SEATTLE — As the final seconds ticked off the New Orleans Saints’ 13-10 victory Monday night, a waterlogged Sean Payton walked down the visiting sideline to the 12-yard line and stared defiantly into the crowd above the exit ramp to the Saints’ locker room.
He was looking long and hard into the sea of navy blue and bright green fans, but the target of his glare wasn’t there. The troll had left the building.
For years, since Payton has been bringing his Saints teams here to battle the Seattle Seahawks in this cauldron of noise along the banks of Puget Sound, one lone fan has regularly tormented him, heckling him constantly and brandishing a sign: “Sean Payton crossed a NFLPA picket line.”
Never one to back down from a confrontation, Payton has good-naturedly traded barbs with the fan over the years as he’s entered and exited the field. He even tried to get him to give him the sign as a keepsake a few years ago.
For Payton, the personal feud is part of the fun of playing on the road. And after notching his second consecutive win in what is widely considered one of the most hostile places to play in the NFL, Payton wanted to bask in the moment — and taunt his longtime agitator one more time.
But the guy was gone, and considering the miserable wet, cold, windy weather conditions, it was hard to blame him for not sticking around to watch Payton gloat and the Saints celebrate the win.
“You don’t want to bring 140 people from New Orleans to Seattle and lose because it gets away from you,” Payton said. “Everyone’s counting on everyone. I think that’s a sign of a team that eventually you know how to win and to win and to win and to win – and that becomes everything. More important than anything else, it’s leaving with another win.”
Like so many of the Saints’ victories this season, Monday’s triumph wasn’t a thing of beauty. The Saints had almost as many yards in penalties (90) as they did yards rushing (94) and converted just 2 of 13 third downs. The Saints allowed an 84-yard touchdown pass on the ninth play of the game and gifted the Seahawks a field goal after a fumble deep in their own territory. But in the end, the Saints did just enough good things to come out on top for the fourth time in six tries this season.
The win was a microcosm of the Saints’ season. Little about the past two months has been easy. It’s mostly been a slog. But here the Saints are, just one game back of the Tampa Bay Bucs in the NFC South Division and with a chance to pull into a virtual tie with a win against the defending Super Bowl champs this Sunday at the Superdome.
The win was the Saints’ 23rd in their past 28 road games. Since 2018, that’s the best road mark in the NFL. The Kansas City Chiefs (22-6) are the only team even close to matching the Saints’ success rate.
The Saints have now won road games on both coasts. They’ve won games in three different time zones. And they’ve gone 4-2 despite playing just one of their first six contests inside the cozy confines of the Caesars Superdome.
The Saints opened the season by pasting the Packers in the relentless Florida heat and humidity. And they won Monday night by outlasting the Seahawks in front of their notorious 12th Man home crowd and in the midst of a bomb cyclone weather system.
It’s hard to win a game in the NFL. It’s even harder to win a game in the NFL on the road. But the Saints are starting to make it look easy. The stretch of road success is unprecedented in club history.
And like most things with a Sean Payton-coached team, none of it has happened by accident. The Saints put in a lot of time researching this stuff and developing a game plan of best practices.
For instance, Payton has found it advantageous to travel a day early on West Coast trips to allow his team to better acclimate from the long flight and to the Pacific time zone. And rather than fly back in the middle of the night, the Saints listened to the advice of their sleep doctor and stayed in Seattle on Monday night so they would get a better night’s rest before returning to New Orleans.
None of this is easy to pull off. It costs a lot of money to house a football team for a night on the road. Most NFL road trips are two-day affairs with a one-night hotel stay. The Saints spent three nights in Seattle, because they believed the extra time would give them the best chance to win.
Turns out, they were right. The investment of time and money paid off.
“It was a good win,” Payton said. “Obviously, always a tough place to play on the road, dealing with the noise. We worked all week on a plan (for the weather), and I think preparing in our mind for what we thought the weather was going to be like, maybe it wasn’t quite that . . . I never heard of a bomb typhoon, but that kind of gets your attention.”
The return flight to New Orleans on Tuesday will be a long one for the Saints. But it’ll feel much shorter after another big win for the league’s most accomplished road warriors. No one is calling the Saints a “Dome team” anymore.