Dennis Allen wasn't selling rainbows and sunshine, wasn't spinning a tale so fanciful that Hollywood would reject it because it was so farfetched as to be totally unbelievable by rational minds.
The New Orleans Saints' head coach was set in reality Monday morning, and entering a Thursday night road game against Arizona at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., reality for the Saints is this:
The Saints are one game behind division-leading Tampa Bay and Atlanta, both 3-3, in the NFC South. And of the Saints' losses, three have been one-score games – New Orleans had a chance to tie Minnesota and force overtime on a 61-yard field goal attempt that hit the upright and crossbar in a 28-25 decision, a chance to drive for the winning touchdown with less than two minutes remaining against Cincinnati in a 30-26 loss and saw Carolina score a touchdown on defense in a 22-14 defeat.
True, also, both Saints victories also were one-score games, 27-26 over Atlanta and 39-32 over Seattle, and overall New Orleans is 2-4 and has lost four of its last five games. But among primary goals of NFL teams entering each season, winning the division title is first on the list, and it prominently remains on New Orleans' list.
"We're sitting here one game out in our division," Allen said. "So, it's not a time for panic. This is the league that we're in right now.
"But, listen, the message is just keep grinding, keep working. Because we're giving ourselves opportunities. We haven't made enough plays to win these games, but we've given ourselves opportunities to win. You've got to give yourself that opportunity if you expect to be able to win at some point in time. So we've just got to make one or two more plays to push ourselves over the hump."
Sunday against Cincinnati, the Saints didn't commit a turnover and were penalized just four times, for 34 yards.
The plays to be made were in the red zone – on offense, New Orleans was 1 for 5 inside Cincinnati's 20-yard line and on defense, the Saints couldn't produce a red zone stop in three chances – and tackling on defense. On Cincinnati's game-winning touchdown, New Orleans defenders twice failed to tackle Bengals receiver Ja'Marr Chase during his 60-yard catch-and-run.
"We're not going to really get a great chance to work on it this week, but I don't think we tackled particularly well in the game," Allen said. "I think that's an area we've got to improve on. It's going to be really important in this game, this is a big space game that they play, so our ability to tackle in space will be important in this game.
"Red zone has been an area that we've been really good at on both sides of the ball, we were not in this past game so that's an area we've got to be better.
"Offensively, I thought we had a really good game plan, I thought we were effective with the game plan. I feel like there were a couple of opportunities that we missed, and I wish we would have been better in the red zone."
Possibly, what could help in that area would be the return of rookie receiver Chris Olave, who leads the team in receptions (25) and receiving yards (389). Olave missed Sunday's game as he progressed through the league's concussion protocol.
"My understanding is that he's passed all of the steps," Allen said. "He's got to be cleared by the independent neurologist."
QUARTERBACK UPDATE: Quarterback Jameis Winston had recovered enough from back and ankle injuries to be the No. 3 quarterback against Cincinnati behind Andy Dalton and Taysom Hill, but not enough to rejoin the starting lineup. Dalton has started the last three games, and has completed 63 percent of his passes for 585 yards and three touchdowns, with an interception. New Orleans has averaged 30 points per game over the last three.
"I think the No. 1 thing is, let's get Jameis where he's 100 percent healthy," Allen said. "He was healthy enough to be the emergency third quarterback in this game, and part of that was manipulating the roster to get 48 guys up on game day. Andy has done a good job when he's been in there. We've produced and scored some points. Let's get Jameis fully healthy and then we'll go from there."
THOMAS UPDATE: Receiver Michael Thomas has missed the last three games with a toe injury. Allen said there was consideration of putting Thomas on injured reserve, but that the possibility of him returning sooner than four games was a deciding factor.
"I think that's always the balance that you go through, because there's no crystal ball that says this is exactly when somebody is going to be healthy enough to play," Allen said. "But it's typically a pretty tough decision if you're going to put a player of that caliber on I.R., even though they can return after four weeks. You certainly don't want a guy like that missing a game if he's healthy enough to play.
"You use the information that you have sitting in front of you, and you try to make the best decision you can. And those are not foolproof decisions."