This week, the Saints wrap up their offseason with mini-camp at the club’s Metairie facility. Coaches will do what they always do. They will coach their players hard and make sure that no detail is missed.
But, there is something else that Saints head coach Sean Payton must coach against this summer and throughout the season. And, that is the notion that somehow the success of 2017 will carry over.
One year ago at this time, the Saints had recrafted their roster into one of the best young ones in the NFL. A stellar draft yielded the offensive and defensive rookies of the year. The Saints’ overall class may have been the best in club history.
But, there was an extra intangible at work in the clubhouse. After three consecutive losing seasons, radical change may be coming with a fourth.
The Saints survived an 0-2 start, won eight straight games and won the NFC South for the first time since 2011. There’s one organization in football that, year in and year out, has managed to overcome complacency better than any other.
The Patriots have won 12 or more games for eight consecutive seasons.
But, this offseason, the “Patriots Way” has been under attack. Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson ripped the Patriots, including this nugget: “I’d rather have fun and win a Super Bowl than win five.”
Johnson went on to say that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and owner Bob Kraft both did their share of trash talking to their Philadelphia counterparts before the Eagles won Super Bowl LII, 41-33.
There have been books written about that so-called “Patriots Way,” all trying to offer some insight as to why the Patriots seem never to swerve from the road of unwavering consistency.
It is Bill Belichick’s greatest strength. A former Patriots employee, who has spent some time in Belichick’s office, said he was first surprised by the few celebratory items in the head coach’s office. This individual said Belichick’s rather spartan office was a perfect window into how the coach views his craft.
That grinder mentality was only reinforced through a YouTube video by NFL.com that has more than 97,000 views. After the Patriots’ Super Bowl win in February 2017, the head coach was holding the Lombardi Trophy and chanting, “No days off! No days off!”
In 2017, the Saints had more than a much-improved roster working in their favor. Here are some of the Saints who played all 16 games: Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Cam Jordan, Michael Thomas, Ryan Ramczyk and Max Unger. In other words, their best players played the year relatively unscathed.
In 2018, the Saints will play a first-place schedule, one that includes eight games against playoff teams. The NFL schedule-makers, by putting five Saints’ games in prime time, say they will be one of the most compelling stories of the 2018 season.
Sean Payton has plenty of challenges ahead, including coaching against the notion that just because 2017 happened, 2018 will be even better.
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.