Carolina Panthers

Sanits marching to new beat

Read the following scouting reports and see if you can guess who the Carolina Panthers are talking about.

"It's not just a bunch of individuals out there," defensive tackle Kris Jenkins said. "It's a team."

"They're playing with a lot of emotion," quarterback Jake Delhomme said.

"They're playing hard."

Ready for the answer?

It's the New Orleans Saints.

Yep, the same Saints who, for the past decade or so, have been the poster boys for underachievement and dysfunction.

"They've always had talent in New Orleans," said Delhomme, a backup with the Saints in the eras of coaches Mike Ditka and Jim Haslett.

Talent, yes. But wins, no.

From Ricky Williams in a wedding dress on the cover of a national magazine to Haslett sticking with Aaron Brooks until it was way too late, the Saints have been far more about pizzazz and potential than production.

Those days might be over.

"There's not a lot of B.S. going on around there," Delhomme said.

Like everything else in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, the Saints are rebuilding and might be ahead of schedule. They're 3-0 and coming off an electrifying win against Atlanta in a Monday night game at the Superdome.

That game, the first in New Orleans since the hurricane in August 2005, might have signified that the city and the Saints have turned a corner.

The change has been months in the making and the have much in common with the the 2002 Panthers.

Delhomme's "no B.S." comment comes into play here.

Sean Payton is the new Saints coach, and he's a lot like Panthers coach John Fox. Both are no-frills coaches who believe in the basics.

It's no coincidence Fox was one of the first people Payton turned to when he was hired by the Saints. When Payton was interviewing, Fox gave Saints general manager Mickey Loomis a strong recommendation. The two have been friends since their days as assistants with the New York Giants.

"The situation that we are in here, you can draw some similarities," Payton said. "You're trying to turn a program around. We are trying to aspire to do what John's been able to do with Carolina and that organization in the last four or five years."

Fox took over a 1-15 team from George Seifert and had the Panthers in the Super Bowl in two seasons. Fox's first team also got off to a 3-0 start and showed a fire that had been missing.

Payton has accomplished the same thing and might have an advantage Fox did not. The Saints are riding a wave of emotion because they are the symbol of New Orleans.

That same kind of emotion helped them in last season's opener when they upset the Panthers. But the 2005 Saints were bouncing between Baton Rouge, La., and San Antonio and the emotion didn't last long as they finished 3-13.

This season the Saints have carried their emotion for three games and will bring it to Bank of America Stadium today as they sit alone atop the NFC South standings. Their story, including the arrival or Reggie Bush, has captured the attention of a nation.

"They seem energized. I see a little more pep in their step," safety Colin Branch said. "They have a lot to play for right now and they're carrying that whole city on their shoulders."

The Panthers got some weight off their shoulders last week when they avoided an 0-3 start with a victory in Tampa.

That might have revived some of the Super Bowl hopes that were so prevalent during the preseason. That's why today's game could be a pivotal point for two franchises.

"We've got to come in and match their intensity," safety Mike Minter said.

  Comments