The Saints have picked up their share of post-season hardware thanks to an impressive season. Now, they're ready to make their debut in this post-season battle for a spot in the Super Bowl.
After the season they had, it was pretty much a given that the Saints (10-6) would reap some of the rewards that come from earning a spot in the post-season and the number two seed in the NFC playoffs.
The Saints landed three spots on the NFC Pro Bowl squad last month when quarterback Drew Brees, left tackle Jammal Brown and right defensive end Will Smith were selected for the annual all-star game.
But that was just the beginning. The biggest awards came on Saturday and Monday when first-year coach Sean Payton, Brees and Brown added some honors to their resumes.
Payton was named NFL Coach of the Year by The Associated Press, while Brees, who ran second to LaDainian Tomlinson in the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year votes, and Brown earned first-team All-Pro honors from the AP. Fullback Mike Karney was a second-team All-Pro pick as well.
Brees edged Peyton Manning by one vote to earn his first All-Pro honor, while Brown, a second-year player, was named after switching from right tackle to the left side in the spring to protect Brees' back side.
Payton was a landslide winner as coach of the year after he turned around a 3-13 team that had to spend the entire 2005 season in San Antonio, Texas, after Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans and made the Superdome unplayable.
In addition to turning around a football team that had more bad years than good in its first 39 years - including just seven winning seasons - Payton and his new-look team helped revitalize the spirits of the entire city while leading his team to the NFC South title.
Payton became only the third Saints coach to win the award, joining Jim Haslett (2000) and Jim Mora (1987). Haslett was fired at the end of last season, which triggered the search that brought Payton from the Dallas Cowboys.
"I'm honored and somewhat humbled," said Payton. "This is a time in our league right now where there are probably seven or eight Hall of Fame coaches currently coaching in our league.
"It's just been the right mix of guys who believe in each other," he said, "players putting the team ahead of everything else."
WR Joe Horn missed six games with a groin injury - including the final four games of the season - and sat out most of this week's practices. He has still caught 37 passes for 679 yards. The 34-year-old Horn showed he could still be productive when healthy in averaging 18.4 yards per catch with four touchdowns. "I was disappointed he wasn't able to practice," coach Sean Payton said. "I think he's doing everything he can to get ready."
K Billy Cundiff, who handled kickoffs for the Saints from November 26 through Week 16, was re-signed Tuesday. Cundiff provides better height and depth on his kickoffs than veteran K John Carney.
DT Hollis Thomas, who finished a four-game league suspension for violating the substance abuse policy, was officially reinstated.
RB Fred McAfee, a long-time special teams ace, had his season end when he was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.
QB Drew Brees finished a record-breaking season by completing 356 of 554 passes for 4,418 yards and 26 TDs. He threw just 11 interceptions and was sacked just 18 times. Brees, who was named to the AP All-Pro team on Monday, also had a passer rating of 96.2. He established single-season club records in yards, passer rating and completion percentage (64.3).
RB Deuce McAllister recorded his fourth 1,000-yard season after coming back from a torn right ACL. McAllister finished the season with 1,057 yards and a 4.3 average on 244 carries and had 10 rushing scores while benefiting from the addition of Reggie Bush. He also caught 30 passes for 198 yards.
WR Marques Colston, a seventh-round draft pick, became the team's go-to receiver early in the season and wound up catching 70 passes for 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns. As impressive as the numbers are, they could've been better had he not missed two games and most of a third with a sprained left ankle. He also made a cameo appearance in the Saints' final game.
WR Devery Henderson became the Saints' big-play threat when Joe Horn missed six games with a groin injury. Even though he had problems with a few drops, Henderson had career-highs in receptions (32) and yards (745) while averaging 23.3 yards per catch. He also caught five touchdowns and ran for another.
TE Mark Campbell filled in for an injured Ernie Conwell, who missed the second half of the season with a knee injury, and finished with 18 catches for 164 yards. Campbell was also a big part of the Saints' running game as an extra blocker for Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush.
SLB Scott Fujita led the Saints with 119 tackles - including 75 solos - and finished the season with two interceptions, 3.5 sacks, eight passes defenses and two forced fumbles.
RDE Will Smith made the Pro Bowl with a career-high and team-leading 10.5 sacks. Smith also had 56 tackles, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and knocked down two passes.
WLB Scott Shanle, who was obtained in a trade with the Dallas Cowboys just before the exhibition finale, started 15 games and finished as the Saints' second-leading tackler with 117 stops. He also had four sacks, broke up two passes and forced a fumble.
RB Reggie Bush rushed for 565 yards on 155 carries and caught an NFL-rookie record 88 passes for 742 yards. After a slow start, Bush scored a total of nine touchdowns - six rushing, two receiving and one on a 65-yard punt return. He averaged 7.7 yards on 28 punt returns.