METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Four games into Sean Payton's return from NFL exile, the Saints look a lot more like the 13-3 team he coached two seasons ago than the 7-9 team he was banned from associating with last year.
Drew Brees, with help from familiar targets Marques Colston, Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham, is leading a quick-strike offense that has put up big numbers in consecutive lopsided victories. An aggressive defense is creating momentum-changing turnovers and getting timely stops.
The result is a 4-0 start, an early 2 1/2 game lead in the NFC South Division and an energized fan base that rocked the Superdome as it has in past playoff seasons during a 38-17 victory over previously unbeaten Miami on Monday night.
"It feels good," Saints right tackle Zach Strief said. "To me, the last couple of games, we felt that rhythm. We talk about getting into a rhythm and getting into a tempo and it's based on things working and execution. I think we're starting to feel that."
Saints appear to be playing about as well as they could have hoped as they prepare to play next Sundy in Chicago (3-1).
Just don't expect to hear Payton or his players start to congratulate themselves yet.
"We all try to be, as coaches, very critical of ourselves, just like we'd be of players," Payton said. "I don't know that there's ever any complete satisfaction. It's not like a Snickers bar, so I think you're always looking to improve."
New Orleans has not won in Chicago's Sodlier Field since Jim Haslett was a first-year Saints head coach in 2000. Under Payton, the Saints are 0-3 there, losing twice in the regular season and once in the 2006-07 NFC championship.
Taking a cue from Payton, receiver Marques Colston talked about the importance of not letting the "noise" distract the Saints from the immediate task at hand.
Such "noise" would include discussions about the Saints' high rankings in key statistical areas on both sides of the ball. The offense is fourth in net yards, averaging 491.5 yards per game. The defense is sixth yards allowed at 304.5 per game.
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