Saints right tackle Zach Strief said he and teammates were angry about the way the club was treated by the league, but added that players generally have tunnel vision during the season.
“There’s a period in the offseason when you can feel that way, and then once the season starts there’s no time to worry about it,” Strief said.
Strief said the experienced assistant coaches who ran the team in Payton’s absence did a good job keeping the routine largely the same and delivering messages in meetings similar to the way Payton had in the past.
“I don’t ever remember going on the field and saying, `That meeting on Wednesday really has me shaken up.’ So I don’t think there’s necessarily an effect like that,” Strief said. “But obviously there’s a reason (Payton is) a head football coach in the NFL, because he’s a talented coach, and so it’s not just players that lose something from him not being here. He’s also an integral part of our coaching staff and they didn’t have him. So you’re putting those coaches in situations they’ve never been in.
“It’s more work and more pressure and stress on everybody. Coach Payton carries this big weight, and when he leaves it has to get picked up by a lot of people. You can’t deny there’s not an effect, but to sit there and say, `How many wins does that get you?’ is impossible.”
New Orleans has won seven of 11 games since the 0-4 start, leaving Shanle to wonder whether the impact of Payton’s absence did not manifest itself most early in the regular season. The Saints lost all four games by single digits, including an overtime loss at home to a Kansas City team that is now 2-13.
“I think the start of our season would have been different. We would have won one or two games here or there that would have changed everything to where we are now,” Shanle said. “We all said it wouldn’t affect us, but it was much harder when that reality came. But after we got used to, `This is how the flow is going to be now,’ we played better. We just never played consistently. Our play reflected the roller coaster that was our offseason and our summer.”