Payton, Johnson match wits again


NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Sean Payton grew up rooting for the sports teams in Philadelphia, and got his first NFL coaching job with the Eagles.

Since leaving Philadelphia, though, Payton has become quite a nemesis for Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. The two match wits again tonight when Payton leads the New Orleans Saints against the Eagles in an NFC second-round playoff game.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Sean,” Johnson said. “He’s always been a guy that presents problems. I kind of know him; he kind of knows me and we will see what happens. He does a great job as far as a play-caller and moving people around.”

In his first season as a head coach, Payton improved the Saints’ victory total by seven en route to securing the second seed in the conference. He also was named Coach of the Year after reviving one of the league’s historically unsuccessful franchises and rejuvenating a city torn apart by Hurricane Katrina.

The Saints already beat Philadelphia this season, and Payton was 9-6 against Andy Reid’s Eagles as an assistant coach/offensive coordinator with the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.

None of that success will matter if the Saints don’t win this one and advance to the NFC championship game for the first time in the team’s 40-year history. New Orleans is just 1-5 in the playoffs, while the Eagles have played in four conference title games and one Super Bowl this decade.

“During Andy’s time there, they’ve been able to accomplish all the things that we want to accomplish and build here,” Payton said. “That’s a good football team year in and year out that has a chance to play in the postseason and to possibly go on and play for a championship.

“Those are the things that Andy, his staff and his team have been able to accomplish since he’s been hired from the late 90s up until now. They’ve been one of the most consistent teams from a won-loss standpoint over the last five or six seasons of any team in our league. They’ve done a great job. Those are the things that we wanted to aspire to be.”

Payton spent his formative years in the Philadelphia suburb of Newtown Square in the early 1970s, and even attended the Flyers’ Stanley Cup championship parade as an 11-year-old in 1975.

He played quarterback and linebacker as a kid, and later found his niche as a coach. Payton was the quarterbacks coach on Ray Rhodes’ staff in Philadelphia in 1997-98. He joined the Giants in 1999 after the Eagles brought in a new coaching staff.

During his four seasons as an assistant in New York, including the final three as offensive coordinator, the Giants were 6-3 against the Eagles. In his three seasons under Bill Parcells with Dallas, the Cowboys were 3-3 against the Eagles.

Payton has outfoxed Johnson with quarterbacks including Kent Graham and Quincy Carter, Kerry Collins and Drew Bledsoe. All-Pro Drew Brees makes his job easier.

In their meeting at the Louisiana Superdome in Week 6, the Eagles fell behind the Saints 17-3 at halftime before rallying to go ahead 24-17 in the fourth quarter – only to lose 27-24.

on John Carney’s 31-yard field goal as time expired.

New Orleans controlled the ball the final 8:26, converting three third-down situations on the winning drive. A penalty for having too many men on the field negated a sack on third-and-10 that would have given the Eagles a chance to get the ball back with the score tied.

The Saints are facing a much different team this time around. The Eagles are missing quarterback Donovan McNabb and Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard, who dislocated his elbow in the wild-card win over the Giants. Philadelphia has won six straight games behind backup quarterback Jeff Garcia, and Johnson’s defense has regained its stinginess.

“They’re playing with a lot of confidence,” Brees said. “As far as the type of defense they are, they’re the same type, which is one that has a very aggressive mentality that thrives on getting the turnovers, playing very physical and I think we all understand that. They have the potential to show you a lot of looks. The thing for us obviously is that I felt like we did a great job of handling it the first game. Now we need to make sure we’re ready for that. I’m sure they’ll have something special for us.”

The teams met once before in the playoffs, with the Eagles winning on the road in 1993. It was Philadelphia’s first playoff win of the Randall Cunningham/Reggie White era after three first-round playoff losses under Buddy Ryan.