Saints still need to learn how to stick landing

PITTSBURGH – As coach Sean Payton put it, the New Orleans Saints were very pleased with about “95 percent” of their performance in Sunday’s 35-32 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

But they still weren’t happy with the finish -- a theme that has plagued the Saints all year.

New Orleans’ 35-16 lead all but vanished over the final five minutes. And things may have gotten dicey if Pittsburgh was able to recover an onside kick between touchdown drives of 95 and 98 yards.

“I don’t think that we finish games very well, and I would include today in that category,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “Winning breeds confidence, and winning can cure a lot of things. But it doesn’t mean that you just ignore the things that can get you beat down the road. We’ve been in that situation too many times this year where we come out of games where we felt like we played well enough to win and just didn’t finish how we wanted to.

“I don’t want that to be the defining thing for our team this year with the inability to finish. We’ve got to finish better.”

If the Saints (5-7) don’t wind up winning the NFC South, their inability to finish games will absolutely be the defining trait of their season. They lost four games this year that they were leading with less than two minutes left in regulation.

Fortunately on Sunday, the Saints had a much bigger cushion to work with this time.

But still, 95- and 98-yard touchdown drives?! That doesn’t sit well with anyone -- especially when they were aided by what Payton referred to as “stupid penalties” on the final drive.

Both penalties were called against safety Kenny Vaccaro -- the first for a late hit on running back Le'Veon Bell out of bounds and the second for hitting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with his hand in the face while attempting to deflect a pass.

Neither was egregious -- and the first one looked worse than it was since Vaccaro’s tackle actually began in bounds. But they’re still the kinds of penalties that must be avoided in those situations.

“That was probably from the fight last week [against Baltimore’s Steve Smith]. I got a bad rap now,” Vaccaro said of the second penalty. “Honestly, though, I gotta be smart and don’t make dumb plays. But then again, I’m just playing hard, I’m not trying to be dirty. I’m just trying to get the guy in the ground [on the first penalty].”

Vaccaro also agreed that the Saints’ finish overall was frustrating.

“We need to get stronger,” Vaccaro said, according to The Advocate. “They drove the ball a little bit that last quarter. We did everything the same. It was just guys doing their job.”