And, in a video game gone wild, they won.
The Saints nearly blew a 35-point second-half lead Sunday but somehow hung on for a 52-38 victory over the Detroit Lions at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to sneak above the .500 mark (3-2) for the first time since the end of the 2013 season -- a drought of 1,386 days.
The crazy game, which the Saints seemed to have locked up after leading 45-10 with 8:34 left in the third quarter, featured a combined eight turnovers, four defensive touchdowns -- three by the Saints, the most in a game in franchise history -- and a 74-yard punt return by Detroit's Jamal Agnew for a score.
In the end, when the video game went tilt, Payton was perturbed.
"It was a crazy game," Payton said. "Credit our defense for 28 points -- that was significant. I've been involved in a couple of games where you go from a big lead. Our punt coverage stunk. We had three turnovers in the second half. We did a lot of dumb things, but fortunately our defense did a lot of good things."
Saints defensive end Cam Jordan had the biggest takeaway of the game with 5:04 left by tipping and then intercepting a Matthew Stafford pass in the end zone -- the Saints' third defensive touchdown of the game -- to snuff out the Lions' 28-point, second-half comeback from a 45-10 deficit to take a 52-38 lead.
"It's significant to bat a ball down and catch it in the end zone," Payton said. "I thought we did a good job affecting the passer and changing our looks."
Playing on a bad right ankle and behind a limited offensive line, Stafford completed 25 of 52 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns, but he threw three interceptions and was sacked five times. Stafford has been sacked 17 times in the last three games, and Detroit (3-3) has dropped three of its last four games going into a bye week.
"Our biggest problem is keeping No. 9 (Stafford) from being hit," said Lions tight end Darren Fells. "If we keep doing that, it's going to be a long season."
When cornerback Marshon Lattimore returned a Stafford interception 27 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, the Saints led 45-10.
But Detroit scored 28 consecutive points over the next 16 minutes to cut the deficit to 45-38 with 6:41 remaining. The Lions' final score came on a 2-yard interception return by defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson, who followed the eyes of Brees and waltzed in for the score.
"We just don't give up," said Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell. "Our guys show a lot of resolve. We always think that we have a chance to close the gap. They believe in one another. We fell a little bit too short."
Brees completed 21 of 31 passes for 186 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"It's probably one of the crazier games I've been involved in," Brees said. "It was 45-10 midway through the third quarter and it felt a lifetime of ball had been played. I was really disappointed in the way we finished the game -- the offense -- the last quarter and a half. We didn't establish any rhythm."
Leading 45-38, the Saints again failed to pick up a first down for the fifth consecutive series. But punter Thomas Morstead backed up the Lions at their 1-yard line. On second-and-10, Stafford retreated into the end zone, and Jordan tipped the pass and easily cradled the ball for the first touchdown of his seven-year NFL career.
In winning their third consecutive game, the Saints rose above the .500 mark for the first time since finishing 11-5 at the end of the 2013 regular season. Payton was not in the mood to celebrate.
"There's a lot of guys who haven't been here for more than a year and don't know the long history picture, and I don't encourage them to," Payton said. "I thought it was important to get a win. We haven't played well against this team."
New Orleans raced to a 31-10 halftime lead, expanded it to 38-10 on a 2-yard pass from Brees to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and then to 45-10 on Lattimore's touchdown with 8:34 left in the third quarter.
Stafford responded with a pair of 22-yard scoring passes to receiver Marvin Jones and Fells to cut the deficit to 45-24 late in the third quarter, and Agnew raced 74 yards with a punt return for another score to draw the Lions within 45-31 with 11:03 left.
Just before halftime, Detroit drove the length of the field to a first-and-goal from the New Orleans 5, but the Lions came away with no points as Stafford threw four consecutive incompletions, preserving the New Orleans 31-10 lead.
NOTES: Detroit QB Matthew Stafford normally takes 65 percent of his snaps in the shotgun, but his sore right ankle forced him to work exclusively from the gun against the Saints. ... The Saints entered the game as one of only three teams in NFL history not to commit a turnover in the first four games, but committed two interceptions and lost one fumble. ... New Orleans RB Mark Ingram's 51-yard run was the longest given up by the Lions this year. The Lions came into the game allowing only 74 yards rushing a game. ... The loss was costly for the Lions. S Glover Quin went out with a head injury and WR Golden Tate left with a shoulder injury.