Like the old song goes, “You’ve got to ac-cent-uate the positives. E-lim-inate the negatives.”
Good advice for the Saints, especially if they spend their off week ac-cent-uating e-lim-inating those negatives. Otherwise, there will be a diminishing amount of positives the rest of the way.
Sunday’s 37-31 overtime victory against Tampa Bay undoubtedly made for the players coming in for weight lifting and film review Monday before making their fall break a much more enjoyable experience than the alternative would have produced.
But there’s the nagging notion that there’s far more wrong than right about this team, and that some of it might not be correctable.
Seldom has a victory felt less satisfying. Because other than preventing a 1-4 start from which there’s no hope of recovery, there was little else to recommend it as a turning point game. The good thing is that everyone in the organization recognizes that.
“I’m probably going to harp on the negatives because I’m always trying to keep myself propelling to be better,” defensive end Cam Jordan said Monday. “In any game, there’s always positives and negatives.
“But I’d like to straighten out the negatives first.”
- Negatives like the lack of an effective pass rush, which has produced only six sacks in five games (as opposed to 16 at this point last year) and allowed opposing quarterbacks to extend plays, which always has its consequences.
As exhilarating and game-changing as Junior Galette’s sack/safety of Mike Glennon was Sunday, it was the only sack of the game for the Saints. And it took Tampa Bay backing itself into third-and-29 from inside the 1 for it to happen.
Otherwise, Glennon, who will never be mistaken for Cam Newton, was untouched save for a phantom head slap by Galette that he swore didn’t happen.
“(Glennon) got rid of the ball a lot quicker than we thought he could,” Jordan said by way of explanation.
- Negatives like a secondary that finally produced its first interception — Attaboy, Patrick Robinson! — but too often allows underneath catches rather than making plays on the ball.
Saints coach Sean Payton acknowledged Monday that opponents are picking on cornerback Corey White in man coverage but said he’s the team’s best option at a position left thin by the failed decision to sign Champ Bailey and the lack of trust in second-round pick Stanley Jean-Batiste.
- Negatives like 10 yards — for the season — in punt returns, last in the league. We’re still defending dealing Darren Sproles, but Brandin Cooks was drafted in the first round in part to juice up the return game. And thus far he hasn’t produced in that department.
- Negatives like a minus-8 turnover ratio, worst in the league. The Saints are yet to start a scoring drive in an opponent’s territory. Opponents have started drives four times in Saints territory to go with a pair of pick-sixes.
- Payton pointed out that the team’s bacon was saved Sunday only because the most flag-happy officiating crew in the NFL called 18 penalties on the Buccaneers (15 accepted) costing them more than 200 yards, including 82 in negated gains.
“If it doesn’t swing in our favor, we don’t win that game,” Payton said.
- Negatives like three interceptions thrown by Drew Brees, giving him six for the season, putting him on pace for 19, which would equal the second-most of his career.
No. 9’s accomplishments take up 20½ pages in the Saints media guide. And he’s a first-year Hall of Famer, not to mention the greatest player in franchise history. But you can’t roll up those accomplishments without rolling up the years as well.
At 35, Brees is in terrific shape, but his aggressive play sometimes results in poor decisions, as was the case Sunday.
Of all the above-mentioned negatives, this would seem to be the one most easily reversed. But Brees’ tendency to force things, even with a greatly improved running game, is one he may find difficult to change at this stage of his career.
That’s not to say there’s no hope.
Five weeks into the season, there’s no undefeated team left in the league. And of the seven teams with just one loss, the Saints play only one of them: Cincinnati at home on Nov. 6.
That’s in the middle of a stretch of seven games against teams that all have winning records at present.
But if the Saints can go no worse than 4-3 in that stretch and head into December at 6-6 with games against Carolina, Chicago, Atlanta and Tampa Bay remaining, the NFC South title is attainable. A 10-6 or even 9-7 record could win it.
“With the people we have, I expected us to be 4-1 or 5-0. And instead, we’ve hit a couple of obstacles early,” Jordan said. “The longer I’m in this league, the more I appreciate how hard it is to win a game, because these are the elite talents of the sport going against each other.
“We know we haven’t played our best football. That’s both scary and exciting at the same time.”
For this team of whom so much was expected, it certainly is.