Sean Payton talk is quiet in Dallas
BY SCHUYLER DIXON Associated Press
Sunday, December 23, 2012
12/23/12 at 7:20 AM
IRVING, Texas - The New Orleans Saints visit Cowboys Stadium for the first time Sunday, just a few miles from the home where suspended coach Sean Payton waits to return from a yearlong ban with a voided contract that sparked speculation about him replacing Jason Garrett in Dallas.
If these teams had played in early November, there wouldn't have been anything else worth discussing. The Cowboys changed that by winning five of six games to regain control of their playoff hopes, and the Saints aren't totally done yet.
"Our mindset around here is that we always control our own destiny," Garrett said. "We put ourselves in a position right now that everything we want is still in front of us. But we're still focused on the task at hand, and that is the New Orleans Saints."
Garrett dodged a few questions Wednesday about those November days when the Cowboys were 3-5 and a report surfaced that the league had scrapped Payton's contract because it objected to an out clause in the deal.
The buzz, while ignoring the obvious New Orleans reaction that it intended simply to re-sign Payton, was grounded in logic: If Payton's a free agent, then why wouldn't he want to return to a place where he was a highly regarded assistant and restore America's Team to greatness?
The week that story hit, the Cowboys started winning again, which is why most of the questions for Garrett in the days leading the Saints game have been about football. Like, how about that three-game winning streak?
The Cowboys had to focus on a whole new set of priorities after practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown died Dec. 8 in a one-car accident that led to intoxication manslaughter charges against teammate and close friend Josh Brent.
Suddenly, Dallas was trying to figure out how to just get through the game. The Cowboys beat Cincinnati 20-19 on a field goal by Dan Bailey as time expired, and Bailey won it again a week later in a 27-24 overtime win against Pittsburgh.
By finding ways to win, the Cowboys (8-6) are tied for first in the NFC East and will take the division if they beat the Saints and win their finale at Washington.
"I can only imagine what the organization has been through and certainly the team," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "I guess you can do one of two things. It can cause you to kind of go backward or it can motivate you to move forward and kind of honor the memory of the person that you lost."
Brees figures Payton will be watching on TV from Westlake, the Dallas suburb where he has a home. And Brees believes Payton will be watching his future team: the Saints. He never bought into the Payton-to-Dallas talk because he has always believed the coach he shares a Super Bowl trophy with wants to win another one in New Orleans.
"He's always with us," Brees said, "even though we haven't been able to talk and communicate with him."
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Dallas head coach Jason Garrett has led the Cowboys on a three-game winning streak and into the thick of the race for the playoffs with two games left in the regular season. TONY GUTIERREZ / Associated Press