Saints offense has its swagger back, for now

METAIRIE (AP) — As much as Sean Payton would like to see his offense's record-setting performance against Dallas carry forward,

experience tells him that assuming so would be unwise.

"You don't play many games like that, and

every once in a while you find yourself on the good end and sometimes

you find yourself

once in a while on the bad end," Payton said Monday, a day after

the Saints piled up an NFL-record 40 first downs in a 49-17

triumph over the Cowboys. "You hope when your career is done you

have more experiences on the good end."

During the Payton era, the Saints usually have been on the favorable end of lopsided games. The latest example came as they

moved into the second half of their schedule holding a one-game lead in the NFC South Division.

By piling up 625 yards against Dallas — a

Saints record for a regular season game — New Orleans' offense jumped

from seventh

to second in the NFL in yards per game (422.7). That is a more

familiar spot for the Saints, who led the league in total offense

four times during Payton's first six seasons as a head coach.

Running back Pierre Thomas was a part of three of those No. 1 offenses, including the 2011 Saints, who set the NFL record

for most yards (7,474) in a season.

"I know we were capable of doing those type

of things," said Thomas, who rushed for 87 yards and a score against

Dallas. "We

just were going through a lot at the beginning of the season,

putting ourselves in a bad position, putting ourselves in holes

with penalties and jumping offside, delay of games, little things

that we could correct.

"We couldn't really find that groove, that

good tempo. And this game we really found it," Thomas continued. "So we

showed

ourselves and everybody else that we do have an explosive offense,

and a fast offense, and an offense that could make plays

and get things done. We just have to go out there and have the

confidence in ourselves to just do it."

The Saints will be hard-pressed to replicate Sunday night's performance next weekend against San Francisco, whose sixth-ranked

defense has been far superior to Dallas' last-ranked unit.

Against the Cowboys, Saints quarterback Drew

Brees completed about 83 percent of his passes (34 of 41) for 392 yards

in barely

more than three quarters. He did not attempt another pass after

his 52-yard TD strike to Kenny Stills with 12:51 left in the

game.

Brees has had plenty of performances like that, including a couple earlier this season, but the Saints had struggled to move

the ball on the ground most of this season.

One week after gaining only 41 yards on 13 runs in a 26-20 loss to the Jets in New York, the Saints gashed Dallas for 242

yards on the ground, New Orleans' most in a game since 1990.

New Orleans also converted nine of 12 third downs, did not turn the ball over and finished with a whopping 39:32 to 20:28

advantage in time of possession.

"It reminds me of '09, how we were clicking

on all cylinders and moving the ball really well, really explosive on

the offensive

side," Thomas said, alluding to the lone Super Bowl championship

season in franchise history. "That game showed us and reminded

us we can do."

The emergence of the running game gratified the Saints on several levels. New Orleans wanted restore some balance to its attack

to reduce pressure on Brees, who'd been sacked 20 times in the first eight games and hit as he threw a lot more than that.

Payton's own experience points to the merits

of strong running game. The coach's best regular season record is 13-3,

which

he has posted twice, once in 2009 and again in 2011. In both

seasons, New Orleans ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing, averaging

around 132 yards on the ground.

Meanwhile, New Orleans finally got a breakout performance by 2011 first-round draft choice Mark Ingram, who gained 145 yards

on only 14 carries.

"You saw a player that ran hard and had

holes and did a lot of the things that I'm sure he felt he could do,"

Payton said.

"There's a lot of pressure that goes into playing and I guess a

little more for a player that was selected in the first round.

... He played well last night and that was important."