he would say it his way, whether it's a story or an anecdote or cracking a joke or whatever it might be."
Brees also said that Payton's presence definitely helps "eliminate the distractions."
"I think he had a way to identify with each and every guy and make you feel like he's talking to you with this message," Brees told Jim Rome. "And also to eliminate all the stuff on the periphery, eliminate the distractions and kind of get you down to a singular focus each and every week for, hey, this is what it's going to take to win this game."
Distractions, obviously, weren't much help for New Orleans in 2012. Getting past them and getting focused on football again is a critical part of the Saints undefeated start.
So to is finding a new identity. The Saints are no longer the Super Bowl Saints, nor are they the BountyGate Saints. So who are they? Brees doesn't know yet, but says the team's en route to discovering that.
"I think you have to reestablish your identity every year no matter how many veteran guys you have coming back. You're always -- situations change, circumstances change," Brees said. "We added some free agents and some young players who are playing significant roles on our team. You have to experience that success again and learn how to win again. And when those good things happen I think you just build your momentum and your confidence.
"And that's definitely something we've been able to add in the first three weeks. But I think we understand you're only as good as your next performance."