On Sunday night, a capacity crowd packed the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans to watch Saints quarterback Drew Brees break Johnny Unitas’ longstanding record of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass. Among those watching was Brees’ head coach, mentor and best friend, Sean Payton.

Payton is currently serving a one-year suspension from the NFL for his alleged involvement in a bounty system run by the Saints from 2009 to 2011. While details are still being uncovered, Payton has conceded ground, citing the existence of a “pay for performance” system despite avoiding the actual term “bounty.” He was granted permission from commissioner Roger Goodell to attend Sunday’s game under the provision that he remain out of contact with New Orleans’ players and personnel. Payton was given a luxury box — and plenty of camera time — as he watched his team win its first game of the year in comeback fashion, 31-24, over the San Diego Chargers.

It is easy to say that the 2012 New Orleans Saints season is a throwaway. They’re 1-4 after five weeks — their worst start in five years — and face a brutal schedule for the remainder of the season. Their playoff chances are dim, seeing as only one team in NFL history has made the postseason after an 0-4 start. Atlanta, a division rival, is the only remaining undefeated team in the NFC, and the Saints’ wild-card chances don’t look much brighter.

Since 1990, 77 teams have lost four straight games to open the season. None of those teams, however, has had Drew Brees under center.

The Saints (and Brees) are historically at their best when the cards are stacked against them. After losing their home stadium to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, they reached the NFC Championship game a year later and raised the Lombardi Trophy four years after that.

All four losses this year have been one-possession games; the Saints could just as easily be 5-0 right now, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Drew Brees has been nothing short of world-class this season. He is on pace to break his NFL record of 5,476 passing yards set last year and has picked apart defenses with no semblance of a running game at his disposal. Though they’ve been up against some pretty horrid defenses thus far, the Saints have moved up and down the field with an ease seen only in arena football. If the running game finally comes to life, wins will surely come.

Even if it doesn’t, when your quarterback is in the “6,000 yards in a season” discussion, you have to like your chances. In the past, aerial displays like those exhibited by Brees were quelled by defensive adjustments and never-before-seen blitz schemes. But that was then and this is now. This is the era of the quarterback, and Drew Brees is its poster child.

Before every game, Brees huddles his teammates together and launches into a pump-up chant that he learned while visiting the U.S. Marines in 2009. He stands at the center of the circle with his screams echoed by a chorus of teammates around him. The routine ends in intonation, with Brees hollering, “Win!” and the rest of the team answering, “Again!” to the tune of “Win! Again! Win! Again! Win! Again!” Brees said he believes the chant goes a long way not only in getting psyched up but also in bringing his team together.

A third of the way through the season, the Saints sit at 1-4, while the upstart Arizona Cardinals are a surprising 4-1. If you asked the average football fan which of the two teams had a better chance of reaching the playoffs, he or she would likely tell you New Orleans in a heartbeat. That’s exactly what years of playoff experience and veteran leadership earn you in the NFL — respect and fear from every fan and team around the league.

Sean Payton can only watch as his team fights an uphill battle without him. Now it’s all up to Drew Brees, a synchronized receiving corps and a defense with a reputation for game-changing plays. Can the Saints pull it all together and do as their pre-game ritual says? I’d say so: It’s time to win again, and again and again.

Matt Bell is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business. FRESH OUT OF PHILLY appears every Friday.

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