Of all the factors contributing to the New Orleans Saints’ 6-9 record, coach Sean Payton singled out one Monday as the primary reason they won’t be in the playoffs: turnover margin.
After committing four turnovers and causing none in Sunday’s 30-14 loss to Atlanta, New Orleans is tied for second-to-last in the NFL with a turnover margin of minus-11.
Only Oakland (minus-14) is worse. The New York Jets (minus-11), Tampa Bay (minus-10), Washington (minus-9) and Tennessee round out the bottom six, which has a combined record of 20-70.
“You really just keep yourself from having an opportunity to win a game,” Payton said. “That’s something that obviously I have to look closely at. In our games where we’ve won this year, it’s been a positive, but it’s something that’s really hurt us, and it’s still the No. 1 statistic with regards to winning and losing.”
The Saints were plus-4 in turnover margin in the six games they won and minus-15 in the nine games they lost, coughing up the ball 27 times, tied for fifth most in the NFL — and taking it away 16 time, tied for the fourth fewest.
No matter what the Saints did against Atlanta, they weren’t overcoming a four-turnover disadvantage.
“With the amount of possession we have in a given game, when you’re minus-4, that’s like 98 percent in favor of the other team,” Payton said. “The ball security, the takeaways, if you finish minus-2 in a game, you’re in the 80(th) percentile (of losing).”
The only time turnover margin has been a real strength for New Orleans under Payton was the Super Bowl-winning season of 2009, when it finished plus-11 and had zero turnovers in the playoffs. The Saints were even in turnovers last year, plus-2 in 2012, minus-3 in 2011, minus-6 in 2010, minus-4 in 2008, minus-7 in 2007 and minus-4 in 2006.
OK with review
Payton said Monday he had no problem with the NFL’s system for replay reviews, even though he disagreed with the decision to uphold tight end Jimmy Graham’s controversial fourth-quarter fumble that was ruled to be just short of the goal line.
Television replays appeared to show the ball crossing the plane of the goal line before the ball came loose.
“I really got a fair, although I didn’t want to hear it, a solid answer from (head referee John Parry),” Payton said. “It’s a crew that we think is one of the better crews year in and year out. The challenge is, is it that conclusive? Had it been called a touchdown, I’m quite sure it would have remained a touchdown.”
Payton said he expected the NFL to have the technology to put a chip in the ball that signified a touchdown when it crossed the goal line in the next year or two. For now, though, he is satisfied with the process.
“He (Parry) said they spent a ton of time (on it), and they’re spending time with New York (NFL headquarters) looking at it,” he said. “It’s hard to really argue that.”
Making the Saints’ elimination from the playoff race even tougher was that it occurred in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. After winning 20 straight at home with Payton on the sideline, New Orleans lost its last five this year.
“You feel like you let everybody down,” offensive tackle Zach Strief said. “As we walk out of this stadium, every person you see, you feel like you let that guy down, and that’s tough. We got exactly what we deserved. We didn’t play well enough all season.”
Outside linebacker Junior Galette echoed that sentiment.
“The most frustrating thing is to lose five games in a row in the Superdome,” he said. “It hurts in every way you can think about it. It’s painful.”
Graham’s crucial fumble and a failed one-hand attempt at a catch on third down added to a season in which he has not lived up to immense expectations.
Although he rebounded to catch a touchdown pass later in the fourth quarter, he finished with six receptions for 53 yards and a long gain of 15. His 10.6-yard average on 79 receptions is a career low.
“He’s someone that obviously is a playmaker for us,” Payton said. “We’ve gotta constantly look for ways to put him in those situations where we give him a chance on the ball.”
Offensive tackle Terron Armstead, who missed his first game of the year Sunday with a neck injury, admitted it was tough to watch as the Saints allowed a season-high five sacks while he stood on the sideline.
“It hurt a whole lot, being the biggest game of the year and me not being able to play,” he said. “We just have to be professionals and come back and get a win this week.”
Armstead added that he thought he would be ready to play against the Bucs.
Improbably, the Saints moved to the top of the NFL in yards per game with 416.3. If they hold on to that lead in the final week, it will mark the fifth time they have finished No. 1 in offense in Payton’s eight years on the sideline, joining 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011. … Brees needs 329 passing yards at Tampa Bay on Sunday to reach 5,000 for the fourth straight year and fifth time in his career.