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Saints on path they expected

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Dan Parr
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Posted Oct. 16, 2011 @ 1:38 a.m. ET
By Dan Parr

Some pretenders, and surprise contenders, have been established through five games, but the Saints are situated where they expected to be — leading the NFC South and in position to compete for a high seed in the playoffs.

The Saints have won four straight, including two in a row on the road, since losing their season opener to the still-undefeated Packers and have forged two comeback wins after trailing in the fourth quarter, including in Week Five against the Panthers, when they blew a 10-point third-quarter lead before rallying late.

Longtime team observers were struck by how calm New Orleans was late in the game against Carolina, driving 89 yards in 6:16 to pull ahead with less than a minute to play. The potential significance of that win wasn't lost on head coach Sean Payton.

"You begin to develop a personality each year, and it's a little different from year to year, and a win like (the one in Week Five) can do a lot in that it was hard-fought, you had to come back, and you become somewhat resilient and you gain confidence from that," Payton said on Oct. 10. "All those things are important, and just as important, though, is us being able to make sure we look and see that we were up 10 in this game and what kept us from separating at that point and it became a closer game."

The Saints are not dominating as they did early in 2009 during their run to a Super Bowl title and have only a one-game lead over the Buccaneers for the division lead. Yet, team observers have been saying since training camp that this year's group is reminiscent of that championship team in its attitude and approach.

The empty feeling of last season's quick playoff exit sticks with the Saints, and they still have aspirations of being considered one of the better teams of their era. Since the start of the 2009 season, including the playoffs, the Saints have the league's highest winning percentage (.756) and have won more games (31) than any other club, but they know that the "dynasty" tag won't be attached without multiple titles.

The team the Saints are chasing in the NFC — the Packers — are a close second with 30 wins since the start of '09, and Green Bay stares the Saints down as the biggest roadblock to their ultimate goal.

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