EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On the eve of his last regular-season home game, the Giants' Tiki Barber talked about what one of his former coaches, Sean Payton, meant to him and his career. And it was considerable. But look what Payton's doing now for the New Orleans Saints.
He has them at the top of their division. He has them in the playoffs. And he has them within a victory of a first-round bye.
|The Saints are formidable under Sean Payton. (AP)|
The Saints won three games then. They didn't have a home. They didn't have a future. And a handful of their top performers, including defensive end Darren Howard and center LeCharles Bentley, left because they wanted to escape an atmosphere of losing.
Bad decision, guys.
Had they stuck around, they might have witnessed one of the greatest U-turns in league history, with the Saints' 30-7 demolition of the New York Giants Sunday their 10th victory of the season. It wasn't the Saints' best performance, but it was close -- with New York never taking a snap on the New Orleans side of the field.
And that's what you love about this victory. It was decisive. It was complete. And it was timely -- occurring when both teams needed to win, and only one showed up.
"I was proud of our team," said Payton.
He should be. It didn't just beat the Giants; it annihilated them. In fact, things got so bad that with 12 minutes left, more than half of Giants Stadium was empty, with those who were left booing the home team every time it dropped a pass, missed a tackle or committed a stupid penalty.
But let's forget about the Giants. This was all about one guy, and I'm not talking about Tiki. I'm talking about Payton, who was the Giants offensive coordinator before leaving for Dallas in 2003. It was in Dallas where he came to the attention of Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, who became sold on the guy immediately after interviewing him.
"It wasn't any one thing," said Loomis. "First of all, it's his background. We knew he was a good coach from his success in the past. Beyond that, it was his presentation and leadership ability.
"It doesn't do you any good to have a great plan if you can't sell it and make people believe in your plan. Just immediately I got the feeling this guy can communicate; he can teach; and he can lead -- all those qualities you're looking for in a head coach."
The Saints' selection of Payton was a minor upset. The club interviewed Mike Martz, Donnie Henderson, Maurice Carthon and Mike Sherman -- with Carthon and Sherman considered Payton's competition. But New Orleans stuck with the unheralded Payton, and let's hear it for Mickey Loomis. His choice of Payton was the first step in the reconstruction of the franchise.