Five games into the 2020 regular season, the New Orleans Saints (3-2) logically have a better understanding of who they are than they did before the season began.
The roller coaster has been in full use – the high of winning the season opener against flavor-of-the-offseason Tampa Bay, the low of two straight losses for the first time since the first two games of 2017, the mixture of overcoming 14-0 and 20-3 deficits in consecutive games to construct victories.
Now, entering Sunday's game against Carolina (3-3) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Saints are courting a smoother ride.
Much will depend on what they've learned about themselves.
"I think you always find out a lot about yourself in the early going," Drew Brees said Wednesday. "Every year is a new year, every year is a new team. You never just pick up where you left off, you always have to re-establish the foundation.
"In the month of September, as you're playing those first few games, you begin to establish your identity, and who you are and who you're trying to be. I think we've learned a lot here over the first five weeks of the season. We've had some guys step up and play that we didn't know would be playing, obviously as a result of injury and various things.
"I think that that's maybe why – once you get to October and November, that's the meat of the season but it's also when you've been able to establish who you are and your identity. And you can pin your ears back and go."
Perhaps especially, the offense is in "go" mode.
New Orleans has been somewhat scratchy offensively, despite averaging 30.6 points (fifth best in the league) and 378.4 yards (12th) per game. The overall numbers are good – including 48.5 percent conversions on third down, fourth best – but the Saints still are searching for a consistent rhythm.
"You focus on the statistics that matter, you focus on the statistics that equate to winning football," Brees said. "At the end of the day, it's being the most efficient, most productive offense that we can be.
"So in the running game, you can look at it as yards per carry, you can look at it as short-yardage conversions, you can look at it any number of ways. But at the end of the day, are we sustaining drives? Do we have balance? Are we efficient? Are we avoiding negative plays and constantly getting positive plays? Are we scoring touchdowns? Are we taking care of the football? So you really just try to simplify it and look at it like that.
"And then when there's opportunities for big plays, are we making them? Otherwise, are we doing all the little things right to sustain drives and put points on the board?"
The next opportunity to make good on all of that, and more, comes against the Panthers.
FIRST FANS: "It's nice to get some fans in there. Hopefully, that's kind of a small step on our way to getting some more fans in there. I know, certainly as a team, we would love that. Seems like everybody has worked really hard with the safety protocols; I know that certainly the Superdome has and I think the fans would do whatever they need to do to be able to be a part of that and be inside the Dome. Hopefully, this is 3,000 on our way to many, many more." – Brees, on the crowd expected in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, the first time the Saints have had fans this season who weren't all friends and family of players and franchise employees.