METAIRIE, La. -- In a matter of three Sundays, the New Orleans Saints have gone from up to down to up again against three of the better teams in the NFL -- including the teams that finished as Super Bowl runners-up the past two seasons.
That means they're 2-1 against the Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks with the setback being a six-point loss to the Chiefs on the road after cutting the deficit to three points late in the game.
Winning two of three during that stretch seemed rather implausible just a month ago when the Saints got off to an 0-3 start, but they obviously made some progress to get themselves back in the playoff race as they head to the midpoint of the season.
Sunday's 25-20 victory over the Seahawks was a significant one for coach Sean Payton, who through the years has taken down some of the NFL's elite clubs. But winning this one, hanging on late to defeat the Seahawks (4-2-1) before a raucous Mercedes-Benz Superdome crowd, was special for the Saints (3-4).
The Saints had lost three in a row against the Seahawks with two of them eliminating New Orleans from the playoffs in 2010 and 2013. The other was an ugly 34-7 thrashing in 2013 on Monday Night Football, no less.
"When you play a Seahawks team, they have been one of the better teams in the NFL and (are) well-coached," Payton said after his team survived Sunday. "To beat a team like (the Seahawks) was real important."
In Payton's time on the sideline, the Saints have also beaten the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and New York Giants -- all teams that have won the Super Bowl in recent years -- but this one felt just as good.
The Saints didn't have to punt after the first quarter and they scored on their final six possessions against the formidable Seahawks defense. New Orleans' much-maligned defense allowed just two second-half field goals.
The offense was 9 of 15 on third downs even though they bogged down at times and had to rely on kicker Wil Lutz's three field goals to get past the Seahawks.
"We kicked probably a few too many field goals for my liking, and yet we scored and scored and scored," said Payton, whose offense kept the Seahawks off balance with a perfect mix of 35 runs and 35 passes. "I don't know how many times, and that is a good thing."
The only things the Saints did wrong were a fumble by running back Mark Ingram that gave the Seahawks a gift first touchdown on the game's second series and a two-point play that failed in the fourth quarter after they took the lead for the first time at 22-20 with 12:24 remaining.
"We did exactly what we needed to do and what we wanted to do," said running back Tim Hightower, who had 102 rushing yards after Ingram was benched by Payton. "We knew we had to sustain drives and control the line of scrimmage. I think we did that."