Rams, Saints running out of time as paths cross in Big Easy
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Drew Brees agrees, desperation time has set in for the New Orleans Saints.
That didn't mean the record-setting quarterback was about to switch up his routine as he prepared for the Los Angeles Rams (4-6) , who need a victory just as urgently as the Saints (4-6) do when the former divisional rivals from the pre-2002 NFC West meet in New Orleans on Sunday.
''Typically, we say the most desperate team wins,'' Brees said. ''Do I begin to do a bunch of different things? No, I don't. I do the same thing because I feel like my thought process is one that I have honed in on for a long time and it works.''
After all, Brees led the NFL in passing through 10 games. But he also has played a role in his team's recent turnover epidemic.
The Saints turned over the ball four times and had a late-game, point-after kick blocked and returned for a defensive 2-point conversion in a 25-23 loss to Denver in Week 10. Last week, New Orleans had two more turnovers – plus a blocked field goal that set up a Carolina touchdown – in a 23-20 loss to the Panthers . Brees has thrown two interceptions and lost a fumble in that stretch.
''Unfortunately, we've had those stretches where it's been one play here, one play there or just some really costly mistakes where we know better,'' Brees said. ''Mistakes are going to be made, but understand the ones that are going to get you beat. Avoid those and focus on all of the positive things that we can do, because, certainly, we're capable of a lot.''
The Rams, who've lost five of six, made a major change last week when they chose to start rookie QB Jared Goff, drafted first overall in the spring. Los Angeles lost 14-10 to Miami , the Rams' fourth straight loss by a touchdown or less, and now Goff is slated to make his first road start. He doesn't sound too worried about the environment in the Superdome.
''It will be loud. That's about it,'' Goff said.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher said he could see Goff's growth accelerating in practice this week.
''He's got a really good feel for it,'' Fisher said. ''He's putting it down the field and doing some good things. He's in complete control of what we're doing. … It's very encouraging.''
Meanwhile, Goff scoffed at the notion that by playing him now over veteran Case Keenum, the Rams have shifted their focus to the future and away from making a playoff push this season.
''I don't hear that,'' around Rams headquarters, Goff said. ''We are trying to win each game … and still have a chance to make a run here – and it's not too late and we can do some special things.''
Goff's assertion is one story line in this game. Here are some others:
COMPETITIVE REUNION: Saints coach Sean Payton, who designs New Orleans' offense, faces his former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, for the first time since firing him at the end of the 2011 season. Both coaches were banned from the NFL in 2012 as a result of the league's bounty probe into New Orleans' off-the-books cash-for-hits locker room pool while Williams was with the club. The Saints have had only one playoff season (2013) since. Current Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen was Williams' secondary coach when the 2009 Saints won the Super Bowl.
BREES' CHALLENGE: The Rams' pass defense ranks sixth in the league, with starting cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and E.J. Gaines benefiting from a versatile, deep pass rush. After getting beaten for touchdowns on the Dolphins' final two drives of an otherwise dominant game, the Rams relish the chance to redeem themselves against Brees and the productive New Orleans offense.
''He's one of the best in the business, so you welcome that challenge,'' Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree said. ''As a competitor, you welcome the best of the best.''
STUCK IN NEUTRAL: The Rams' running game continues to be their biggest offensive problem. Todd Gurley, the 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year, is averaging a measly 3.2 yards per carry behind an inconsistent, penalty-plagued offensive line, leaving the Rams 29th in the league with just 84.5 yards per game on the ground. Fisher refused to say whether he'll make changes to his line this week, but left tackle Greg Robinson is under scrutiny after committing a key blocking penalty in last week's loss.
CLOSE CALLS: Both teams appear to be a few bad plays away from having considerably better records at this point. New Orleans has lost five games by six or fewer points, and four by a field goal or less. The Rams' past four losses have come by a touchdown or less, including three by four or fewer points.
CAL PRIDE?: Saints defensive end Cam Jordan said he's met Goff during visits to both players' alma mater, Cal-Berkeley, during the past couple years. Grinning deviously, Jordan added that he ''would like to welcome him to what constant pressure is,'' and will ''love hitting Goff.''
''I look forward to playing my guys,'' Jordan said. ''We'll be friends afterward.''
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AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this report.