New Orleans Saints Continue to Be Haunted by Bountygate Scandal, Absence of Sean Payton

New Orleans Saints Continue to Be Haunted by Bountygate Scandal, Absence of Sean PaytonA 31-yard field goal ultimately did them in this week, but
the New Orleans Saints' tumultuous start to the 2012 season is rooted much
deeper than anything seen on the field.

The Saints scored a touchdown with a little over five
minutes left in the third quarter of Sunday's tilt with the Kansas City Chiefs,
giving New Orleans a commanding 24-6 lead. But even that wasn't enough to
solidify the Saints first win of the year.

New Orleans dropped to 0-3 on the season after allowing a
few untimely miscues to wipe away an 18-point lead, and then watching the
aforementioned 31-yard kick sail through the uprights for the win. The loss
marks the first time the Saints have started a season with three straight
losses since 2007, when they began 0-4.

The strugglesome start is a disheartening reality for a team
that was within just moments of an NFC Championship Game berth last season, but
even more so for a franchise muddled in scandal.

The Bountygate
scandal shocked the football world during the offseason, and the Saints had to
pay the ultimate price for the alleged actions. The suspensions of Jonathan
Vilma
and Will Smith were overturned, sure, but the real loss for the Saints
came in the form of the coaching staff. And it's showing this season.

General Manager Mickey Loomis (eight games) and assistant
coach Joe Vitt (six games) were tough losses on their own, but the biggest loss
was that of head coach Sean Payton.

Payton, who led the Saints to the franchise's first and only
Super Bowl title in 2009, was suspended for the entire season and his
absence is becoming more and more noticeable with each passing week. Current
interim head coach Aaron Kromer is a smart and savvy coach with solid
experience in the NFL, but he just doesn't possess the same sort of passion and
play-calling knowledge that Payton brings to the sidelines.

Payton is a tremendous play caller — this is fairly common
knowledge — but he is also a terrific game manager. He understands the
intricacies of every scenario in a game and has the detail oriented nature to
make the decision to put his team in the best situation.

Right now, the Saints desperately miss Payton's fiery
demeanor and understanding in intense situations. But with their head coach
unable to return until 2013, the Saints will have to rally around their current
leadership and build success in new ways.

While Payton is gone and Vitt remains away from the team,
though, quarterback Drew Brees may have to be that influential presence. And he
began to undertake that role after Sunday's brutal overtime defeat.

"There's no doubt in my mind that we're going to turn
this thing around," Brees said. "We are going to be a great
team."

Brees' comments show the exact sort of confidence and
leadership that the Saints need to find success in Payton's absence and to
overcome the harsh penalties and disgrace that the franchise has endured over
the past few months.

Photo via AP/Jonathan Bachman

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