Saints, Drew Brees don't have time to waste another season with a slow start

Drew Brees and the Saints are hoping to avoid starting out the season with a loss, the same outcome that has happened for the past five years. Douglas DeFelice/USA TODAY Sports

METAIRIE, La. -- Coach Sean Payton didn't need to hear the end of the question.

When a reporter started to mention the New Orleans Saints haven't won a season opener since ...

"It's been a while," Payton interrupted. "We just went through the numbers [in a team meeting]."

Specifically, it has been five years since the Saints last won a season opener in 2013. And, yes, players said, it was a big talking point during Payton's first meeting with the team this week -- with a whole power-point display and everything.

And it gets even uglier than just those Week 1 woes.

The Saints have actually started 0-2, 0-3, 0-3 and 0-2 over the past four seasons. As a result, they missed the playoffs in 2014, 2015 and 2016 before an eight-game win streak helped them win the NFC South at 11-5 last season.

"When you start fast, it's confidence, and it just puts you ahead. Otherwise, you feel like you're always playing catch-up -- and we don't want to be in that position," said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who also suffered through 0-4 starts in both 2007 and 2012. "We've been in that position all too often in years past, and so we're ready to turn over a new leaf and start things fast."

This year, the Saints can't afford to mess around.

The expectations are too high for one of the NFL's most talented rosters -- making New Orleans a trendy Super Bowl pick this season.

The window is growing too small for Brees to win another championship at age 39.

And let's face it, the schedule is too favorable to start the season, with two straight home games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (without QB Jameis Winston) and Cleveland Browns in Weeks 1 and 2.

Of course, Payton and players won't label it as an "easy start." But they know full well how important it will be to take care of business at home against two non-playoff teams from 2017.

Because it doesn't get any easier with games against fellow top contenders such as the Falcons, Panthers, Vikings, Rams, Eagles and Steelers among others down the road.

"I wouldn't say it's 'because it doesn't get easier.' It's because you always want to win your home games," Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. "For a team like New Orleans, with our fan base and how loud it gets in the Dome, that's a true home-field advantage. And if you can't take care of those home games, then you're gonna put yourself in some trouble."

Several players mentioned how those first few wins and losses count the same on the final record as every other game.

The Saints got hot when they rattled off eight straight wins starting in Week 3 last season. But, a few players pointed out, if they had started 2-0 instead of 0-2, they might have become a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

"So a year later, I feel like we have to come out and do just that -- we have to claim our No. 1 or 2 seed," Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan.

So how do they alter their approach? Well, if they knew the answer for certain, they wouldn't be in this boat in the first place.

But it sounds like part of Payton's approach heading into this week was to back off players a little bit and give them time to recharge after the preseason grind.

Payton also stressed the idea of "understanding the little things that win."

And it goes without saying the Saints need to enter Week 1 with a sense of urgency. They can't just show up and expect all the good things they did last season will carry over automatically.

"Everyone's gonna talk about potential. Everyone's gonna talk about 'on paper' how good we look. We've been here before," Jordan said. "We've seen this a couple years ago [in 2014], when we looked great on paper.

"Paper doesn't play Sunday. So come Sunday we're gonna have the right mentality to take over this game."