<span style="">On Monday the New Orleans Saints lamented Sunday's late turn of events against the Washington Redskins that led to their first loss of the season and evened their record at 1-1.
"When you look at it, despite everything that happened in the first three quarters, it was 24-15 our lead going into the fourth quarter and we were coming off a solid drive to start the third quarter, had a big punt return, all the momentum was on our side and I think we all thought that we were going to seal the deal," said quarterback Drew Brees. "We had two opportunities there with third-down conversions that we should make and didn't and gave them the ball back and they turned around and scored after both of those."
Brees was referring to two separate third downs in the fourth quarter. The first was with the Saints holding a 24-15 lead with nearly 11 minutes left in the game. The Black-and-Gold was facing a third-and-five at the Washington 49 yard-line and Brees tried to connect with WR David Patten on a pass route over the middle. The pass was defended by former LSU standout LaRon Landry and fell incomplete.
The second reference was to a third-and one situation at the Saints' 37 yard-line and with the team holding onto a narrow 24-22 lead with just over four minutes remaining in the game. RB Pierre Thomas was tackled for no gain as he tried the right side of the line and was stopped for no gain by DT Cornelius Griffin and S Chris Horton and the Saints were forced to punt the ball away, and on the next play, Jason Campbell hit Santana Moss for what proved to be the game-winning play on a 67-yard touchdown pass.
Saints Head Coach Sean Payton was asked whether he regrets not having RB Deuce McAllister carry the football in that specific short yardage situation. Payton said that after watching the film of that specific play that it wouldn't have mattered who was carrying the ball because the Redskins' penetration into the gaps made it impossible to reach the first down.
"Someone asked yesterday about the decision about running backs," said Payton. "I thought Pierre did a good job. We had a backside safety run through. It's a block we didn't make. Jammal (Brown) was in charge of cutting off that penetration and we didn't get it done. We just finishing watching the last quarter and a half as a team to really grasp what happened in the final 14 minutes, starting with Reggie Bush's punt return for a touchdown and that was one of four or five critical plays with a nine-point lead that was disappointing or tough. In regards of who was running it, we felt pretty good about who was running it. We just need to do a better job of blocking."
Payton mentioned that the Saints were one of the most productive teams in converting third-and-short yardage situations last season and that he expects the same results this season, but the execution has to be stronger and more consistent.
"We ended up in the top seven or eight in the league (last year)," the head coach said. "The one thing we came away with last year was that I probably threw it a little too much on third and one. We were pretty good."
Brees mentioned that the Saints, like most teams in the league, are stilling searching a little bit for their true identity early in the season, but that he is confident that the Saints offense will find it early.
"Any time early on in a season when you start playing games that count, you're still trying to find yourselves a little bit," Brees said. "Even though we've been together for the last two years, it's still an adjustment. It's a new year. We just need to get back on track and get back to the point where every time we touch the ball we have that confidence level that we're going to go right down the field and score. But certainly just mixing it up and being able to get in a rhythm and feel like we're ourselves."
Brees also said that the key to consistency is to find the right chemistry in terms of mixing and matching the running game and the passing game.
"You never want to be one-dimensional," he said. "I think we all have the confidence in here to know that if we're forced to throw the ball, we're going to do it effectively and we're going to win. But certainly the pass should complement the run and the run should complement the pass. The better you are at both of them, the more efficient you'll be as an offense. We pride ourselves on being balanced. We have some very good running backs and some very good receivers and tight ends to where we want to spread the ball around, we want to mix it up, we want to keep defenses off-balance. We want to set the tone for the game and keep them on their heels. Unfortunately, I don't feel like we've hit our stride yet. I don't feel like we've gotten into a rhythm yet."
Payton brought the team together to watch the film of the game today and emphasized to the squad that the team, collectively, needs to figure out how to put a team away when given the opportunity and that watching the film together provides a visual frame of reference that supports the ideology.
"If you want to be a good team, when you're in a position to close someone out, you have to be able to finish," Payton said. "That's the disappointing thing, because we had that opportunity and we weren't able to do it."
"There was a sequence there where Will Smith gets a sack on (Jason) Campbell, we're ahead nine at the start of the fourth quarter. They're 2nd-and-22 backed up on their own five and on the very next play is a long conversion and a long completion to (Chris) Cooley. All of a sudden they're out of that hole at 1st-and-10. Those are huge plays. It's not any one specific player that we were looking to call out during that film session, but it was really merely a way for us to say that we have a team down nine with a quarter of football left, this is what happened and this is what really didn't happen. We weren't able to move the ball and keep our defense off the field at the time when we needed one more drive, all of a sudden that momentum, if you study the course of the game, it shifted on that 2nd-and-22 with the completion to Cooley and another completion, all of a sudden that drive was ongoing and eventually led to a play for a touchdown. We couldn't catch it back and offensively; we had another opportunity at 3rd-and-5 to convert. We were unable to do that. It got away from us. Those are the things we're doing right now, correcting it."
Thus the Saints find themselves in a position early in the season to learn from their mistakes and take whatever positives can be gleaned from the painful loss. The road doesn't get any easier this week, as the Saints head to Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver to face the undefeated Broncos.
"They're a good team," Payton stated. "The main focus is the Saints right now – and that seems a little bit like a cliché – but we're going to play a better team this week than we just played. They're 2-0 and it's a tough place to play; it's a louder environment than where we were just at. We're going to have to suck it up."
Brees, for one, is confident in the team's ability. "We just haven't hit our stride yet, but it's coming."