It’s been 35 days since the New Orleans Saints returned from St. Louis with an embarrassing 31-21 loss to the lowly Rams in one of those rare games in which they couldn’t do anything right — particularly on offense.
The stunned Saints were shut out in the first half, accounting for two of only four times they’ve been unable to score in 44 quarters played this season. They couldn’t run the ball and couldn’t throw it, either.
Most astonishingly perhaps, they could not protect Drew Brees. He was sacked six times — the most sacks the Saints have allowed in 91 regular-season games under Sean Payton.
But now, that game seems like years ago. The Saints got their act together quickly and are riding a three-game winning streak going into a nationally televised game (NBC) at 7:20 p.m. Sunday against the Detroit Lions in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Payton said it wasn’t only the sacks that stood out that day. An unsound pocket, tipped passes and a pair of interceptions combined to make that game the unmitigated mess it was.
It was, as coach speak goes, a teaching moment.
“Absolutely, it was,” Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. “We just knew we had to get better. That game left a bad taste in this whole organization’s mouth … it wasn’t good.
“It didn’t set well with myself or anybody on this team,” he said. “That just wasn’t a good game, and we don’t really want to feel that way again.”
So, Bushrod said, they had to get back to the basics.
“We knew all we could do was learn from our mistakes, and go out and continue to get better individually,” he said. “If we did that, we would get better as a team.”
He added that the loss to the Rams was a wake-up call, not only for the offensive line but the entire team as well. Which is why the Saints (8-3) are going for a fourth consecutive win against the Lions (7-4), which is only 2-4 since a 5-0 start.
During the Saints’ three-game winning streak, Brees hasn’t been sacked. He has completed 69.5 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and only one interception in leading the Saints to 317.3 passing yards and 147.0 rushing yards per contest.
“We had to do this because our stats were looking so horrible,” said Pro Bowl left guard Carl Nicks. “We had six sacks in that (Rams) game, but we’ve done a lot better. If we can go the rest of the season like that, that would be great … that’s the plan.”
While keeping Brees’ uniform clean was a must, another key was helping to get the running game rolling — producing 195 yards against Tampa Bay on Nov. 6 and 205 more in a Monday night blowout of the New York Giants.
“I think it’s really become more of a focal point each week,” Payton said of the offensive line’s success. “We talked about this last week as it pertained to Drew and Eli Manning, which quarterback was going to be more comfortable with time in the pocket.
“It has a lot to do with having some balance with run and pass,” he added. “That’s a credit to the guys that are up front blocking and the guys who are helping in the process.”
Just as important as protecting Brees, Payton said, is ball security. The Saints have not turned the ball over in their last 11 quarters with the last giveaway coming in the third period of the win over Tampa Bay.
“I think the turnovers are a part of that as well,” he noted. “There’s lot that goes into winning football, but it may be easier to look at it as is if you’re not protecting him — it’s going to be hard to win.
“We put a value on turnovers. It’s easy to just say we can’t turn the ball over, but when the quarterback has less time (to throw) or tipped balls or hurried passes, that is one area that can lead to more turnovers.”
Brees, who has 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and is only 311 yards shy of a sixth straight 4,000-yard passing season that would tie an NFL record, certainly agreed.
“As a defense, how do you create interceptions?” he said when asked about the offensive line’s improvement. “You get after the quarterback, you make him throw the ball before he’s ready to throw it, you hurry him. … You hope you catch him where he lets it go before he wants to, or makes a bad decision, or you’re hitting him in the act of throwing.”
But that hasn’t happed to the Saints too much lately. We just have to continue to fight,” Bushrod said, “and build on what we have going right now. This week is a new challenge.”