An extra helping of Saints nuggets before the Monday night showdown against Minnesota:

First (take) ….

The Saints’ 2-2 start isn’t looking so bad these days.

What looked like a fairly easy opening docket only a month ago looks pretty formidable four games into the 2008 season.

The combined record of the Saints’ first four opponents is 11-5, a winning percentage of .687. That’s one of the most difficult opening schedules in the entire league.

The Bucs, Redskins and Broncos are all 3-1 and ranked among the top 10 teams in the league by most objective standards.

Who da thunk it? Those teams were a combined 30-34 a year ago.

The Saints’ loss to the Redskins in Week 2 was flattered last weekend when Washington went to Dallas and handed the Cowboys their first defeat of the season.

The Buccaneers have beaten NFC powerhouses Chicago and Green Bay in consecutive weeks.

And the Broncos own the top-ranked offense in the league.

To think the Saints are just a couple of short third-down conversions away from being 4-0 against this group and you understand why Sean Payton keeps saying, “I like this team.” He wasn’t saying that same thing a year ago.

Time to hand out some awards for the first quarter of the season:

Offensive MVP: QB Drew Brees. He’s the offensive MVP for the entire league at this point. Sure, his passing yardage ranks among the best of all-time after four games (see below), but his completion percentage and decision-making are off the charts. No wonder new tight end Jeremy Shockey recently told ESPN Magazine, “He never makes a mistake.”