Thursday night was just what the doctor ordered for the New Orleans Saints, who rode their running game, special teams and defense to a 31-21 win over the previously unbeaten Atlanta Falcons.

Drew Brees still threw the ball 39 times – completing 30 passes for 312 yards and a score – but many of them were short passes to tight ends and running backs. In other words, New Orleans didn’t need Brees to chuck the ball downfield 50 times to be successful.

That’s typically a good strategy when your quarterback is 36 with a suspect shoulder.

“Well, that’s the key,” NFL Network analyst Brian Billick said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “When you get to that point in a career, there’s no question that it is a little bit different than it was in terms of strength. But later in the year, how does it hold up then? And does he have to be the sole impetus of the Saints’ offense? If they can get the running game cranked up, last night was a good example. They got the lead, the defense played just well enough, he didn’t have to force the ball – and that’s where the interceptions usually come. Now, can he sustain it over the year? Is that defense still for real? You give them credit for the turnovers. I don’t know if they created turnovers or if they had a lot of giveaways from Atlanta. They turned the ball over in come creative ways. You would think the center would know that that guy’s hands wasn’t underneath him when he went to try to snap the ball. But you got to give the Saints credit for winning.”

That’s because they haven’t done a whole lot of that lately. The Saints have finished 7-9 in two of the last three years and were in danger of starting 1-5 this season. With Brees getting up there in age, the Saints got rid of Jimmy Graham this offseason.

They may also get rid of Sean Payton.

Is it possible that Payton could be coaching somewhere else next season?

“That’s only for Sean Payton and for management to talk about,” Billick said. “Bill Walsh was very much a believer that you can only stay in one place for 10 years. Now, most coaches don’t make it that long. So your data base is only so big. He and Mike McCarthy came in at the same time. Mike McCarthy has reinvented himself in the tenth year by taking the play-calling away from himself, giving it to Tom Clements and being more of the head coach. I actually thought that’s something Sean Payton ought to think about doing given the transition they’re going through with this team – and clearly they’re in transition. Regardless of whether it’s this year or the next, they’re having to even up their credit card debt, so to speak, changing the complexion of the team with regards to what they’ve been with Jimmy Graham and the like. So is now a good time to change venues? It’s hard to say. They’re all going to say the same thing: ‘Oh, I love where I’m at. This is where I want to be.’ So you just don’t know.”


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