Given the way the offensive line had been playing through the first half of the season, I suspect most of us Saints fans were expecting our first Luke McCown sighting to happen amidst a very different set of circumstances. Fortunately, we got the good kind instead. High five! Now, I know what you're thinking, but I trust Sean Payton to not let this turn into a full-blown quarterback controversy. Fingers crossed. We also caught our first glimpse of Good Mark Ingram, which was as pleasant as it was unexpected. Hope you savored it, because it could be a while until we see it again.

It was quite the righteous beatdown, and a much-needed dose of confidence-restoring big huge fun. The Payton/Brees Saints seem to have a knack for that kind of thing, don't they? Just when fans start collectively mumbling "oh shit" under our breath, they have a way of dropping one of these kinds of beyond-dominant performances on us and get us saying "oh shit" in a whole different context.

As our friend AWD pointed out, it wasn't entirely unexpected. After all, primetime game at home, Dallas is a fraud (to the extent that anybody really thinks they're all that good in the first place) and all that stuff. What was surprising was the sheer scope and thoroughness of the demolition, if only in that that kind of thing can never be reasonably expected and is rarely achieved even in a Peyton Manning at home against Jacksonville type situation. (Or a Mighty Seahawks at home against Tampa situation, for that matter.)

It was a bona fide "oh shit" moment just by virtue of the fact that it actually happened, no qualifiers necessary. Sure, Jason Hatcher didn't play, Morris Claiborne didn't play, DeMarcus Ware was hobbled, Sean Lee didn't make it through the first half. But while it would be ridiculous to say that those things "don't matter" I'm not sure they'd have made all that much difference Sunday night.

Partly because Dallas's defense blows anyway under the tutelage of Steve Spagnuolo's long lost illegitimate grandfather. But mostly because Drew Brees was shitting gold, as is his usual wont. And for perhaps the first time this season, so were everybody else with fleurs on their helmets. I suppose it could be argued either way, but to my eye, it was a hell of a lot less about the relative incompetence of the opponent and a hell of a lot more about the Saints finally putting it all together for one evening and being fully what they're capable of being. 

In other words, it was a perfect storm of realized potential. No qualifiers necessary.

Sure, it's tempting to downplay the Saints' performance by adding qualifiers anyway. Such as Dallas's defensive stats on the season. Their current injury issues. (As if the Saints aren't dealing with plenty of those themselves. It's not like we didn't get ourselves one hell of a heaping dose of Ramon Humber, Will Herring, Rafael Bush, Isa Abdul-Quddus and Kaare White. The difference is that our dose went down with a spoonful of sugar.) You might even argue that at some point Sunday night, Dallas just plain quit. And maybe they did. But I would argue that, if they quit, it was only because the Saints locked them in a Figure Four and forced them to tap out. They sure as hell didn't quit against Kansas City, Denver or Detroit, so I don't see any basis at all for any kind of assertion that Dallas was just disinterested in putting up a fight. They wouldn't have run an onside kick if that were true.

So add all the qualifiers you want, if that kind of thing appeals to you. I'll still assert that this was our first real glimpse of what the 2013 Saints are truly capable of.

Which isn't to say that they're gonna put up 625 yards of offense or 40 first downs on a weekly basis from now on, because of course they aren't. Obviously games like that one are outliers. Rarely does everything come up Milhouse to such a degree. For any number of reasons, be it injuries or weather factors or brain farts or the ball just not bouncing your way or what have you, teams almost never perform to their full potential on a given gameday. And that applies to all teams every season.

But that doesn't mean that, on the rare occasion when it does happen, it should be ignored or waved off as some kind of beautiful mirage. That it's rare doesn't make it any less real.

This is who the 2013 Saints are. Or at least what they are when they're at their best.

Believe it.

Which doesn't necessarily mean they're gonna win their next ten games (yes, ten) because they're not always going to be at their best. No team is ever at their best every week. But I'm certain that the Saints have been the better team in each of their nine games so far, even the losses. And I'm pretty sure they're going to be the better team in each of their next ten games.

They might not win them all, but it's not gonna be because they just get their asses kicked by an obviously superior team. Because such a thing simply does not exist right about now.

And with that, the "This is your life, Rob Ryan!" portion of the schedule mercifully comes to an end.

I guess in some ways the whole damn season is shaping up to be All About Rob Ryan. And it hasn't been nearly as annoying as it probably ought to be, if only because for the most part it's for all the right reasons. Chief among them being just sheer competence. To a mindbogglingly improbable degree. And, perhaps even more improbably, it just keeps getting better.

Hey, as long as that's the way the wind continues to blow, I don't necessarily mind being incessantly reminded that it's blowing through Ryan's silky, flowing, silver locks. Shove all the overplayed internet memes and cheap-buck tee shirt designs and fake Twitter accounts and cell phone pics/vids of Ryan drinking beer in the French Quarter and Legit Media™ puff pieces you want right down my throat. I'll swallow. And for as long as the defense's performance on the field warrants it, I promise to do the best I can to keep my annoyance to myself.

I'm just saying I'm glad the whole Pats/Jets/Cowboys Six Degrees of Rob Ryan sideshow is about to reassume its rightful place in the background and we can get back to the main storyline: Sean Payton's Revenge Tour.

Buckle up. Shit's about to get real.

Which brings us to the part where we circle back around to the question we've all been asking ourselves, a question AWD brought back up in his piece this week. Why don't they perform week-in week-out like they did Sunday night?

If that truly is what they're capable of, why isn't it always full-on scorched-earth KILL KILL KILL? Why don't the offensive line and the tailbacks do that every week? Why are they such a killing machine at home, especially in primetime, even against better competition, but other times.. um.. not so much? Why is it that they look so goddamned average at times, and look like Clubber fucking Lang at other times? Why does it seem that they have such a knack for kicking the shit out of some chumps just in the nick of time, right when confidence is starting to wane? Why is it that they come back so strong after a loss? Why is it that sometimes Drew Brees can look like Matt Schaub for 58 minutes or so, then look like John Elway for the final two? Why is it that Mark Ingram can look like Ron Dayne for months at a time, and then go all 14 for 145 with it? And on and on like that.

At the risk of coming off like Message Board Guy here, I'm afraid I have to assert that (to some extent that's a hell of a lot more significant than we're willing to acknowledge) it really does come down to… apologies in advance… emotion.

Yeah, I know. "Intangibles." Guh. I agree. If it works better for ya, if it makes it more tangible (and it sure does for me) let's just call it The Boner.

Of course they want to win every game. Of course they're trying the best they can every time they step on the field. It's not that they aren't giving it their all week in and week out. It's just that it's physically impossible to carry a boner around with you 24/7/365 (without eventually having to seek medical attention, anyway.)

I submit that it's precisely that boner that gives Sean Payton, Drew Brees and the rest of the Saints their intermittent superpowers.

For some reason, primetime gives them that boner. Most of the time, the home crowd gives them that boner. Avenging a loss gives them that boner. Being underestimated gives them that boner. Settling a score gives them that boner. In Mark Ingram's case, apparently being just about left for dead while everybody else moves on gives him some kind of Angry Boner. And on and on like that. There's a bunch of 'em.

Meantime, it's not some kind of character flaw that the Saints just can't get it up for a home game against Buffalo. Which is why those kinds of games, even when they end up being three-score victories, are characterized as "businesslike" and are met with a collective "meh." Because that's what they are. Nobody's running around sporting a throbbing boner over Buffalo. And every once in a while, the lack thereof can come back to bite you in the ass and you end up losing a game that you might not have if some factor or another had brought that little extra turgidity into play.

It's not that you don't give a shit, it's just that that little extra something.. that lagniappe.. it's either there or it isn't, you can't manufacture it. And it makes a difference.

Perhaps if Tom Brady's touchdown streak hadn't been broken by Cincinnati the previous week, the Saints could have mustered up more of a boner in Foxboro. The media kept telling us that Rob Ryan had a huge one over the opportunity to kick the shit out of his twin brother, while Ryan himself was insisting over and over that he didn't. What kind of asshole gets a boner from fucking over his brother? It's your job, it's something that has to be done, but you don't relish it. You don't pop a chubby over it.

Righteous Blue Collar Guy will predictably insist that millionaire athletes shouldn't need any extra motivation, that they should be one hundred (AND TEN!) percent all the time, regardless of circumstances, and anything less is a failure on their part. But those of us who aren't inclined toward such platitudes know that that's bullshit. It's just not how human beings are wired. There's always that little something extra that doesn't usually factor in, but when it does, it unleashes that full potential that maybe you didn't even know you had.

And that's why I've got a hunch that November is gonna be as glorious as it is #important. Because for as long as we fans have been talking about it, Sean Payton's Revenge Tour is only now finally getting started for real.

The first nine games were just the prologue. The warmup. The midcard. Dark matches against jobbers.

And now it's time for the real feuding to begin. Time for the real scores to be settled. Time for championships to be earned.

San Francisco. Atlanta. Seattle.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's killing time. I'm ready. Clearly they're ready. Are you ready?

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