NFL

Sean Payton Used Baskets of Cheese to Keep His New Orleans Saints Focused on Their Super Bowl Dreams

During his time in the Big Easy, it’s safe to say that Sean Payton has done a pretty good job. Barring the Bountygate scandal, the New Orleans Saints coach has barely put a foot wrong; he’s won more than 140 games, taken home AP Coach of the Year honors, and lifted the Lombardi Trophy. Based on a recent report, it seems like he’s used some unconventional motivational tactics to achieve that goal.

With Week 13’s victory over the Atlanta Falcons, the New Orleans Saints clinched yet another playoff berth. Sean Payton, however, wasn’t ready to celebrate; while he filled the locker room with baskets of cheese, they were merely props to keep his team focused on the ultimate prize.

Sean Payton has the New Orleans Saints back in the postseason

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On paper, the New Orleans Saints have more than enough firepower to outscore any opponent and sail into the playoffs. In 2020, however, Sean Payton still had plenty of issues to overcome.

Before the season even began, the Saints’ reign as NFC South champions came under threat from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the arrival of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, it became clear that the Florida franchise was going all-in. While that problem has since faded—the Bucs have been talented but inconsistent—New Orleans also had some internal issues.

During the early days of the campaign, the Saints had to make do without Michael Thomas. The star receiver missed time with a high ankle sprain, sat out after punching a teammate in practice, and was rumored to be on the trading block; in total, he sat out six games, plus the team’s bye week. New Orleans has also had to take the field without Drew Brees after the quarterback suffered a collapsed lung and multiple broken ribs.

Despite those issues, Sean Payton and his Saints have taken care of business. With a Week 13 victory over the Falcons, they moved to 10-2 and became the first NFC team to clinch a postseason berth.

Sean Payton gave his players cheese baskets as a reminder to keep their eyes on the prize

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Under normal circumstances, receiving a gift basket is a cause for celebration. In the New Orleans Saints locker room, however, things work a bit differently.

After their playoff-clinching win, quarterback Taysom Hill revealed that Sean Payton had recently placed a basket filled with every imaginable variety of cheese at each player’s locker. They weren’t for snacking, though; instead, the gifts were meant to send an important message.

“Hill explained Payton’s message, an homage to Payton’s mentor, Bill Parcells,” Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk explained. “Don’t eat the cheese. Don’t get into the hype. Keep your head down. Keep working.”

That message isn’t new to veteran Saints players. As explained in a 2018 ESPN video, Payton has used cheese baskets before, in addition to empty gas cans, literal mouse traps, and other props.

Can the New Orleans Saints make another run to the Super Bowl title?

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From a coaching perspective, it’s understandable that Sean Payton would want his team to take things one week at a time. Looking at the bigger picture, though, the team does seem to have a legitimate shot at a Super Bowl title.

While the Saints’ offense hasn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders this season, we know what they can do when everything is healthy. Drew Brees and Michael Thomas can torch any defense; Alvin Kamara is more than capable of doing damage on the ground, too, which forces defenses to stay honest.

New Orleans isn’t simply opening it up and outgunning their opponents, though. The Saints’ defense has been impressive in 2020; through Week 13, they’re in the top-five for points-per-game, rushing yards-per-game, passing yards-per-game, and total yards-per-game. If the cliche that defense wins championships rings true, they’re in good shape.

At this point, Sean Payton is trying to keep his team’s collective eyes on the prize. At the rate they’re going, though, there will be plenty of celebratory cheese to eat come February 2021.