While others might have been accepting of an excuse if the New Orleans Saints hadn't been successful Sunday against the Lions at Ford Field in Detroit, Coach Sean Payton batted it down as if defending a pass.
A false-positive Covid-19 test for fullback Michael Burton caused a sleep-interrupted night for several Saints players and team personnel, including Burton, running back Alvin Kamara, any players who were in Burton's proximity on the flight.
And the Saints' slow start – they fell behind 14-0 before recovering to post a 35-29 victory – appeared to indicate that there were some effects. But Payton said excuse-making simply isn't part of the business of winning in the NFL, even this season.
"I think you have to, at some point, address it that way," he said Monday, during a teleconference. "An old coach used to tell me, and please take this the right way, but, 'They never really ask about the labor pain, they just want to see the baby.'
"And I think we're, to some degree especially this season, in the entertainment business. I don't think there's an ear for, 'Well, you had to stay up later than normal.' That's going to be the case this season. People aren't interested in your injury depth. Certainly, those play a part in games, but at the end, they want to see you play well and win.
"And the more we can fine-tune ourselves – myself included – fine-tune ourselves in our preparation for winning that week each week, regardless of what built-in excuse you might have because human nature will allow you to build in these things, (the better).
"It's the player that's got kind of a sore hamstring that decides he's going to play in the game. Well, if he doesn't do well, that hamstring's going to be the reason. We can do that as coaches, we can do that as organizations if we're not careful. That's human nature. So trying to fight against that or address that, I think does need to be something you think about."
Payton said some teams are better able to adapt to adversity than others, and that experience wasn't necessarily a great aid.
"The experience might be a negative one, might be a bad one," he said. "Might be a team that has veteran players, so it's not discriminate on age or years in the league."
The best approach to have as an organization, he said, is this: "This is what we have. The players deserve a chance to win."
QUARTER POLE: One-fourth of the way through the season, the Saints are 2-2 and Payton said he'd like to see improvement in a couple of critical areas. "I think situationally, I'd like to see us both offensively and defensively playing better football relative to third down and red zone," he said. "I think situationally, we have to get better at red zone defense. That has to be fixed or we'll continue to struggle. I think we've handled some of the early adversity pretty well. Yesterday was a good win for us. We'll leave it at that."
A CLEAN STRETCH: From 10:23 remaining in the first quarter against the Lions until 8:52 remained in the third, New Orleans likely played its cleanest stretch of football this season. While outscoring the Lions 35-0 during that time frame, the Saints scored touchdowns on five straight offensive possessions – including two drives each of 75 and 80 yards – and produced four straight defensive stops, including an end zone interception. "You point to stretches of good play," Payton said. "Here's the thing: Early on, we got them to third-and-10, we got them to third-and-9. We got them into those favorable third-down situations, and for whatever reason couldn't get off the field. And then offensively, the first play of the game is a tipped-pass interception. We just didn't start as fast as we had hoped. But the response was good."