Bill Kostroun, Associated Press
Somewhere in a private box at the Louisiana Superdome, Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis and Joe Vitt will sit and watch Drew Brees try to set an NFL record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass.
Not to mention get the Saints out of their worst slide in years.
That suspended trio — coach Payton is sidelined for the season, general manager Loomis for eight games, interim coach Vitt for six for their roles in the bounties scandal — was given permission by the NFL to attend Sunday night's game against San Diego, but can't interact with Brees or the other players.
Brees tied Hall of Famer John Unitas' mark of 47 straight, set from 1956-60 by throwing for three scores in a loss at Green Bay last weekend. Then he asked Commissioner Roger Goodell about allowing the coaches and GM to attend on Sunday.
"It would mean a lot, and that's why I asked," Brees said. "Of course they know how this team feels about all those people and what a big part they are in our journey despite the circumstances. And the fact that we have the opportunity to break the Johnny Unitas record, and I say 'we' because it is a team deal, and Joe Vitt is a part of that, Sean Payton is a part of that and Mickey Loomis is a part of that. They are all a part of that, and I felt like they certainly deserved the opportunity to be there in attendance and share that moment with us."
While the Saints are one of two 0-4 teams, along with Cleveland, the Chargers (3-1) are on top of the AFC West. Their three wins are over Oakland, Kansas City and Tennessee, all 1-3. When they played a contender — at home — the Chargers were routed by Atlanta.
So this could be something of a proving ground for San Diego, because beating even a winless Saints squad in New Orleans never is a Big Easy. And with emotions running wild over Brees' pursuit of Unitas' record — and with Payton, Loomis and Vitt on hand — the Chargers' challenge is amplified.
"It's the same team that's made deep playoff runs and it's the same team that's won Super Bowls," said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who replaced Brees as the starter in 2006, when Brees headed to New Orleans as a free agent. "We know what we're in for Sunday night. I know just from the few guys that were on this team a few years ago and are now there, it's a tough and resilient group. We're going to have to play at our best if we expect to win on Sunday."
Also Sunday, it's Atlanta at Washington, Denver at New England, Philadelphia at Pittsburgh, Green Bay at Indianapolis, Baltimore at Kansas City, Cleveland at the New York Giants, Buffalo at San Francisco, Miami at Cincinnati, Seattle at Carolina, Chicago at Jacksonville, and Tennessee at Minnesota.
Houston is at the New York Jets on Monday night.
The week's action began Thursday night with St. Louis' 17-3 home victory over Arizona. The Rams improved to 3-2, and the Cardinals dropped to 4-1.
Off this week are Dallas (2-2), Detroit (1-3), Oakland (1-3), and Tampa Bay (1-3).
Atlanta (4-0) at Washington (2-2)
It is a measure of how far the Falcons have come this year that they can move from their 1-yard-line in the final moments to field goal position and beat the Panthers. It's also a measure to see them with a league-best plus-10 turnover margin — the Falcons have only two giveaways and no fumbles lost — and a stingy pass defense. Atlanta has cured some major issues of the recent past.
"We've made a bunch of mistakes, but we've battled and we've been tough and we've fought through some of those things," said Matt Ryan, among the league's top quarterbacks through four games. "That's what you have to do in this league. It's never going to be perfect. That's just the nature of the NFL."
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