CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- To a man -- and that means players and coaches -- the New Orleans Saints say it’s not time to panic.
So I’ll go ahead and say: it is time to panic.
Stop with the conspiracy theories. Even if side judge Brian Stropolo had been allowed to work the game with full Who Dat memorabilia under his officiating outfit, it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference.
Oh, also, let’s stop pointing to the absence of head coach Sean Payton and assistant head coach Joe Vitt.
“Sean Payton couldn’t come out and run a route,’’ New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “Joe Vitt couldn’t make a tackle.’’
The simple fact is this: The Saints are not a good football team right now and that's on the players, largely veterans with a history of success, and not the coaches.
“No one’s going to panic,’’ interim head coach Aaron Kromer said. “Are we going to heat it up and are we going to keep working harder? Yes, we are.’’
Heat it up and work harder, but go ahead and start panicking. It’s time.
The fact is the Saints are 0-2, and the team that’s dominated the NFC South in recent years is in sole possession of last place in the division. If the playoffs started today, the Saints wouldn’t be in them.
When the playoffs start in January, the Saints won’t be in them unless something dramatic changes.
“I’m telling you, we’re going to stick together,’’ Kromer said. “We’re going to right the ship and we’re going to win more games than we’re going to lose. That’s what we’re going to do.’’
I’m not ruling out the possibility Kromer could end up being right. The Saints have a tremendous collection of talent. Just on personnel, this team isn’t that much different than the one that went 13-3 last season.
But that’s the problem. The Saints aren’t playing anywhere near their potential and the numbers are working against them. According to ESPN Stats & Information, teams that have started 0-2 since the playoffs were expanded to 12 teams in 1990, have made the postseason only 12 percent of the time.
The numbers also suggest the 1-1 Panthers and Buccaneers have a 41-percent chance of ending up in the playoffs. Two weeks ago, who would have put the odds on the Bucs and Panthers to be mathematically so far ahead of the Saints?
That’s why it was so strange to hear Kromer open his post-game news conference by raving about how much the Panthers improved in a week.
“That’s a good football team that didn’t win last week,’’ Kromer said. “But this week, you can see the progress that they’re making.’’
What may be even more disturbing than Kromer taking note of how the Panthers improved is that he also tried to make it sound like the Saints made significant strides from their Week 1 loss to the Washington Redskins and rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
“We asked them to cut the penalties down,’’ Kromer said. “We asked them to convert third downs and we did both of those things.’’
Hey, that’s just fantastic. The Saints didn’t have a lot of penalties and they did a better job on third downs. But how do you explain Drew Brees getting picked off twice, including a pick six to wide-open Carolina safety Charles Godfrey?
More importantly, how do you explain a defense that got lit up for the second straight week?
“We’ve played the most unconventional offenses in the National Football League,’’ Kromer said. “You go from RG3 and then to Cam Newton, they’re just unconventional. Do we have to do better against those style of offenses? Yeah, we do. But we need to get settled in on that style. We played two good offenses. We just need to keep plugging away on defense.’’
Nice try, but I’m not buying it. Yes, Griffin and Newton are unique. But defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his players get paid a lot of money to slow down whatever challenge is in front of them.
So far, they haven’t stopped anything. That’s ironic because the common belief in the offseason was that Spagnuolo would come in and totally fix a defense that got the Saints bounced out of the playoffs the last two seasons. He came with a wonderful reputation from his previous days as a defensive coordinator. But now you have to start wondering why Spagnuolo failed as head coach of the St. Louis Rams.
More than that, I wonder if Spagnuolo has the personnel he needs to make his defensive scheme succeed. Before he began his eight-game suspension, general manager Mickey Loomis did a great job of overhauling the linebacker corps. But the Saints didn’t make any major moves up front to improve the pass rush and it's well documented that Spagnuolo likes to generate most of his pass rush with his front four.
The Saints sacked Newton only once as he completed 14 of 20 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown. They also allowed Newton to gain 71 yards on 13 carries and the Panthers to rack up 219 yards on the ground after Carolina rushed for only 10 yards against Tampa Bay last week.
There’s room to wonder about a lot of things with the Saints.
“Now, it’s a matter of going out and actually getting a win, catching a breaking, having one go your way and get on a winning streak,’’ Brees said. “We have done a great job of doing that here in the past. There is always adversity. Unfortunately, it has come to us a little bit sooner than we expected with the 0-2 start."
The Saints started 0-2 once before in the Brees era. That was in 2007. The Saints opened 0-4, spent the rest of the season trying to dig themselves out of a hole and didn’t make the playoffs.
That’s why it’s not too early for the Saints to panic. If they don’t do it now, they might find themselves in a situation where it’s too late to panic.