LANDOVER, Md. -- So much for the New Orleans Saints’ midseason turnaround.
Just two weeks ago, it felt like they had salvaged their season, winning three straight games to get back to .500.
Now they’ve reached a new low.
They now head into the bye week with a chance to lick their wounds and heal up -- but with virtually zero chance of making the playoffs at 4-6.
Brees wasn’t ready to accept that fate, though, on Sunday evening as he went into what he has often referred to as his “annoyingly optimistic” mode.
“First of all, the most important thing is to stick together,” Brees said. “These are tough times, and we get asked tough questions. Everybody wants to question our team and our talent and whatever else people want to question. But the bottom line is we have a great team, we have a great group of guys, high-character guys, with great leadership.
“And things haven’t gone the way we want the last two weeks. Haven’t really gone maybe the way we envision the whole season. We’re sitting here at 4-6. I think we all thought that we’d be better than that. But this book hasn’t been written yet. The first half of the chapters have but not the last half.”
Last week, the Saints lost a much closer, but equally dispiriting, 34-28 overtime game to the Tennessee Titans at home.
When asked how those back-to-back losses don’t take the wind out of their sails, Brees said they can focus on going into the bye week, giving a lot of guys a much-needed chance to heal up.
“Let’s recharge the battery, let’s spend time with our families, let’s get our bodies right, and let’s get our mind right. And come back to make a late-season run,” Brees said. “Because we have to. We have no other choice.”
Make no mistake, there was the proper amount of dejection in the Saints’ locker room.
No one was trying to sugarcoat an “embarrassing” performance -- a term that safety Kenny Vaccaro used to describe it.
“I told the players, I said, ‘Hey, all the things that we set out to try to accomplish in this game, I don’t know that we’d check one box off,’” Payton said.
Payton said he’ll take a closer look at the effort and energy on the tape, but his initial reaction was that those things weren’t the issue as he was paying attention to it, even in the second half.
And players continued to insist in the locker room that they’re a tight team that won’t fracture, just as they didn’t let any sort of rift develop when they started 1-4.
“If a team’s close, a team’s close. Guys are playing for each other, I don’t see anybody pointing fingers,” said offensive tackle Zach Strief, who said it helps that “we all have our hands in it.”
“We’ve all screwed up enough to deserve the blame,” Strief said.
The bigger concern in my mind is that the players will lose their “buy-in,” which is an extremely important concept in the NFL. If players are going to keep working hard and giving maximum effort, they have to believe that what they’re doing will produce results.
The Saints kept doing that to an impressive level even when they were 1-4 and got blown out in similar fashion at the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 5. But can they stay that resilient?
Strief said he expects the message after the bye to be about ignoring all the outside talk about being done, being out of the playoff race. He said it’s “worthless” to think that way, and all they can do is focus on winning the next game, which is Week 12 at the Houston Texans.
“Look, we didn’t [lose that buy-in] last time. Last time we got blown out like this we got on a roll,” Strief said. “And I don’t expect it to be any different.”