The New Orleans Saints won seven games in 2012. The Saints already have seven wins in 2013.
Because the NFC South squad – the 49ers host on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome – went without its head coach through last season’s schedule, it would appear he’s the reason for their rise back up the standings.
Sean Payton thinks differently.
“I don’t think there was any one individual that was going to come into that room and wave a magic wand,” said Payton, who was suspended during the ’12 campaign because of his then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ bounty program on opposing players.
Drew Brees, the quarterback Payton’s worked with for eight years now, agreed.
“It’s never that simple,” he said. “There were definitely things we missed not having him last year, but the past is the past. I’m glad he’s back and we’re winning. All the pieces to the puzzle are here.”
Here’s what the final picture looks like: The NFL’s second-most productive offense set a league record with 40 first downs and a franchise mark with 625 yards in its 49-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 10.
Couple this with an improved defensive unit under the direction of Rob Ryan, and that wand – somebody’s wand – has been waved.
The 49ers, which beat the Saints 31-21 at New Orleans in Week 12 last season, seem to think it’s mostly Payton’s doing.
Jim Harbaugh used the word “machine-like” to describe the Payton-called offense.
“You can see the play-calling is different – it’s better – and that definitely factors in,” Harbaugh said.
Added defensive coordinator Vic Fangio: “The offense is basically the same. I just think they’re calling it a little different. Sean’s always been an excellent play-caller.”
“One of the best offensive minds in the game,” Goodwin said of his last coach in the NFL. “You can definitely see the offense has its complete confidence back, got the rhythm going. When you watch ‘em on TV, it looks like they’re playing with an edge.”