Saints' Sean Payton Tests Positive for COVID-19, Won't Coach vs. Buccaneers Week 15

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVDecember 17, 2021

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton looks on against the New York Jets during an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
AP Photo/Adam Hunger

The New Orleans Saints announced Friday that head coach Sean Payton tested positive for COVID-19.

The team said defensive coordinator Dennis Allen will serve as the Saints' acting head coach against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday with Payton returning to his usual role the following week against the Miami Dolphins.

The Saints added that Payton will have to be away from the team for 10 days "unless he meets the league requirements for a fully vaccinated individual to return to the team environment."

In March 2020, Payton became the first person in the NFL to have a confirmed case of COVID-19.

He was fully recovered in time for the 2020 season and led the Saints to a 12-4 record, NFC South title and playoff berth. New Orleans was eliminated in the NFC Divisional Round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ending what turned out to be quarterback Drew Brees' final season.

Things have been tougher for New Orleans in the post-Brees era this season, as the Saints have struggled to a 6-7 record, losing five games in a row before last week's win over the New York Jets.

Jameis Winston began the season as the Saints' new starting quarterback, but after he suffered a season-ending injury, Payton pivoted to Trevor Siemian. Now, for the past two weeks, Taysom Hill has been the starter under center.

The Saints will likely see their streak of four consecutive division titles come to an end this season with the Bucs atop the NFC South at 10-3.

New Orleans does own a victory over the Buccaneers this season, however, and the Saints are 3-0 overall against the Bucs during the regular season over the past two years.

Sunday night figures to be a major challenge for the Saints, as they will be without their head coach and will be facing a Tampa team in the midst of a four-game winning streak.

Allen, the interim head coach, does have some previous NFL head coaching experience.

In parts of three seasons as the Oakland Raiders' head coach from 2012-14, Allen went 8-28 and never won more than four games in a single season.

Allen has done a solid job as the DC in New Orleans, though, as the Saints ranked in the top five in points allowed and total defense last season, and they are 11th in both categories this season.

Winning the division is likely out of the question regardless of whether the Saints win or lose Sunday, but a win would strengthen their playoff chances significantly, as they are one of five teams tied for the final wild-card spot in the NFC at 6-7.