|Al Behrman / Associated Press|
|Marques Colston had the winning score vs. Cincinnati and has been key to the Saints' five-game winning streak.|
While the Atlanta Falcons have established themselves as the top team in the NFC, their division rival, New Orleans, has steadily -- and somewhat quietly -- positioned itself to finish with the same record that it posted last season when the Saints won the Super Bowl.
"People are just starting to realize that last year we were 13-3 and (that) we're sitting here with an opportunity to be in the same spot," wide receiver Marques Colston said.
Well, it's not quite that simple. Last season, New Orleans came out of the gate taking names and ripping off 13-straight wins before coasting to the finish line, then pushing to Super Bowl history. This season, the Saints lost three of their first seven games to cast doubt on their ability to repeat.
Not anymore. After a numbing loss to Cleveland, the Saints have been on a scary tear, scoring 30.4 points a game and winning five straight. As much as we assume it's been quarterback Drew Brees or the return of Reggie Bush that's generated the offensive push, the understated Colston has been a huge factor.
And like the Saints' surge toward the top of the NFC South and conference overall, Colston nabbed 31 catches and four of his five touchdowns during the winning streak. His last catch was the difference in a nail-biter last weekend in Cincinnati.
On the season, he has 71 catches, a total that not only is tied for fourth in the NFL, but also might surprise a lot of folks since Colston is producing without any fanfare. Colston also has surpassed his output from last season (70 receptions), has his second-highest total and is pushing toward his career-best mark (98 catches in 2007).
Colston, whose lack of notoriety is in large part due to his quiet nature, stalled for a second when I asked him about his recent run, as if he was tempted to go a little Ochocinco, but he reverted back to what got him here: Humility.
"It's a result of a lot of things, but I owe what's gone on to a lot of people," he said, sounding as if he'd just won a Grammy.
His run, actually, is a byproduct of him finding more ways to get open and the Saints making an effort to get him the ball.
Saints Coach Sean Payton said he's made a point to put pressure on defenses with Colston by moving him to different receiver positions they haven't used before. The luxury to have Colston being highly cerebral and a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, has put Colston in positions where he ends up being Brees' primary option.
"The last few weeks he's been real important to what we're' doing," Payton said. "We're mixing up some formations. The game mentally comes so easy to him, it gives him position flexibility and versatility."
In the Saints' diverse offense, their typically is a different player who stands out each week. Colston is on a roll, though.
"It's hard to predict," Payton said. "One game Robert Meachem will go over 100 yards, the next game Lance Moore will go over a hundred. The last half of the games we've played, Marques' numbers have really jumped."
Defenses also have changed. During the Saints' so-so start, opponents clearly opted not to allow New Orleans any big plays, hence Colston struggling to hit double-digit yards per reception on occasion and only topping 100 yards in a 10-catch loss to Cleveland.
"There was a lot of emphasis early, one where teams weren't letting us get the big chunks of yardage downfield," Colston said. "Any time you win a Super Bowl, teams become a case study, where teams study what you do and how to stop it. What's changed has been that we've got our running game back and that's allowed us to start making plays downfield."
In two of the Saints' past three games, Chris Ivory has rushed for 99 and 117 yards. Colston has three touchdowns and 283 yards over those three games. Colston also have averaged at least 14 yards per catch. He never reached that mark, average-wise, the first nine games.
Colston said that New Orleans didn't change its offense at all when things weren't clicking. Instead, the approach was to "chip away" and eventually, things would break. They have and with Bush back in the mix and Pierre Thomas possibly returning soon, things shouldn't slow down.
Colston said the Saints' offense isn't complete enough yet to look past the Rams, a hungry team that could either buckle under the intimidation of the playing in the Superdome or give New Orleans a heck of a game because it's on a roll as well. Colston figures to continue to be a major factor in the offense, but with him being such a force, he's also well aware that he could be the focus of defenses and his production could begin to wane.
"It's all about winning games," he said. "Whatever it takes to win."
That's Colston. Plain. Simple. Good.
Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.