The New Orleans Saints entered Week 4 undefeated. Plenty of stories had been written about coach Sean Payton's return from suspension. But it didn't feel like the Saints truly were back until Monday night.
The 2013 Saints are ready for prime time. Their 38-17 destruction of the previously undefeated Miami Dolphins showed that Payton's crew once again is among the NFL's elite. The Saints reduced the Dolphins to bit players in a revival show.
The Saints' offense boasts rare continuity. In a constantly churning NFL, Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas and Jahri Evans have been together in New Orleans forever. (In NFL terms, forever is seven years.) Tight end Jimmy Graham might be the most valuable pass-catcher in the entire league. The defense continues to play at a level that must be seen before it's believed by anyone who watched the Saints' historically poor group from one year ago.
Graham and running back Darren Sproles weren't around in 2009, but this Saints squad is displaying many of that championship group's traits. They were terrific in September. They score in a hurry and have a risk-taking defense built on turnovers. It's a more balanced team than the 2011 squad that finished 13-3.
The Dolphins had two defenders on Graham all night, so he didn't get his second catch until midway through the third quarter. Those two catches went for 73 yards, both of them scores. Sproles can disappear depending on the week or bust out for 142 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns. Brees had 413 yards and four scores on only 39 pass attempts. He's operating at an operatic level once again.
We knew the offense would create big plays, but the revelation here is the defense. Defensive ends Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan terrorized Ryan Tannehill and Miami's offensive line all night. The entire defense swarms more in the Superdome.
After a weekend of games highlighted by vintage Peyton Manning and Tom Brady performances, it was as if Drew Brees wanted to remind everyone that he's a title contender. This is an organization that looked thrilled to be back in the spotlight for something positive, winning its eighth straight game on Monday night.
The Saints have the look of a team that will be playing in a lot more big games before this season is through.