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John DeShazier: Saints trying to get back to winning ways at home

Team lost five consecutive home games last season

As far as Drew Brees is concerned, the last five home games of the 2014 season were an outlier.

Sure, the jerseys and helmets bore the names and symbols of the New Orleans Saints, and the players' faces were familiar to all that saw them inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. But to watch the Saints close out the regular season with five consecutive home losses, by an average score of 32-17, was nowhere near close to the kind of results Saints players had become accustomed to experiencing inside the Dome, or to what fans had grown accustomed to seeing.

Prior to the losing streak the Saints were the windshields, having won 11 straight home games – including all eight in 2013 – by an average score of 34-17. And in the 2011 and '12 seasons, New Orleans went 12-4 at home (undefeated in 2011) by an average margin of 36-22 – and defensively, the Saints were historically bad in '12.

So the drastic tail off last season wasn't at all expected, and as the Saints (0-1) prepare for Sunday's home opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1), they're hoping that the burning was extinguished at season's end.

"So much of it is about execution," Brees said. "The last five games of the year last year were an aberration in my mind. It's a new year. It's a new team.

"There are so many new things about this year and I really like this team. It stinks that we are sitting here 0-1 but, man, we have an opportunity to get back on track this week and that is what we are focused on."

Getting on track would mean snapping the longest regular-season losing streak at the Superdome since the Saints lost the final two games of '06 and the first two of '07 (in between, they won the home playoff game against Philadelphia) and the longest "home" losing streak since the Katrina season of '05, when the displaced Saints lost their last six home games that were played at the Alamodome in San Antonio (two) and Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge (four).

And it would mean reversing a trend that reared its head during the five games – namely, the turnover ratio.

During the streak, the Saints committed 11 turnovers (six interceptions, five lost fumbles) and forced two.

So, how do the Saints get back to being a dominant home team?

"Well I think, look, it probably encompasses really what we saw last season and what we saw last season was, whether it was home or away, we weren't nearly as good or as consistent a football team as the prior years you are referencing with playing well at home," Coach Sean Payton said. "It becomes much more noticeable when you have a handful of years where you don't lose a home game and all of a sudden we couldn't win a home game last season. That was a pretty good indication of the type of team we were a year ago.

"I think we have to be smart enough to feed off the momentum a crowd can provide. We think we have a great environment and yet we have to create that environment as a team. I am anxious to see how this year's team responds to a regular season home game. It will be a first time for a lot of these guys and we kind of go through the numbers and spend some time on what that can mean to a club throughout the course of the season with eight of these games played at home."

In fact, the Saints entered the regular season with 23 new players on the 53-man roster, including 12 rookies. The newcomers possibly will have to play through nerves as well as learn to negotiate through the crowd noise which, at times in the Superdome, can be deafening.

"I think certainly the noise factor we simulate for the defense, that is one thing that sometimes goes overlooked," Payton said. "The communication isn't as clean, it is challenging defensively but yet obviously there is an advantage to that.

"The second thing is the history and the pride of playing in front of what we think is a great fan base and creating the advantage it is giving our teams in prior years. It's been tremendous. I think two-fold, both of those things are things that we've discussed with them."

Said linebacker David Hawthorne: "It's going to be loud defensively. My best advice would be to feed off of it. The fans here are amazing and have always been, so just feed off it and put on for the Dome."

A quick start will help, too. The Saints fell behind by scores of 14-0 to San Francisco in the first quarter, 13-3 to Cincinnati at halftime, 14-7 to Baltimore in the first, 24-3 to Carolina in the second and 13-7 to Atlanta in the second.

"Typically what it is, it's the ability for you to communicate really well on offense, verbally, and defensively, create that crowd noise and that crazy element so that opposing offenses have trouble communicating," Brees said. "Our ability to execute, to score points, to get up on people (makes a difference).

"Obviously, it is much easier to play with a 14-point lead than it is to play with a 14-point deficit. I'd say that that was something from the previous five games from last year; teams jumped out on us early by a lot. It wasn't close, unfortunately. I think that that was a lack of execution on offense.

"That was a slow start for us. That was not what we're used to. We're used to starting fast wherever we are. (It's about) getting back to those things again that make us really effective offensively."

Getting back to those things, the Saints believe, will get them back to their winning ways at home.

"I know we have a group of guys that are dedicated and we've jelled together as a team through training camp and the preseason and I just have a great feeling about this group of guys," defensive end Akiem Hicks said. "I feel good about the guy sitting next to me and I know that he's going to come out and he's going to perform to the best of his ability, and put it all out there."

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