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Saints looking like they have the pep back in their step

by Dave Wiggins

After the New Orleans Saints had thumped Buffalo last week to run their record to 6-1, quarterback Drew Brees rolled about the Saints’ Superdome locker room employing a confident-bordering-on-cocky bop and dip in his step.

For the uninitiated, “bopping” is when you add a slight bounce or hop to your stride. And “dipping” is rolling your shoulders forward and down, alternating arms, as you walk.

Brees had certainly earned the right to bop and dip to his heart’s content after throwing five touchdown passes that day against the Bills.

Based on a combination of Brees’s jaunty strut, New Orleans’ just-completed 35-17 victory and its second-best NFC log, it sure looked to MAS like the Saints had their old swagger (cocky confidence) back.

The swag New Orleans had played with since it won Super Bowl XLIV was missing for most of last season when the post-Bountygate Saints, minus suspended coach Sean Payton, bumbled their way to a 7-9 record.

But with the return this campaign of Payton — who can also appear a tad full of himself at times — the Saints look like their former talented and somewhat haughty selves.

Brees, however, was quick to nix that swag-is-back notion when MAS brought it up postgame.

“It’s great to have coach back,” said Brees, “and it’s great for us to be playing the way we are but there are a lot of things to clean up and we have to continue to get better each and every week.”

Turns out, Brees was poll parroting what his head coach had told MAS 20 minutes earlier about the state of his team.

Said Payton: “There are a handful of things — like today’s eight penalties, having 12 guys in the huddle on offense, only 10 on the field on defense — that go against saying you have your swag back.

“Those things can be costly,” added Payton, “we’ve got to make corrections and get that kind of stuff cleaned up first.”

That same message had obviously been delivered to Brees and his teammates immediately after the game before the star QB met with the media.

What one must realize, though, is how curious head football coaches can be (and none of them are, um, curiouser than MAS was eons ago as a title-winning head high school coach in suburban Philadelphia).

To wit: When their teams squeak out a one-point victory in a toss-up game against a tough foe, coaches are tickled pink to just get the win no matter how sloppy their team may have looked.

Yet, a decisive 35-17 victory in a game where their ball club was a substantial favorite — like the Saints were over the Bills — is somehow a cause for much grumbling and grousing by the winning coach.

Been there, done that. Go figure!

The Saint players MAS talked to after the lopsided win pretty much toed the company line.

“We believe our program is on the right track again,” cornerback Jabari Greer told MAS, “and we’re excited about it — but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Added solid running back Pierre Thomas: “It’s the basics that we’ve got to get right — like having the right personnel groupings, knowing where to line up, not jumping offsides, knowing who to block. It’s those little things that are hurting us.

“Other than that,” offered Thomas, “there’s really not a lot of things we’re messing up on. You can definitely see we’re improving each week.”

Make no mistake, any Saints swagger starts at the top with Payton and trickles down.

“Absolutely, absolutely,” confirmed wide receiver Lance Moore, who had earlier hauled in one of Brees’s TD tosses. “We’re a reflection of our coach.”

“I don’t think we lost all our swagger — we’ve got a little bit out out there.” offered Moore. “We’re in a good spot at 6-1; now we just have to get better and it will be so much more.”

Safe to say, then, that when Sean Payton is once again in full swagger, it will be OK for the team to follow suit in that department.

One guy who has never lost his on-field swagger, however, is 201-cm Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, a former college hoopster whose post-TD catch histrionics include 360-degree football dunks over the goalpost crossbar.

Graham registered a pair of whirly bird jams vs. the Bills (his seventh and eighth of the season).

However, as brazen as Graham can be on the field, he is just as reserved off it.

When MAS mentioned his omnipresent swag, Jimmy chuckled and softly said, “I was just happy to play. It felt good.”

(He had been out with a foot injury and needed to pass a medical check that morning to participate.)

Graham modestly then turned to team improvement.

“You always want to build momentum with each game,” he suggested. “And I think today was a little momentum builder for us. So we’ll see . . . “

Greer says the coach’s return has been “the catalyst” for a lot of improved on-field execution by the players.

“We’re playing better defense (under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan), creating turnovers and then capitalizing on the turnovers,” offered Greer. “And we’re winning the close games.”

Sunday, though, it was the Saints who committed costly turnovers in losing a tight contest to the New York Jets.

But rebounding New Orleans, now 6-2, still remains a prime NFC contender — only Seattle at 8-1 has fewer losses.

So, with a little more tidying up, there’s a good chance that when the Super Bowl arrives, Brees and the Saints will go marching — or is it diddy-bopping? — in.

Contact Man About Sports at: davwigg@gmail.com