It's no secret there was professional respect but not much love between Payton and his former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who directed a take-no-prisoners defense that forced a league-high 39 turnovers in 2009 en route to the Saints' emotional Super Bowl XLIV championship over the Indianapolis Colts.
But in routing the Los Angeles Rams 49-21 on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Payton looked like a bottle rocket on Red Bull as he responded to the Saints' cascade of seven touchdowns by pumping his fists, glaring across the field at Williams and mouthing a few grammatically correct, NC-17 adjectives, nouns and adverbs.
The Saints' domination, which put them back in the NFC playoff picture at 5-6, was sweet solace for Payton, who was suspended by the NFL for the entire 2012 season because of the bounty program the league said Williams ran from inside the Saints locker room. The NFL said Payton did not stop the bounty program, which promised cash for big hits on opponents, after it came to light.
Asked about his sideline gyrations and staredowns with Williams, Payton said with a straight face: "I was a little excited. It's an important win for us."
The Saints made a statement. Against a Williams defense that had allowed 18.7 points and just 318.3 yards a game, the Saints took whatever they wanted in compiling 555 yards in total offense and 27 first downs.
Drew Brees completed 28 of 36 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns, and Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower shredded a Rams' rush defense for 209 yards on the ground. The Rams had been holding opponents to just 102.6 rushing yards a game.
But the billboard signal that this was something out of the ordinary came midway through the fourth quarter, with the Saints leading 42-21. On third-and-3 from midfield, Brees threw a backwards lateral to wide receiver Willie Snead, a high school quarterback, who then wheeled and threw a 50-yard strike across the field to wide open running back Tim Hightower.
That made it 49-21 with 1:15 left. It was the first time since Payton took over the Saints in 2006 that a non-quarterback -- he's had Brees, after all -- threw a touchdown pass for New Orleans.
"Listen, I'm not going to completely avoid the fact that Gregg Williams is their defensive coordinator and there's a history there," Brees said. "The bottom line is he is one of the better defensive coordinators in the league. The last four games they've allowed less than 17 points in each game. We knew the challenge coming in as an offense.
"When you're playing against these types of defenses, you have to do your best and be on point. We knew we had our challenge, but we rose to the occasion."
Payton said the Snead-to-Hightower connection was nothing more nefarious than exploiting the Rams' defensive "tendencies."
"It had been installed earlier in the week and just came up at the right time," Payton said. "I thought Tim did a good job chasing it down. We had that play seven or eight years ago, and every time we wanted to run it at practice, (wide receiver Marques) Colston would go to the restroom; he wasn't really excited about it. He had a good arm, but he wasn't fired up about it. Lance (Moore) tried it one year and about three different guys intercepted it (in practice). We cleaned up some of the things we were doing and we got the right look."
Rams coach Jeff Fisher didn't directly answer what he thought of the play call.
"I would expect nothing other than that," Fisher said. "They have a very explosive offense and an outstanding quarterback. We knew that going into the game. ... When you're talking about 555 yards of total offense and 49 points, that's not going to win football games. Unfortunately, our defense, which we expect to keep us is football games, could not do it today."
Brees tossed two touchdown passes of 6 and 21 yards to rookie Michael Thomas, a 3-yard scoring strike to Brandon Coleman and a perfectly timed 21-yard screen pass to Ingram. The Saints' other two scores came on a pair of fourth-down calls -- a 10-yard sweep by Ingram on fourth-and-1 and 1-yard leap by Brees in which he extended the ball over the goal-line for a split second before pulling it back.
It was the first time in the NFL this year that a team had scored two fourth-down touchdowns in a game.
Brees' four scoring passes gave him 30 on the season, the ninth time in his career he has reached that mark in a season. Brees also posted the 30th game in his career with at least four TD passes, with only Peyton Manning (35 four-TD games) ahead of him.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff, making only his second NFL start, was the lone bright spot for the Ram. He showed poise and accuracy in throwing for three first-half touchdowns -- 24 yards to Tavon Austin, 6 yards to Kenny Britt and 15 yards to Lance Kendricks -- but the Rams still trailed 28-21 at intermission and did not score in the second half.
The Saints dominated in total offense in the second half, compiling 313 yards to the Rams' 60.
NOTES: The 49 points were the most a Gregg Williams-run Rams' defense has allowed. ... The Rams had not allowed this many points in a game since 2002. ... This appeared to be the first time this season Sean Payton called most of the plays for the Saints' offense, another sign of his enmity toward Williams. ... The Rams' offense had scored just 13 touchdowns in the first 40 quarters of the season, but Goff engineered three touchdown drives in the first two quarters.