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Sean Payton extension means Saints can 'start rolling'

The New Orleans Saints have to be the most optimistic 7-8 team with no playoff shot in NFL history.

Rosenthal: It's the first domino to fall
The Saints smartly locked up Sean Payton just days before what's expected to be historic coaching upheaval, Gregg Rosenthal writes. More ...

Sure, their season ends Sunday, regardless how they fare against the Carolina Panthers. But the Saints go into that finale knowing Sean Payton will be their coach in 2013 and beyond.

The contract extension acts as load-bearing beam for a franchise desperate to find pre-bounty scandal stability. Payton represents that, and the extension keeps him out of what will be wide-open coaching market next month

"I think things are starting to go for us rather than against us," Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief told The Times-Picayune. "I think that we are playing our best football at the end of the year, and that is what coach Payton would expect and demand from us. We want to finish this season the right way and give ourselves some momentum. Coach re-signing is like getting a big shove at the top of the hill.

"We just spent the last 12 weeks trying to climb it, and now we can start rolling. It really excites me for next year. Coach Payton is the reason this organization has turned around, and we can't wait to get him back in the building where he belongs."

The Saints didn't play on an even field this season, and it cost them a fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs. Payton's return is a signal that the bounty saga is in the rear-view mirror.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.

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