METAIRIE, La. -- For the Saints, it's as if 2012 never happened.
After three games a year ago, they were 0-3 without coach Sean Payton and coming off an overtime home loss to Kansas City when they blew an 18-point second-half lead.
With Payton back from his one-season bounty ban, New Orleans is 3-0 after a 31-7 rout of Arizona that resembled many of the games in Payton's best seasons. New Orleans also started 3-0 under Payton's tenure in 2006, when the Saints reached the NFC championship game, and 2009, when they won the Super Bowl.
Payton dismissed the comparisons Monday, saying it's the media's job "to reference all those things," but for the Saints, "it's noise."
He noted Arizona "was 4-0 last year at the start of the season and ended up firing a general manager and a head coach."
While that might sound like typical Payton, it's one of the reasons the Saints believe they're off to a fast start. They say with Payton back, the distractions of last season are long gone and the intense focus and preparation have returned.
"He brings back that leadership, that ultimate decision-making power for the team," centre Brian de la Puente said. "You come into each week knowing that we have the best plan possible."
To get to 4-0, the Saints will have to beat the Miami Dolphins at the Superdome next Monday night in a matchup of two unbeaten teams. They like their chances if quarterback Drew Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham and a resurgent defence continue to play the way they did against the Cardinals.
Brees threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns against Arizona, also rushing for a score. Two of the scoring tosses went to Graham, who had nine receptions for 134 yards a week after catching 10 passes for 179 yards against Tampa Bay.
The Saints defence allowed an 80-yard touchdown drive to open the game, then forced eight punts and had two interceptions on the Cardinals' next 10 possessions.
Payton's decision to replace former defensive co-ordinator Steve Spagnuolo with Rob Ryan and switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme has worked wonders through three games.
-- The Associated Press