METAIRIE, La. – Of course the New Orleans Saints are riding high right now.
They survived a brutal 0-2 start. They are now 3-2 and over .500 for the first time since 2013. And they’re heading to Green Bay as nearly touchdown favorites, with a chance to win four straight games for the first time since 2013 as well.
But nobody plans to let overconfidence seep in. Not a group of defensive backs, who had gas masks in their lockers to ward off the hype. And certainly not quarterback Drew Brees and the offense – which nearly blew a 35-point lead with some sloppy play in the second half of Sunday’s 52-38 victory over the Detroit Lions.
“We want to continue to win. Winning feels good. Winning cures a lot of ills. But I don’t think we ... we still don’t know how good we can be,” Brees said. “But each week I feel like we get a better idea of what we’re capable of, and we’d like to keep that going in the right direction.”
A trip to Lambeau Field should help put that to the test – even without Aaron Rodgers roaming the opposite sideline after he suffered a broken collarbone.
After the Saints started 0-2, they knew the next four games on their schedule set up as a daunting threat (at Carolina, vs. Miami in London, vs. Detroit, at Green Bay). If New Orleans is able to win all four, then it would sure seem like we’re looking at a different team than we’ve seen over the past three consecutive 7-9 seasons.
“We felt like we were much closer than maybe others gave us credit for (after the 0-2 start, with double-digit losses at Minnesota and vs. New England),” Brees said. “And you just need some success to validate your process, to validate your preparation.
“We knew that there was going to be a defining period of time there, going on the road to Carolina then on to London, then coming back home against Detroit who we haven’t played very well against. Now we’re going on the road to Green Bay. And this was a stretch here that could define us, in a way."
Brees pointed to third-down percentage as the offense's most troubling trend so far this season. The Saints led the NFL in third-down conversion rate in each of the past three years at 48.3 percent, 47.7 percent and 48.6 percent. This year, they’re 23rd at 36.7 percent.
Against the Lions, they were a ghastly 2-of-12 on third down.
Sean Payton mentioned that first this week when he rattled off a list of repeated mistakes that could cost the Saints if they don’t clean up their act.
"We'll have no chance if we can't clean up some of these areas," Payton said. "Our third-down numbers offensively ... our communication defensively and eliminating some of the big plays that we've given up, even in the last game. I think our field-goal protection has struggled – it's going to cost us in a game. Our penalties on special teams are going to cost us in a game."
Obviously the Saints are doing a lot of things well, though – starting with their plus-6 turnover ratio, which is tied for fourth best in the NFL.
The offense hadn’t turned the ball over all season until the second half of the Detroit game (tying a NFL record in the process).
Then when they coughed up three turnovers in the second half against Detroit, but the Saints’ defense bailed them out by forcing five turnovers and scoring three defensive touchdowns.
“Obviously, we have some momentum. We like the direction that we’re going. We understand the things that have happened these last three wins that have allowed us to win,” Brees said. “And I think when you taste that success, the light bulb comes on a little bit and you are able to realize when we do this, it gives us a great chance to win. When we do this, this hinders our chances of winning. So we’re just becoming a smarter team.”