Saints head into bye week with hope for turnaround

If the New Orleans Saints can salvage this season, they may look

back at their second-half performance against the San Diego

Chargers as the turning point.

Drew Brees’ touchdown passes to Marques Colston showed the

offense still has the punch to mount a comeback – without suspended

coach Sean Payton overseeing the unit. Even the Saints’ defense

started to look like it was figuring out how its personnel best

fits the scheme of first-year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

”We’re definitely on the rise,” New Orleans interim coach

Aaron Kromer said Monday. ”We need to keep it going.”

A big question is whether the Saints’ defense will build on its

performance against the Chargers when it returns from the bye week

or revert back to the mistakes that plagued the unit in New

Orleans’ first four losses.

New Orleans, last in the NFL in yards allowed, gave up 288 yards

to San Diego in the first half. The defense still appeared lifeless

when the Chargers cruised into the end zone to go ahead 24-14

following a turnover to start the second half.

After that, however, a transformation took place.

The Saints shut out San Diego, allowing only 113 yards the rest

of the way, and New Orleans rallied to win 31-24. In the fourth

quarter, New Orleans sacked Chargers QB Philip Rivers three times

and intercepted him once.

Safety Roman Harper, who said last week the Saints were the most

confident 0-4 team ever, had his first interception since 2010 on a

pass that fellow safety Malcolm Jenkins tipped in the fourth

quarter.

”We’re still very confident,” Harper said. ”Nothing has

really changed. I understand we lost some games, but you can’t let

them see you sweat. We understand we’re right on the cusp of

greatness. We just have to go out there and achieve it, and we did

that last night.”

Now the Saints get some needed rest.

After meeting Monday, the Saints were due to take off the rest

of the week, following their normal plan for an open date. Their

next game is at Tampa Bay on Oct. 21.

They are not happy with their 1-4 record, but they feel a whole

lot better entering their bye week off a win, particularly since

the maligned defense played a huge role.

The Saints, who had six sacks through four games, were able to

pressure Rivers. Defensive ends Junior Galette, Cam Jordan and

Martez Wilson all got to him in the fourth quarter, with Wilson

knocking the ball out of his hands and falling on the ball in the

final minute to seal the victory.

”We never lost any confidence,” Galette said. ”We were 0-4,

but what other team in the NFL was not supposed to have its record

more than the New Orleans Saints. We need to use this as a

steppingstone. We set a mountain for us to climb, so we just have

to keep climbing it.”

Despite beating San Diego, the Saints know they have plenty of

corrections still to make on defense.

The Chargers had six plays of 20 or more yards in the first

half, including Rivers completions of 39, 32 and 45 yards. The last

one was an easy throw to a wide-open Robert Meachem, who left New

Orleans for San Diego as a free agent last March.

”It was a miscommunication in the defense,” Jenkins said. ”We

ended up not having a post safety, and they ran a post. The guys

got mixed up.”

On the Chargers’ final drive, the Saints benefited from a pair

of offensive penalties, one for interference on tight end Antonio

Gates that wiped out a 28-yard catch and another for holding that

nullified a 23-yard reception.

”We have a lot of work to do,” Spagnuolo said. ”The good Lord

helped us out on a number of plays. … It’s such a competitive

league. You need a break here or there.”

The Saints plan to enjoy their break from football this week.

Expecting to contend for the Super Bowl when the season began, they

felt the pressure mount with each unexpected loss. The teams that

beat them in the first four weeks are a combined 2-14 against

everyone else.

”These last few games, they played extremely hard, they put

their bodies to the test, and there’s a lot of wear and tear on

these guys,” Kromer said. ”It’s an opportunity for them to get

healed. We just need to carry the momentum back into the next week

when we get back.”

Notes: Kromer said CB Jabari Greer, who left against San Diego

in the first half, had re-aggravated a groin injury that required

sports hernia surgery in early August. Still, Kromer said Greer

might be able to play against Tampa Bay. … Kromer said TE Jimmy

Graham, who sprained his right ankle against San Diego, still had

to be evaluated. . The Saints have placed a commemorative name

plate in memory of long-time Associated Press writer Mary Foster on

the front row of the Superdome press box. That seat will remain

empty for the rest of the season. Foster, who covered the Saints

for AP from 1988-2005, and who also covered the club before joining

AP, died on Sept. 24 from complications from cancer diagnosed

earlier this year.

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