After the Saints beat the Panthers 31-26 in the Wild Card this past Sunday, New Orleans head coach Sean Payton celebrated by dancing – yes, dancing – with his players in the locker room. While Payton should probably not pursue a career in the arts, that type of connection with players says a lot about the 54-year-old – and how he’s evolved over the years.
“It’s a young team that I think is still finding its way, and I think it’s also a bit of a portrayal of a coach that has changed a little bit,” Saints radio sideline reporter Kristian Garic said on After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “(He’s gone) from the more aggressive, ‘It’s my way or the highway’ kind of deal when it was ’09, ’10 and ’11 when he had a veteran team and he didn’t have to worry about necessarily – I don’t want to say micro-managing – but connecting with players. Most of these players weren’t even born when he started coaching, so I think that has a lot to do with it.”
It also had to do with New Orleans getting its first playoff win since January 2014. The Saints finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs in each of the last three season, so this year’s NFC South title was a welcome sight for Who Dat Nation.
“This was a make-or-break year for Sean Payton and Drew Brees,” Garic said. “Had they not made the playoffs, had they been 7-9 again, I’m sure there would have been wholesale changes. It would have been the end of the Brees-Payton era, and I think that getting a win over a division rival for a third time this year is pretty significant for that organization – and I don’t think they’re done yet, honestly.”
The Saints play the Vikings in Minnesota this Sunday at 4:40 p.m. ET. Both teams are evenly matched, and the winner would likely be a favorite in the NFC Championship.
“This is going to come down to a special-teams blunder,” Garic said. “Whoever blinks on special teams is going to lose this ballgame.”