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Payton Likes Saints' Grit During Tense, 4-game Win Streak

New Orleans Saints tight end Jared Cook (87) celebrates after a touchdown against the Chicago Bears in the first half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

New Orleans Saints tight end Jared Cook (87) celebrates after a touchdown against the Chicago Bears in the first half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

While the Saints haven't posted a dominant, runaway victory this season, coach Sean Payton likes the fact that New Orleans has emerged triumphant from stressful, lategame scenarios in four straight.

NEW ORLEANS: While the Saints haven’t posted a dominant, runaway victory this season, coach Sean Payton likes the fact that New Orleans has emerged triumphant from stressful, late-game scenarios in four straight.

Were still improving, Payton said Monday, a day after the Saints took a 26-23 overtime victory in Chicago. I thought we got better yesterday in a tough environment. But I do think theres a grit element. And when youre able to play well in tight games and come out with a win, I think you develop a certain confidence and youre comfortable playing in such circumstances.

The Saints’ past three victories have come by three points each and the winning streak began with a six-point victory at Detroit.

Lately, the Saints have had a pretty good excuse for not being able to run up the score on opponents. Receiver Michael Thomas, the 2019 AP Offensive Player of the Year, hasn’t played since Week 1 because of an ankle injury, followed by a one-game suspension for a practice altercation with a teammate, and then a hamstring injury. Meanwhile, Emmanuel Sanders, who is arguably the Saints’ second-best receiver, missed the past two games after testing positive for COVID-19.

But record-setting quarterback Drew Brees has been consistently efficient regardless of who his targets are, completing 112 of 149 attempts (75.2%) for 1,138 yards and seven TDs with two interceptions during the winning streak. And New Orleans has been able to lean heavily on Alvin Kamara, who currently leads the club in both yards rushing (431) and receiving (556).

Definitely one of the best backs that Ive ever played with. He can just do so many things and hes so versatile, said Saints tight end Jared Cook, who caught his team-leading fourth touchdown in Chicago. He definitely brings an element to the game that we need in this offense in terms of switching it up and moving him around.

And while the Saints’ secondary has had its share of coverage busts, the defense as a whole has been solid, ranking eighth in total yards allowed (328.4) per game.

Forget the numbers. Weve got some of the top DBs: Malcolm (Jenkins), Marshon (Lattimore), Janoris (Jenkins) back there, Marcus Williams, defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson said. “We got a team. The linebacker core we have, the D-line that (has) come together. We just worry about piecing it together and just keep it rolling, find a way to win. And thats all were doing right now.

WHATS WORKING

The Saints defensive front. Opposing offenses have struggled to run against New Orleans all season. The Saints held the Bears to less than 100 yards and have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 50 games (including playoffs). New Orleans also sacked Bears QB Nick Foles five times, with four of those sacks by defensive linemen.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The Saints offensive execution on third down nosedived in Chicago. After converting their first two on the opening series, they failed on 11 straight and needed a couple of fourth-down conversions to sustain key drives. The Saints also scored touchdowns on only one of four trips inside Chicagos red zone, in large part because of their third-down struggles.

STOCK UP

Taysom Hill. The reserve QB and utility player had one of his better games this season, catching a 20-yard touchdown pass and adding a 10-yard run during the Saints winning series in overtime. He finished with two catches for 30 yards and five rushes for 35 yards. Thats about 9.3 yards gained per play.

STOCK DOWN

Alex Anzalone. The linebacker played his lowest percentage of defensive snaps this season in Chicago and now will have competition for playing time after the Saints made a trade to acquire outside linebacker Kwon Alexander from San Francisco.

INJURIES

Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins walked off the field with a knee injury Sunday. The timetable for his return is unclear.

KEY NUMBER

141 Kamaras average yards from scrimmage this season.

NEXT STEPS

The Saints travel to Tampa Bay on Sunday night for a game that could play a major role in deciding the NFC South. New Orleans beat QB Tom Brady’s new club in the season opener in the Superdome and could seize control of the division by sweeping both head-to-head matchups.

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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL


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