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John DeShazier: Sean Payton, Saints focused on six-game stretch run

First up: Baltimore Ravens on 'Monday Night Football'

For the first time this season, Coach Sean Payton said there was a noticeable lack of bounce from the new Orleans Saints in their 27-10 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a loss that dropped the Saints to 4-6, tied for the best record in the NFC South with the Atlanta Falcons.

"We've got to look clearly at who we're doing it with, what we're doing, and then how to get ourselves a little bit more emotionally ready to play," he said. "I felt the same thing I think our fans felt when watching the game. It was somewhat flat. We've got to look at the work week and make sure that we're ready, physically and mentally, to play better than we did yesterday.

"I don't know that it was as much mentally not ready to play. It's just that energy required. And so meeting with the staff, you're always trying to pay attention to the work week, coming off of a tough loss versus San Francisco (27-24 in overtime) and avoiding any carryover effect.

"It's that energy required to play this game, that enthusiasm that's required. You know that there are going to be momentum shifts, but I felt like that was one area which really forces you, as a head coach, to look closely at, 'Hey, how do we keep that from happening?' as you watch it.

"You go through 16 games and you're not going to come out the same way for every game and yet, you're hoping, with what's at stake, that you're able to come out with more energy and start fast. We're going to have to this week."

Players were as downcast as they have been this season, with words like "frustrated" and "disappointed" floating through the locker room. Safety Kenny Vaccaro was among those who addressed the lack of execution that was experienced in every phase.

"I think that everybody individually needs to be critical of themselves," Vaccaro said. "Look yourself in the mirror and get that corrected.

"I don't think that it is necessarily that we need to change the whole scheme or whatever. Everybody has to start doing their job, man."

And Payton said he had no problems with the words of his highly-charged, second-year safety.

"It's that frustration," Payton said. "When you watch that game toward the end, when there's a pretty good chance that the score is going to finish in their favor, I love watching how he's playing. I love the attitude and the toughness he brings and the frustration that comes with it. Quite honestly, everything he said, nothing was out of line."

None of the Saints were in a mood to be complimentary after Sunday's performance, their second consecutive loss at the Superdome after having reeled off 11 straight victories there, dating back to last season. Next up is a game against Baltimore on "Monday Night Football."

"After looking at it, there are a number of things that we didn't do very well," Payton said. "I feel like, in that first half, our third-down defense wasn't very good and then offensively, when you're really looking at just three possessions, we've got to take advantage of those opportunities. We had two long drives that resulted, really, in just three points.

"We weren't very good in the kicking game with regard to giving up a big kickoff return to start the second half. Then by the time we got into the second half of this game, we weren't able to change the momentum or the direction which the game was headed."

Still, despite the loss and with being two games below .500, the Saints are in the same position today as when they entered Sunday: if they win often enough, they'll be in the playoffs as division champions.

"It's pretty obvious, it's a six-game stretch for us," Payton said of the remainder of the schedule. "Not really paying attention to the other teams and what they have to do. Fortunately, we've got a handful of NFC games remaining, we've got three divisional games remaining. But the focus is much shorter than that. The focus is the first step in this stretch of six games, and it's Baltimore at home."

Photos from the New Orleans Saints vs Cincinnati Bengals game on Sunday, November 16, 2014 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Photos by Micheal C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)

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