Saints pleased, but humbled, as bye weekend passes

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Rather than spend their week off dwelling on a dramatic Tom Brady pass that ruined their perfect record,

the New Orleans Saints are taking a realistic approach to gauging their strong start to the 2013 season.

They were pleased to be 5-1, leading the NFC South and tied with Seattle atop the conference as their bye week arrived.

Locker room leaders, including quarterback Drew Brees and receiver Lance Moore, also were quick to point out the Saints could

easily be 3-3, if not for last-minute successes early this season.

It took a fourth-down stand near their end

zone to beat Atlanta in the season opener. The next week, New Orleans

needed a

last-minute drive — and a last-second field goal — to topple Tampa

Bay in a game Brees said the Saints "maybe had no business

winning."

"So sometimes they go your way and sometimes

they don't," Brees said. "You just hope you're in a position where more

of them

go your way than not, because arguably half the games in this

league are decided by the last possession, and at times the

last play. You could say that certainly that's been the case for

our team. Three out of the six games have come down to literally

the last play."

The Saints have played their past three games without Moore, who expects to return when New Orleans plays against Buffalo

in the Superdome on Oct. 27.

As much as it bothered the elder statesman

of New Orleans' receiving corps to watch from the sideline in New

England, unable

to help his offense run out the clock and keep Brady off the

field, he wondered whether the loss might serve as an important

motivator for a team that could have gotten too comfortable with

itself had it gone into its short vacation at 6-0.

"It's kind of a reality check, because a couple of those games could have gone the other direction, and I would say we're

extremely fortunate to be 5-1 and sitting in a pretty good position," Moore said. "So I feel like we're a good team, but I

feel like we can definitely be a great team. We've got a lot of work to do to get there, a lot of things to sharpen up on

and get some guys back, myself included.

"We'll get healthier in this bye week, continue to put our foot on the gas with the way that we work, improving every day,

and I think you'll see a pretty good finished product."

In any event, the Saints have come a long

way in a year's time. In 2012, with head coach Sean Payton suspended the

whole season

in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation into the Saints

defense's cash-for-hits bounty system, New Orleans opened

with four losses and never recovered, finishing 7-9 and out of the

playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Payton returned last January, and players

said it wasn't long before his contagious competitive fire and knack for

Chief Executive

Officer-style quality control began to take hold again.

One of his first tasks was hiring defensive

coordinator Rob Ryan to take over a unit which ranked last in the NFL in

2012,

yielding an NFL-record 7,042 yards. Ryan's group has been more

opportunistic, coming out of Week 6 tied for sixth in takeaways

with 12. New Orleans also did not give up as many as 20 points in a

game until the loss to the Patriots.

Meanwhile, Payton has been calling plays again for an offense which was tied for fifth in yards per game (397.7) after six

weeks.

Looking back at Payton's more recent

coaching record, perhaps New Orleans' one-year turnabout in fortune

shouldn't be a surprise.

Since 2009 — Payton's fourth year as a head coach and the season

New Orleans won its only Super Bowl — the Saints coach is

46-14, including 4-2 in the playoffs. That's a winning percentage

of .766.

"I'm encouraged that there are a handful of

things that we're going to be able to improve on and work on, and we

haven't played

our best football and we're sitting at 5-1," Payton said. "You can

easily look at a few games that could have gone a different

direction, but they didn't. I like the work ethic, the competitive

nature of this team. I like it a lot.

" I think that getting back after this bye, there are a few things we're going to be able to clean up and work to improve

on as we get ready for this long stretch of the season."