The glistening shine is that the Saints, 5-1 entering their bye week, haven’t yet played their best football.
There have been flashes all over the place – a stout defensive performance here, a flashy offensive showing there, flawless special teams execution on kicks and coverage, too.
But in total, the Saints have managed to forge a tie with Seattle for the best record in the NFC without having delivered the total package. And that’s among the most uplifting news after six games.
“I’m encouraged that there are a handful of things that we’re going to be able to improve on and work on,” Coach Sean Payton said. “We haven’t played our best football and we’re sitting at 5-1.
“I like the work ethic, the competitive nature of this team. I like it a lot. I think that getting back after this bye, there’s a few things that we’re going to be able to clean up and work to improve on as we hit this long stretch of the season. We’re 5-1 and getting ready for the seventh game.”
“Also, I think it’s a good break in the season in that we went through training camp, we had four preseason games, six regular-season games, so it’s been 10 weeks. It’s been 10 games since we had a break like this, going into 10 more games of the regular season and hopefully more, where this is time to make that late-season run.”
That’s not to pretend that New Orleans, on Monday, completely had digested and flushed its first loss of the season.
The Saints trailed New England 17-7 at halftime, led 27-23 with 2:24 left and lost when the Patriots scored a touchdown with five seconds remaining. New Orleans’ resilience was admirable, and also was a reason that the loss stung as deeply as it did.
“We won our first game of the season on a similar situation, and we won one in Week 2 where maybe we had no business winning that game,” Brees said. “Sometimes they go your way and sometimes they don’t.
“You just hope that you’re in a position to where more of them go your way than not because arguably, half the games in this league are decided by the last possession and at times, the last play. You could say, certainly, that’s been the case for our team. Three out of the six games have come down to, literally, the last play.”
The Saints won the first two such encounters – intercepting a pass in the end zone on Atlanta’s final offensive play in the season opener, and successfully converting a field goal as time expired against Tampa Bay in Game 2.
Given that success, it was understandable that the close loss would wound.
“It always takes a couple of days,” Payton said. “The thing we ask our players to do, and we’ve done the last five weeks, is after a win there’s that next day and then, ‘Hey, it’s time to move on.’ We have to approach a loss like that very much the same.
“You’re looking at it closely trying to make the corrections and then, when we get started again next week, that’ll be the case.
“I thought the overall mood and the spirits were good (on Monday). Obviously, it was a tough loss and when you do it long enough, they understand that there will be games like that, where you’re wrestling over one specific play or one sequence of plays. Like I told them after the game, I was proud of how they played, in the second half specifically.”
“It’s gone already,” cornerback
There’s plenty of incentive to do so: winning the NFC South Division, securing home-field advantage for a playoff berth, earning the best overall record in the NFC, and playing their best football, which remains an unmarked target.
“We just want to continue to win, that’s the most important thing,” safety