The New Orleans Saints are disappointed by their dismal start, frustrated at a win-loss record that has prompted far-flung speculation about the future of the franchise.
But this Saints team apparently isn’t thinking like that.
One day after Sean Payton shrugged off reports of future interest from the Miami Dolphins and other teams, the players on his roster backed up their coach by reiterating the focus of a rebuilt roster that players and coaches alike say hasn’t slipped into the malaise that affected the locker room last year.
“Sitting at 1-4, I have been part of teams that, whatever our record was, it’s a completely different feel,” defensive end Cam Jordan said. “There are a lot of young guys with a lot of hope. There are a lot of older guys that see that there are bright spots, and that there are just plays that we didn’t capitalize on. Guys aren’t harping and negative right now. We’re playing with passion and we’re playing our butts off.”
New Orleans has been in this position before, once with Payton in 2007 and once again during 2012, the year Payton’s suspension turned the team on its ear before it even got going.
Payton likes the team’s mettle. Offered a chance over and over again to hint at any issues other than what’s going wrong on the field, he steered away.
“I think we’ve got a group that is very focused,” Payton said. “I think they understand the margin for error that we’re playing with. They understand what wins and loses. That is the thing that is inspiring as a coach, because easily, when all of a sudden you’re 1-4, you can feel like, ‘Man, are we having to pull teeth to get a good practice in or to get an install in.’ Those are the things that encourage me, and I think we’ve got real good leadership. I think that’s where it starts.”
The locker room remains positive about the group the Saints have put together.
But don’t mistake that optimism for acceptance of the team’s 1-4 record. The Saints are frustrated by the mistakes they’ve seen on tape and the missed opportunities in the first five games. New Orleans had chances to win its first three games, but the offense hasn’t been as dangerous as it has in the past, and the defense has seen spurts of solid play erased by big mistakes in other moments.
“I’m not really happy with the way that things have gone this far,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “You could say I’m a little bit angry, disappointed, frustrated, (with a) chip on the shoulder. I’m harnessing that into something positive.”
With the Saints stumbling, though, national speculation has been that big changes could come at the end of this season — beginning with the possibility that Payton might move on, signaling a new era in New Orleans.
Veteran tackle Zach Strief believes those projections are misguided.
“It’s the easiest thing to think, that there’s a magic answer,” Strief said. “There’s not. The guy’s a Super Bowl-winning coach. He’s got an outstanding overall record as a coach. We haven’t changed the message. Those things haven’t changed. We’re just not doing a very good job of executing what they’re telling us to do.”
Strief, who has been with Payton since the beginning, also isn’t buying the argument that 10 years in one spot is too long for any coach.
Payton is working with a rebuilt roster, a group that includes 21 players in their first season on the Saints’ 53-man roster, and the on-field results simply haven’t matched the work.
“I think there’s an easy answer that people like to take,” Strief said. “I can show you 50 examples in the last 10 years in the NFL of a coach losing his job because ‘his message got stale,’ and the next guy did the exact same thing or worse, because it’s not that simple.”
These Saints, despite the slow start, remain focused on getting this season back on track.
“I don’t understand what all the hoopla is,” veteran guard Jahri Evans said. “Obviously, we’ve had a slow start here, but we’ve done a lot of good things in the past, and we’ve still done some good things in seasons where we’ve had slow starts. He’s a great play-caller, we’re still running his schemes, we’re still running his plays. We’re just falling short here early on.”