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Vitt defends Brees, says Saints still have hope

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METAIRIE, La. (AP)

Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt scoffs at the idea that Drew Brees' recent and uncharacteristic interception epidemic is to blame for New Orleans' fading playoff hopes.

Vitt doesn't want the Saints' franchise quarterback to change a thing.

''When you have a great quarterback on your team, great quarterbacks can't have a conscience. They're going to stick tight throws. They're going to make great plays. And those great plays that great quarterbacks make take great courage. And that's just the truth,'' Vitt said Friday. ''When you're on a little bit of a dry spell and maybe you wish you had a throw back or two, potentially bad things happen.''

A lot of bad things have been happening to Brees in the past two losses.

Against San Francisco last Sunday, Brees had two interceptions returned for touchdowns in an 11-point loss. Then it got even worse in Atlanta on Thursday night, when Brees threw five interceptions and had a late-first-half lapse in clock management in a 23-13 loss to the rival Falcons.

Even Brees' NFL record 54-game streak with touchdown pass came to an end.

''I couldn't believe it. I've never seen anything like it,'' said Saints safety Roman Harper, the only player available Friday for interviews. ''All I'm used to is the Drew we see every Sunday, not a Drew that has five turnovers or things like that and it was just off.

''We should have won the game. We just did not take advantage of the opportunities we needed to whether it's right before the half or a couple of the turnovers,'' Harper said. ''We just can't put it all on Drew and say, `Hey, if Drew has a bad game, we don't win the game.' Sometimes we've got to bail him about because he's bailed us out plenty of times.''

Brees still threw for 341 yards, highlighted by numerous downfield completions. Perhaps the interception that deflected off of running back Chris Ivory's hands was bad luck. Perhaps the end of Brees' streak was bad luck, too, given Lance Moore's drop in the end zone.

But Brees blamed himself for the turnovers after the game, and for losing track of the clock late in the first half, when the Saints got inside the Atlanta 5 and came away empty.

Vitt said the best thing Brees can do now is have ''amnesia'' and come back ready to prepare for the New York Giants next week.

''We're all in this situation here now, and I'm talking about the success we've had over the last six years, because of guys like Drew Brees,'' Vitt said.

Vitt then praised Brees for his touchdown-pass streak, which earlier this season surpassed a half-century-old mark held by Hall-of-Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas.

Vitt said Brees' streak belongs alongside the 2,632 straight Major League Baseball games played by Cal Ripken, Yankee great Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, or Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game.

''That record is something he'll have forever and it's really guaranteed his enshrinement as a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer,'' Vitt said.

Brees' recent woes, however, have contributed to a two-game skid that has left New Orleans at 5-7. By the end of this weekend, the Saints could be as many as two games out of the final NFC wild card with four games left.

The Saints figure they'll have to run the table to have a chance. The good news is their defense and running game have both looked better. The Saints yielded a season-low 283 yards to Atlanta, and Vitt said it was clearly the unit's best game this season.

''This defense is getting better every week,'' Vitt said.

New Orleans also rushed for 101 yards against the Falcons despite trailing the whole game, averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

Vitt told his players that in 1983, he was an assistant with a Seattle team that went 9-7 and not only made the playoffs but advanced to the AFC title game. He noted that in 2004 he was on staff with a St. Louis squad that made the postseason with an 8-8 record and won a playoff game. On the flip side, he said, he was with a 10-6 Seahawks team in 1986 that missed the playoffs. His message was that the Saints should only worry about playing great for four games and see how it shakes out in the end.

Harper said the Saints aren't ready to give up their playoff hopes yet, and will play with pride either way.

''There's no more time. We're a desperate team. We've got to act like it. We've got to play like it and we've got to become that team,'' Harper said. ''All we got to do is win. Winning out could do it. You just never know. This league is a crazy league.''

Tagged: Saints, Drew Brees, Roman Harper

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