Patriots-Saints May Come Down to Battle on Sidelines

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Patriots-Saints May Come Down to Battle on Sidelines NEW ORLEANS — Bill Belichick and Bill Gates have more
in common than their first name, the way Saints coach Sean Payton sees it.

“You have to pay attention to the Microsofts of the world
if you’re some day wanting to compete in that industry,” Payton said this week
as New Orleans prepared to host Belichick’s New England Patriots.

“It’s fairly common in business to look at groups or
businesses that are having success and to pay attention to why teams are
successful, and I think that exists in a lot of areas, not just football. New
England’s been one of those franchises. It’s been one of those organizations
that have found the right formula.”

Payton has been talking about following New England’s
model ever since he landed his first head coaching job in New Orleans in 2006.

Now the Saints are 10-0 and threatening, along with
Indianapolis, to become the only team to go 16-0 in a regular season since the
2007 Patriots. Fittingly, New England stands in New Orleans’ way on Monday
night.

“I remember what kind of confidence we had taking the
field as an undefeated team and knowing that if we played a good game it was
going to be almost impossible for teams to beat us,” Patriots quarterback Tom
Brady
said. “But if you don’t play well you do get beat, as evidenced by what
happened in the Super Bowl that year.”

New England (7-3) arguably needs to win this game more
than New Orleans, which has a five-game lead in the NFC South Division with six
games left. The only tight race the Saints are in right now is with Minnesota
(9-1) for the top overall seed in the NFC.

The psychological dynamic coming into this game seems
very much different from what the Patriots dealt with a week earlier against
their division rivals, the New York Jets.

Earlier this season, Jets coach Rex Ryan famously said he
would not “kiss the rings” of New England and its coach. When Payton and
Belichick talk about each other, it’s a lovefest.

Payton said Belichick is the best in the business right
now, someone who’ll certainly end up in the Hall of Fame, someone “you worry
about outcoaching you on the coin toss.”

Payton and Belichick have never faced each other as head
coaches in a game that counted, but they have met.

When Payton’s first season as an NFL head coach ended
with a loss in the NFC championship, his consolation prize was a trip to Hawaii
to coach the NFC in the Pro Bowl, which included a fishing trip with the AFC
head coach. That happened to be Belichick, whose Patriots lost to Indianapolis
in the AFC title game.

Belichick came away impressed by Payton.

“It was very insightful,” Belichick said. “From where
that franchise was when he got there and everything they’ve been through and how
much they’ve had to overcome and rebuild, not just on the team, but in the
community and so forth … what they’ve been able to accomplish from the top
right on down has been spectacular, really. They have a great football team.
There’s no ifs ands or buts about it.”

Although the Patriots have faced the undefeated Colts,
and lost, Belichick said he thought the Saints were playing the best football in
the NFL this year.

“They really haven’t been in a competitive game all
year. They’re basically running out the clock in the middle of the third quarter
most of the time,” Belichick said. “There were a couple scores that were really
close at the end, but the games really weren’t that close. They’ve just been
dominant in all phases of the game: returning kicks, covering kicks,
offensively, turning the ball over on defense – 29 turnovers … I don’t think
most teams get 29 turnovers in practice during the year. They’re at 29 turnovers
halfway through the season.

“(Defensive coordinator) Gregg (Williams) and Sean,
they’ve all done a great job down there. You can’t say enough about them.”

Only once this season have the Saints led by less than a
touchdown in the closing seconds. Their average margin of victory is 16.5
points. They lead the league in scoring (36.9 points per game) and total offense
(420.5 yards per game). At their current pace, the Saints would score 590 points
in the regular season. The record is 589, set by the 2007 Patriots.

“They’re one of the best teams in the league,” Brady
said. “We see ourselves as a team that can beat anybody we play. Then again,
we’ve got to go out and do it. It’s much easier said than done against this
team.”

Belichick raved about how explosive and dynamic the
Saints’ offense is with Drew Brees throwing touchdowns to everyone from Marques
Colston
and Jeremy Shockey to former Patriots tight end David Thomas, who New
England traded to New Orleans this season for a 2011 seventh-round draft pick.

As he searched his memory for a comparison to the 2009
Saints, Belichick mentioned the 2001 St. Louis Rams, the so-called “Greatest
Show on Turf.”

Incidentally, Belichick faced St. Louis in the Super
Bowl that season, in the Louisiana Superdome, of all places.

“He did pretty good against the Rams, if my memory’s
right,” Payton said.

The Patriots won 20-17. Since then, they have appeared
in three more Super Bowls, winning two, and have missed the playoffs only twice.

For now, Payton, Brees and the rest of the Saints can
only dream of realizing such sustained success.

“We’re playing a team that you can obviously say is one
of the teams of the decade,” Brees said. “That’s the type of organization that
we’re kind of aspiring to be. … So any time you play against a team like that,
it’s a big game, a big-time game, because you feel like, if you’re able to go
out and win these games, and compete with these teams, then you belong.”

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