Left For Dead, Saints Showing Signs Of Life
The Saints aren't marching in yet, but you can stand on any street corner in Ybor City or Charlotte and hear the drumbeat. Three straight victories have catapulted the defending NFC South champs back into the division race and Sunday's 31-10 triumph at San Francisco had some hallmarks from last season. Drew Brees picked apart the 49ers, wide receiver Marques Colston made big catches and Coach Sean Payton dusted off his daring playbook as New Orleans pulled within a game of Carolina's division lead and crept within a half-game of the Bucs. 'We're still underwater,' insisted Payton. 'We haven't arrived anywhere yet.'But the Saints are getting there in a quest to become the first team since the 1992 Chargers to open 0-4 and still earn a playoff berth. The key has been an offensive line that is giving Brees the time to recapture his former glory. Brees hasn't been sacked during the winning streak, encompassing a span of 109 pass attempts, and Reggie Bush has been productive as the featured back since Deuce McAllister suffered a season-ending knee injury in Tampa. Brees, the NFC's Pro Bowl starter last year, threw one touchdown pass and nine interceptions through the first four games as New Orleans averaged 13 points. When the Saints welcomed Tennessee in for the home opener, defensive linemen Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch destroyed New Orleans up front in a lopsided Titans victory. The Saints have averaged 27 points during their three-game surge, with Brees throwing eight touchdowns and only one pick. With Brees rediscovering his comfort zone, Payton has been encouraged to open up the attack. On his first play from scrimmage Sunday, Brees fired a 43-yard strike to David Patten. Payton also called for a double reverse and a flea flicker as the Saints, who finished with the league's No. 1 offense in 2006, rolled up 438 yards. 'Drew is the same guy,' said Colston, who caught three scoring passes. 'We just went through a spell where things weren't going well.' We'll know more about the Saints after they face Jacksonville on Sunday at the Superdome. The second half of their schedule appears rather soft, with games against the Rams, Texans, Falcons and Cardinals. 'Coach said at the beginning of the season that at some point, we were going to have to face some adversity,' Patten said. 'Unfortunately, it came at the beginning. Everyone stuck together, everyone was supportive and it's showing up now.' HUDDLE UP: Jonathan Vilma's days with the Jets could be over. The former Hurricane linebacker appears to be a poor fit in New York's 3-4 scheme and rookie David Harris was spectacular Sunday against Buffalo in his first NFL start for an injured Vilma. Harris registered 17 tackles and a sack, displaying the aggression Coach Eric Mangini has been demanding from Vilma. ... And you wonder why the defending NFC champions are 3-5. Chicago's 17 first-quarter possession have ended with 13 punts, two missed field goals, one lost fumble and one field goal. That adds up to three points and countless heartache. ... The Lions have forced 22 fumbles under new defensive coordinator Joe Barry. The Raiders have forced three. ... The Texans have too many talented young defensive players to allow 37, 38 and 35 points in the past three weeks. Owner Bob McNair is running out of patience and an overhaul is imminent. ... Something has to give at the RCA Dome on Sunday. The Colts have yielded only seven passes of 20 or more yards all season while the Patriots average four of those big throws per game. Teams that lost the turnover battle went 0-9 Sunday. ... Carolina might be 4-3, but the Panthers still can't get decent production out of Julius Peppers and Kris Jenkins. The pair of high-priced defensive linemen combined for zero unassisted tackles in a 31-7 loss to Indianapolis that dropped Carolina to 0-3 at home. ... Cleveland fans were excited on draft day when the Browns traded up to grab QB Brady Quinn. The former Notre Dame standout can't sniff a snap with the first unit because Derek Anderson has authored one of the league's most intriguing storylines. With 17 TD passes in seven games, Anderson is well ahead of Brian Sipe's 1980 pace, when he set the franchise record by throwing 30 scoring passes. ... If Marvin Lewis isn't under scrutiny as commander of the undisciplined Bengals, he should be. ... Give it up for Tennessee's offensive line, an unsung physical group that gets it done every week.