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Early deficits have hindered New Orleans Saints in last two games

'It's just about adjusting and I feel like we've got to adjust a little bit quicker'

The New Orleans Saints take on the Tennessee Titans on the road in Week 10 of the 2021 NFL season.

The New Orleans Saints' finishing kick has been fine the last two games, but the execution out of the starting blocks has been an entirely different issue.

The Saints (5-4) scored 15 of their 21 points in the second half of a two-point loss to Tennessee on Sunday at Nissan Stadium, including nine in the fourth quarter, seven days after rallying to take a lead against Atlanta by scoring 22 fourth-quarter points in a 27-25 loss to the Falcons.

Each game in the first half, the offense stalled with a combination of penalties and drops, enough to keep the unit in unfavorable down-and-distance situations.

The scenarios haven't been identical, but the need to rally from a double-figure deficit has been.

"A week ago (against the Falcons) it was kind of two score (deficit)," Coach Sean Payton said. "This one (against the Titans) felt within striking range of where we wanted to be. Obviously, the swing in the first half with the interception that was negated was significant, but we felt going into the second half, we just wanted this game to be quite within our reach. And quite honestly, it should have been.

"We had trouble making PATs. Where, a week ago, I think it was that this got to two scores and we had to change the flow of the game and get into a hurry up a little earlier, it was a different type of situation."

Payton said the two missed point-after attempts against Tennessee weren't due to technical difficulties.

"No, the first one we hit flat, we hit the ground with our foot," he said of kicker Brian Johnson. "The second one, we pulled it."

Despite coming up short, receiver Tre’Quan Smith (four catches for 44 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee) said the second-half rallies have been attributable to the team's ability to adjust to what they've been presented with in the first half.

"I'll say it's really about the halftime adjustments," Smith said. "Playing against Atlanta, we thought they were going to play a lot of '2' against us throughout the game but come to find out, they played us a lot of man. So at halftime, we made that adjustment.

"And playing against Tennessee this week, we thought they were going to play us a lot of man, but they ended up playing a lot of zone. So it's really finding those halftime adjustments and being able to adjust to those and make plays from there throughout the game.

"I feel like basically when we watch film against teams, we think they're going to play us this way and then they end up playing us a different way. So it's just about adjusting and I feel like we've got to adjust a little bit quicker so we're not trying to play catch up."

Meanwhile, the challenge becomes to not allow the two-game losing streak to expand.

"It's a week-to-week challenge in our league when you're winning, when you're losing, you need to compartmentalize," Payton said. "I think our guys do a good job of that.

"You need to digest the game, get through the game, get on to the next opponent."

But Monday's digestion came with the assessment that Sunday was difficult for several reasons, prominent among them being the roughing the passer penalty that wiped off an end zone interception, nine penalties for 65 yards, two missed PATs and a lost fumble on a kickoff return that led to a Tennessee touchdown.

"Being honest it's gut wrenching, if you want to know truthfully," Payton said. "There's so much that goes into the week. It's always difficult when you lose and then when you lose in a fashion, where it is what it is, that's even more difficult, more difficult to accept. You look to bounce back here (Monday) – watching (tape) is a tough job – you have to regroup and get your players back and kind of get the focus and the energy shifted so one (loss) doesn't become two and two doesn't become three. That's important, but you're encouraged.

"You're looking at the tape and want to see guys play each play in a manner where it's better than it has been. We're doing that in some areas and some areas where there's some simple penalties and simple mistakes that need to be cleaned up, and then there are some areas where, are they good enough or not. Those are honest questions but the way you feel after one, where like yesterday, I can't explain it any other way. That's how it is."

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