New Orleans Saints

The Saints are quickly returning to relevance

October 16, 2016 - New Orleans, LA, USA - New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees calls out a play to the offensive line during the first quarter against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016 at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La. The Saints defeated the Panthers 41-38 (Photo by Jeff Siner/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Jeff Siner/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

The New Orleans Saints have quietly won two straight games. They may have been decided by a total of four points, but the Saints are back in the mix in the NFC South at 2-3.

Atlanta has a clear lead at 4-2, but don’t count out New Orleans, which lost its first two games of the season by a combined four points. Sean Payton’s team finds ways to keep games close.

The offense is averaging 31 points per game while the defense is allowing 33.8 points per game. Trips to Kansas City, San Francisco and Carolina are on tap over the next five weeks with home matchups with contenders Seattle and Denver in between.

New Orleans did plenty of good things in Sunday’s 41-38 victory over rival Carolina to be happy about, like averaging 9.2 yards per pass, 7.4 yards per play, going 8-of-16 on third down attempts and 3-of-4 in the redzone.

Drew Brees is slinging the ball all over the field and his top four targets in Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas, Coby Fleener and Willie Snead are all producing. Getting No. 2 tight end Josh Hill involved could open the offense up even more inside the 20.

Cooks specifically showed up in the win with seven receptions for 173 yards and a 87-yard touchdown in the opening quarter. The third-year wideout was held to 12 catches for 112 yards over the previous three games.

It marked his second 100-yard game and first since the opener, when he had a 98-yard touchdown. Cooks is a burner who Brees needs to continue to find whether that comes on slants, screens or on deep throws.

Two straight victories is something Cooks says will help New Orleans as the season enters Week 7.

“It gives us confidence, there’s no question about it,” Cooks told Neworleanssaints.com. “Whether the game’s close or not – I feel like it’s one of those things where these close games that we’ve won are showing us and building us as a team to learn how to win in the fourth quarter. We have a few games where we lost close like that.

“Now, it seems like we’re turning things around in our direction and in our favor. Now, we just have to come together as one team with an offense that’s putting up a lot of points and a defense holding opposing teams to less points. I think that is where we are getting to.”

The Saints will not be able to slow down many opponents with their uneven defense, but if the offense can continue to make strides and put up 30-plus points, they’ll hang around most weeks. Brees has weapons unlike past seasons and the offensive line is giving him ample time in the pocket to make throws all over the field. Running back Mark Ingram needs to do more on the ground for this offense to do even more, but right now the passing game will continue to be the biggest strength.

After a bleak 0-3 start to the season, New Orleans is a team on the rise. It may be because of wins against San Diego and Carolina, but the points are coming consistently and confidence is building for the Saints.

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