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New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton Media Availability Q&A (Dec. 27, 2011)

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
Press Conference
Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Opening Statement

“The schedule this week will be similar to what we did after the last Monday night game. We will push our itinerary back tomorrow with the players. We will try to give them enough time after the game we just played last night prior to getting ready for this week’s game. I said afterwards that it was a big win. It was important for us and one of the key goals that we put forth every year. We will move our preparations to Carolina.”

Are you surprised about the amount of backlash in trying to get Drew Brees the record?

“I don’t think there has been a lot of backlash. There have probably been two or three articles.  Like I said last night, you are going to make decisions and people will write what they want after the fact. You go with your gut. I thought it was the right decisions last night. This morning, I thought it was clearly the right decision. I felt overwhelmingly that most people that are involved in this game, and know a little bit about this game, probably felt the same way. The great thing about our game is that you can have an opinion about it. I felt that was in the minority.”

Does last year’s scenario in which Malcolm Jenkins and Jimmy Graham got hurt in the regular season finale change your decision making process on playing time for players going into this week?

“That’s a good question. I know I am twice shy when the ball come nears me on the sidelines. I have been bitten. I think we just have to be smart. We are playing well, with some momentum. Each year is different. We will look at that closely.”

What happened with Lance Moore last night?

“It was just what it appeared. He strained it a little during the week of practice. He felt like it came around (with) treatment. Coming up to the course of the game, we felt pretty good about it. It happened on a play where he had just eluded two tacklers and was kind of extending himself and all of a sudden went down.  I kind of knew right away. He tweaked it again. For a receiver, it is pretty significant.”

Will you take any punitive measures with the Pierre Thomas incident last night?

“Yeah, but whatever we do will be for us and not for you.”

Do you have someone to keep up with the score of the St. Louis-San Francisco game and how will that influence how you handle Sunday?

“I don’t know. Last year, we tried to go that route of paying attention to the game. One of the challenges always is your roster to begin with. You guys know that. We sat players before. It’s always hard because you don’t really have enough. It’s not the pre-season where you have 80, you only have 53. We will try to do what is best for the team. Generally the stadiums are pretty good about that. You don’t always have audio, but you typically see what’s going on.”

Will you try to keep Drew Brees ahead of Tom Brady in the season passing yardage totals or will you take him out if San Francisco is up big?

“I’m not really aware of the space between the two. I am probably better off not knowing. That being said, what we have to do is keep playing. The playoffs are close. How do we put ourselves in the best position to play well and put ourselves in an opportunity to win a championship. That’s not always what is popular. Two years ago in 2009, a lot of people in this room criticized us for resting players at Carolina. It was what we needed to do as a team. You make decisions. They are not always right. You try to make them with the right things to help your team. Last night was one of those situations. This upcoming game will be one of those situations. Its part of what we do. It’s part of coaching. It’s part of sport.”

How much does being hot going into the playoffs really matter?

“I think it varies per team. I think we are playing better football right now. I think it is important because it’s allowed us to win a division. We have won a handful of games in a row now. That is the same topic two years ago that we kept hearing about. I think it varies with teams. We saw last year, teams like Green Bay play games that they needed to win to get into the playoffs  and won on the road. The year before that, we had lost three games and then won the next three. As a coach, you want to be healthy, you want to be playing good football, and you want to be rested. There are a lot of things you want. When you get in to the post-season, it is single elimination. It’s different. We, obviously, found that out last year. We didn’t play well and lost in the first round. We are focused right now on this week’s job. I think that is the way to approach it and I think that has served us well in the past.”

What has Mark Ingram’s injury done for Chris Ivory?

“He has been able to get the touches. Mark has been improving. It’s one of the things that has helped us. The depth at that position has made us a better team. That’s one of the things that we talked about as a goal of ours coming off last year. Chris had some good, tough, runs last night again. We felt the rushing statistic was going to be important and it was. Third downs, I mentioned a turnover for a touchdown. There were a lot of things. Going back at it, our Punter was outstanding late in that game with field position, the big kickoff return. It was a good team win. Those are all things that were important for us.”

Has Jimmy Graham’s season surprised you?

“We saw, in the last third of the season, his growth. It happened pretty quickly. His development was rapid. His work ethic, he is smart, it is important to him. There are a lot of things. You don’t know exactly how a player is going to be when you draft him. Those other intangibles that we try to put a handle on in the scouting process, it’s not an exact science. In his case, those other things aside from his height and speed, it’s a credit to how important it is to him. He has worked extremely hard at it.”

I assume that he will get that honor today, a first-timer…

“I think his story is such that is pretty special. Yeah, absolutely.”

Did you hear any criticism from the other sideline last night?

“No.”

Are you amazed at how much ownership the fans have for the support of your organization and for Drew Brees?

“It’s been a great relationship. It’s special. It’s unique. The timing of when he arrived. There is a lot of symbolism in where he was in his career and where this city was. It’s pretty amazing. He is such a hard worker. He is such a great teammate. His leadership ability transcends just the New Orleans Saints team and into this region. I think it is pretty obvious. It was pretty special last night for the fan base to share in that accomplishment. The thing that is exciting is that the book is only half-way done. He has a lot of good football ahead of him. As a coach, you just hope you have an opportunity to coach a player like that.”

Have you ever thought about that Drew could have played in Miami?

“The only time that ever came up was when he was on his visit here. We were an hour away from the complex, two hours behind schedule. I wrote this, I thought I needed to drive him to the airport right then and let him get on a plane to Miami. We were in a mode where we were trying to sign players and celebrate little things because we were just getting started. We were looking for any kind of momentum. His visit was important. It was a challenging time because of when it took place. All of us felt that we had to do a real good job to get in the game. I don’t know that we have gone back or reflected on what could have been.”

How about an appreciation aspect?

“Absolutely though. Yeah. Just from a standpoint of the thing that’s interesting about our game is the signing of players, the drafting of players, when components come together to make up a team and what wins, and what wins in our league. Those are important things that we try to pay attention to and I think clearly he’s someone that gets that and understands that. For him, it’s still most about winning and his teammates and being a good teammate. I think all those other things are things that come as a result of and certainly I think the accomplishment last night is more meaningful because – there were a lot of things that made it more meaningful – but it comes on a team that has won twelve games right now, they’re having success and it happened in a game where we were able to win the division.”

Do you think the accomplishment should garner Drew Brees the MVP?

“Fortunately I’m the coach and I don’t have to. We’re biased. We are so slanted. We sit in our offices all day long. The thing I said earlier this month is we’ve seen some great quarterback play this season. That’s the tough thing really about today. One of the hard things about today is later on they announce the Pro Bowl. Guys are excited and then there is some disappointment. Those are some of the challenges you deal with as coaches. What you hope to be able to do is be the first one to inform the player, so that he doesn’t read about it from someone else who has gotten it. We’ll do that. But we have a lot going here and fortunately we’re experiencing some success, putting some consistency together and we’re talking about something, an accomplishment like we had last night in Drew’s record, in the context of winning football games as well. I think that’s important.”

What’s your thinking going forward in regard to Drew – he’s going after that record like you were speaking about. That’s one decision. Then you’ve got Jonathan Vilma, for example. Do you wait?

“I’m not going to get into any of it. I appreciate the question. But rather than tell you one thing and do the other like I mentioned last night, I’d just rather wait. There are a few things. My instincts, no different than a year ago, are this is an important game for us and yet, we’ll take all those things into consideration.”

Do you have a moment from Jimmy Graham’s two years here that’s different, that told about him?

“I don’t know if there’s a specific moment. I think first impression was strong. Then second impression and then what we saw as a rookie was real strong. It has been consistent. He reminds me a lot about Jason Witten, his personality. He’s a lot like him in that he’s eager to please, he’s smart, and he’s tough. His personality reminds me a lot of Jason. He wants to get better. He’ll stay after practice. He’s talented. He can run. I think he has been very consistent. I don’t know that there’s one moment, though.”

How much pride does this take in having a lot of Pro Bowl selections? Does that speak to the success of this team as a whole?

“Yeah, I think that it’s that day, though, that the player gets recognized by his peers. Generally it comes with winning. In other words, it has usually been the norm, which I think is a good thing.”

Do you expect officials to resist flagging safeties on contact over the middle more so in the playoffs than the regular season?

“I think it’d be the same.”

How much harder will it be to go to the Super Bowl without a bye?

“Well, It’d be a game’s difference. I mean, literally, it would be a game’s difference in that when you have the bye you play one less game, so it would be a game’s difference.”

But physically? Mentally? Having to go on the road?

“If you just pulled up the last 20 years, you’d probably find that, if you researched it at all, and did a little homework you’d probably find that it’s split as far as three games or four games. Certainly you try to put yourself in the best position you can, but that would be a good little project. For you.”

Five of the last seven NFC champions have been at home for the championship game…

“I’d bet it’d be split in the last 10 or 15 years, so it’s almost split right now, based on what you’re saying.  Obviously, if you play one less game, there’s one less game to play. You’re playing four. Green Bay played four last year. We played three the year before  that. I don’t know what Pittsburgh (played), but the point being, to answer it, it would be one less game or one more game, so when you say how (much) more difficult, I’d say one more game.”

Are there more great athletes at the tight end position now?

“One of the things that’s challenging is projecting the position because I think we’re seeing some spread offenses in college maybe with more receivers than tight ends. I don’t think necessarily because all of a sudden you found a success in Antonio Gates, for instance, who played basketball, and our league somewhat can be trendy, and then you start looking at all the basketball programs. I’m sure there’s four or five stories that weren’t successful. You’re constantly paying attention to the talent pool and whether it’s typically college football and yet you’re still not disclosing any other way where you could identify what you’re looking for. I think the importance of the position exists no different than it did 10 years ago. I think it’s significant though in that it helps you control the middle of the field and your passing game and give you a dimension to your passing game that can help.”

Are you aware that you’ve never had a skill position player make the Pro Bowl?

“I’m probably not aware of it. It’s hard sometimes with the numbers as they get spread out.”

Can you give us an idea how the discussions with Drew on playing time will go this week?

“It’s Jim’s (Varney) question. In fairness right now, we haven’t decided any of that and we’ll just keep you guys posted. Easy enough? All right, thanks.”

 

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