NEW ORLEANS -- Sean Payton was upset after his team's win Sunday. Yes, upset after a win. The Saints had beaten the Lions 52-38 in a 1 p.m. ET game that took so long that former Saint Adrian Peterson already had rushed for 76 yards in the first quarter of a 4 p.m. ET game for his new Arizona Cardinals team by the time the New Orleans coach's postgame news conference began.
The Saints had built a 45-10 lead only to see it whittled down to seven in the fourth quarter. Payton was annoyed about the way his team struggled to finish. So when someone asked about what Peterson was doing in Arizona and whether it gave him pause about trading the old warhorse five days earlier, Payton wasn't having any.
"That's a dumb question," Payton said. "We're trying to win games, and I'd love to have that player. But it's hard to have that many and get into a rhythm. I thought Mark [Ingram] and Alvin [Kamara] had some big plays, and I would hope we would have had that type of rushing output if Adrian was a part of it."
Ingram and Kamara combined for 189 yards on 35 carries in the Saints' win on Sunday. And while they couldn't salt away the game by running it late, they won it by running it early and often, which makes you realize the Saints were loaded at running back and just couldn't come up with anything for Peterson to do.
"I told you all, he's still got the juice," Ingram said after hearing what Peterson was doing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his first game as a Cardinal.
He does, or did on this one day, and who's to say that at age 32 a player as freakishly dominant and resilient as Peterson can't possibly resurrect his career and the Cardinals' season at the same time? Arizona's offensive line has had a rough year, but Peterson in his prime was one of those running backs the old coaches like to say "brings his own blocking." This is no longer his prime, but what if he has enough motivation to muster three good months?
Saints players with whom I spoke last week talked in near-reverential terms about Peterson and the impression he made on them in six months as their teammate.
"He's a freak," wide receiver Michael Thomas said. "He takes care of his body really well, that's one thing I took from him, just the way he's always doing his shakes, he's always lifting, he's always taking care of his body, always trying to find an edge, that's just one thing I took from him. He's just professional. No matter what happened, no matter how many times he didn't get the ball, he really never brought that in here or, you know, pointed fingers or anything. He just put his head down and came to work the next day. So I appreciate that, and I have tons of respect for him."
Saints players were loving the news of Peterson's performance in Arizona, while also happy about what they still have at running back. This could be the kind of thing that works out well for everyone, if Peterson helps rescue the Cardinals and the Saints' backs blossom in their opportunities. Hey, the NFC is wide-open, folks. Go run through that hole.
Some other stuff we learned in Week 6:
All is still not well with the Steelers, but it's getting there
The truth on the Martavis Bryant story, regardless of what the player is saying publicly, is that Bryant and his agent have expressed unhappiness with the way he's being used in the offense and, some weeks ago, told the Steelers that Bryant would prefer to be traded if his current role is all they have in mind. Multiple sources say Bryant's agent has spoken with Steelers management since the season began to express these sentiments, and that Bryant himself spoke with coaches during the week leading up to Pittsburgh's Week 5 game to ask about being a bigger part of the offense. That has not materialized, though Bryant isn't exactly being ignored. He has played 71 percent of Pittsburgh's offensive snaps, second among Steelers wide receivers to only the incredible Antonio Brown (93 percent) and slightly ahead of rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster (66 percent), though Smith-Schuster saw the field more in Week 6. Bryant has been targeted 34 times, which is third on the team behind Brown (74) and superstar running back Le'Veon Bell (39). Smith-Schuster has 24 targets.
I can see the reason for Bryant's frustration. He views himself as a difference-making player whose size/speed combination is unique and who, if given the opportunity, can do serious damage downfield or in the red zone. He has worked extremely hard to come back clean, healthy and in better shape than ever following his one-year drug suspension. By all accounts, he looks incredible in practice. On a representative number of current NFL teams, he'd have a claim on the title of No. 1 wide receiver.
But the Steelers aren't just any team. They have Brown and Bell, otherworldly talents who have established themselves as key cogs in the offense while Bryant has missed time on suspension during his four-year career. The Steelers would love to use Bryant to his full potential, score 60 points a game and dominate the NFL through sheer force of will and athleticism. But it's not that simple, and there are many mouths to feed, including that of Smith-Schuster, the talented second-round pick whose opportunity has surprised Bryant. Something's still off with the connection between Bryant and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and it seems that, plus Bryant's anxious desire to make up for lost time, is creating an issue.
Bottom line, the Steelers aren't going to trade Bryant, who still has more value to them as a member of their team than he does in trade. As brilliantly talented as he might be, he has yet to establish himself as an NFL dominator, and until he does, the Steelers aren't likely to get a team to offer them sufficient return for his still-latent potential. There's still likely a breakout coming, and when it does, the Steelers want to benefit from that with points and wins.
A victory Sunday over previously unbeaten Kansas City has the Steelers feeling better. And the production and opportunity Brown and Bell are getting has those guys placated for the moment at least. Bryant's day will come, and while it's easy to understand his impatience, the Steelers have no reason to act on it.
Ben McAdoo did some coaching this week
In this space last week, I laid out the case for the New York Giants moving on from Jerry Reese after this season. He has been general manager for 11 seasons and will have made the playoffs in only four of them -- two of which were in his first two seasons. This is a large sample size.
But I also made the point that changing GMs doesn't automatically mean changing coaches, and that two years on McAdoo would be too small a sample size. Week 6 proved my point. McAdoo was taking a lot of heat this time last week, and it got worse as the week went on because of the Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie discipline issue. But the proof is in the pudding, and the display the Giants put on Sunday night in dominating the Broncos in Denver shows that McAdoo pulled off an NFL head coach's No. 1 job. He had his team completely ready to play in Sunday night's upset at Denver.
The discipline of Rodgers-Cromartie was, Giants coaches believed, necessary to send a message that turning your back on teammates won't be tolerated. The decision to hand over playcalling to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan was a case of a head coach swallowing his pride and realizing his attention was needed for the bigger picture. Smart, responsible moves that paid off. At 1-5, this Giants season isn't salvageable, but McAdoo will rightly be judged on how he navigates it now that it's lost. The final score Sunday night indicates he's on the right track.
But ... did Vance Joseph?
There was a lot of focus on how surprisingly great a night that was for the Giants, but wasn't it also just an inexcusably terrible loss for the Broncos? At home, coming off a bye against an 0-5 team that was down its top three wide receivers, its starting center, its best pass-rusher and one of its top two cornerbacks? And your top two division rivals had already lost, like, an hour before? How do you come out flat in a game like that? Should be a wake-up call for a Broncos team that has mainly played angry after missing the playoffs in 2016.
Mike McCarthy is betting on himself, and it could pay off
With Aaron Rodgers out, possibly for the season, due to a broken collarbone, Packers coach McCarthy has been adamant about going with third-year backup Brett Hundley and not looking for outside help. Hundley is well-regarded in some scouting circles, and part of the reason people around the league are intrigued by him is that they'd be intrigued by any quarterback who had spent three years in McCarthy's program.
There's no way Hundley has Rodgers' gifts for accuracy, for manipulating the pocket, for game-winning throws on the run -- no one does. But Hundley, who is signed on a cheap deal through 2018, has some talent, and McCarthy now gets more than half a season to figure out how to maximize that talent and minimize his weaknesses. If he succeeds, the Packers could have one of next offseason's more compelling trade chips on their hands.
A fantasy note on the Cowboys' running backs
This isn't a "What We Learned" from this week, because the Cowboys were off, but I have spoken with people close to the situation about what the Cowboys would do at running back if they had to play without Ezekiel Elliott for a long period of time. And with Elliott apparently re-suspended for the next six games, it's worth mentioning.
People were surprised that Dallas went with Alfred Morris and not Darren McFadden as the backup to Elliott out of the gate in Week 1. Part of that was because Morris had an especially strong camp, but according to the coaches with whom I've spoken, the main reason was game plan-driven. They'd installed a game plan thinking they'd have Elliott, and that game plan is designed for one back to get the bulk of the carries. They believed Morris was better equipped to operate that game plan if something were to happen to Elliott during the game, so he was active and McFadden was not.
They do like McFadden better than Morris in some areas, however, including the passing game. So if they know they're going to be without Elliott, expect a change in the way the Cowboys' offensive coaches make a game plan and a lean toward a system in which Morris and McFadden (and maybe Rod Smith) split duties and carries in some way. That's what I've been told to expect by folks in the know there, which is unfortunate for fantasy players who might have been hoping that Morris or McFadden would simply slide into Elliott's spot and get his workload. Sorry to be the bearer of bad fantasy tidings.