Divide the 16-game NFL season into quadrants, and the New Orleans Saints' position after four games is clear: They're trailing after the first quarter and looking to mount a rally in the second, which begins Sunday against Tampa Bay in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
New Orleans has lost three of its first four games and while 1-3 and just one game behind Atlanta and Carolina in the NFC South Division standings, the Saints are coming off their most disappointing result this season, a 38-17 road loss to Dallas at AT&T Stadium on Sunday night in which the Cowboys led 7-0, 24-0 and 31-3.
"Nothing is encouraging right now," outside linebacker Junior Galette said. "We're not looking at other teams, we're looking at ourselves. And how we played (Sunday night) was not encouraging at all. It was discouraging.
"But at the same time, that's when you've got to be tough and be strong through these tough times, because they never last."
This period, though, has lasted a bit longer than the Saints imagined it would last.
A season simmering with enthusiasm cooled with consecutive road losses to Atlanta and Cleveland, leveled a bit with the home victory over Minnesota, but took an ice bath against the Cowboys, who held every statistical advantage.
"It clearly for us is a message that we're going to have to improve in a number of areas for us to accomplish some of the goals that we set up," Coach Sean Payton said. "And that was one of the topics (Monday) morning, just with regard to accountability, ownership, all of us looking at the tape closely and looking at the specifics in regards to assignment, technique. And then us coaches looking at, are we asking the players to do things we feel like they can do well?
"This is a 'win' business. When you're not having success, that challenges everyone. That challenges the players, the coaches, and you have to dig down deep. It's a gut check, and I'm certain we will."
Part of that gut check, right tackle Zach Strief said, is a cold, analytical look in the mirror. The Saints don't particularly like the reflection that they see.
"It's a quarter that has to stick with you, for a week," Strief said. "At the end of the day, we've got to be realistic. We're got to know exactly who we are right now, and we're not very good right now. And we can't keep tossing games to the side and saying, 'Well, that wasn't us.' It's us right now.
"That doesn't mean it's going to be us all year, it doesn't mean that that's how we feel in this locker room that we're going to be. But it's the reality and we've got to work from that point. We've got to work right now as a team that's struggling, a team that's not playing very good football and we've got to get better.
"I'm not angry, I'm frustrated – as frustrated as I've ever been here. We've got a lot of problems to fix and there's no magic. We talked last night about going back to the drawing board. There is no drawing board.
"It's just work. We've have to work. We have to work harder, we've got to work longer, we've got to figure out whatever it is that this team has to do to win games."
Among the glaring corrections that need to be made is the turnover ratio. Through four games the Saints have committed seven turnovers and forced one. In each loss, they've lost the turnover ratio but in victory, they were even in that department (neither the Saints nor the Vikings committed a turnover).
"We're in a fast race to really correct and change and make those changes, to allow ourselves an opportunity to win games," Payton said. "The takeaway-giveaway is one that seems easy (to correct) and yet, that has to change. That has to change.
"Here's what we can't do – we can't continue with the exact same preparation, (and) plan, and expect different results. You've got to constantly look at tweaking the approach coming into the next week. That's something we have to do.
"We'll find out a little bit about this team here. When you start the season 1-3 and you get punched like that, very quickly we'll find out a little bit about what we're made of."
Running back Pierre Thomas believes he already knows.
"We're still in it," Thomas said. "I don't see this team out of it at all. We're 1-3, we have to live with that, we have to take that and swallow that. But we're not looking back.
"I still believe in this team, I still believe we've got good guys on this team, guys who have talent who can get the job done."
The first quarter has ended. The Saints trail. There are three quarters remaining for them to rally and ascend to the position they want to occupy, and the second quarter begins Sunday.
"We've just got to get better," Galette said. "You've got to try to take as much positives as you can from it, but at the same time you've got to be realistic and know that we're not as good as we thought we were, and we've got to get better to improve.
"We've got three more quarters left, and we've got to improve drastically."
Official team photos from the New Orleans Saints vs Dallas Cowboys game at AT&T Stadium on Sunday, September 28, 2014. Photos by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos)