METAIRIE, La. (AP) As an offensive captain, Saints veteran right tackle Zach Strief wants to put New Orleans' latest loss in the proper perspective, which in this case means emphasizing how bad the 24-6 drubbing in Houston really was on his side of the ball.
''Offensively, it's the worst game I've been a part of – so 10 years is a long time to have a worst of something,'' said Strief, who was a Saints rookie when coach Sean Payton first brought his high-powered offense to New Orleans in 2006.
''We just never got into a rhythm. We weren't able to convert third downs. We put ourselves in bad positions – third-and-long situations that we talked all week about not getting into,'' Strief continued. ''You put a good defense in good situations, they're going to make you look bad.''
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A little more than a week ago, the focus at Saints headquarters was on how bad the defense was – worst in the league in yards and points per game, which got coordinator Rob Ryan fired.
The defense showed signs of improvement under Ryan's replacement, Dennis Allen, giving up 63 fewer yards and 7 fewer points than the season average coming into last weekend. But New Orleans failed to score a single touchdown for the first time since 2005, when Jim Haslett was head coach.
The Saints had the second-ranked offense in the league entering last weekend, averaging 414.5 yards. But New Orleans managed only 268 yards in Houston.
Receiver Brandin Cooks said he and his offensive teammates must not let one bad game against a strong Houston defense define them.
''We have to continue to trust in what we have,'' Cooks said. ''We can't sit there and pout about it. We've just got to get back to work.
''I continue to believe in this team,'' Cooks continued. ''We continue to believe in each other and I still feel like we can do something special.''
The result in Houston extended the Saints' losing streak to three and dropped them to 4-7, their worst record through 11 games during Payton's tenure.
But Payton doesn't sound upset about the character, effort or enthusiasm of his players.
''The preparation and the want-to and desire is there. Those guys have been outstanding,'' Payton said. ''This is a good locker room and we just have to be better at what we are doing and look closely at eliminating mistakes that are being repeated and evaluate those.''
Last week, Payton took a closer look at backup offensive tackle Andrus Peat – the team's top 2015 draft choice – more playing time by lining him up at left guard in place of Tim Lelito. But the line as a whole struggled Sunday. The Saints rushed for only 50 yards. Brees was sacked twice and often couldn't get his feet set when he did get the ball out before being hit. Consequently, a number of his passes were uncharacteristically inaccurate.
Payton gave Peat's performance mixed reviews.
''There was some good and then there were some times where he struggled,'' Payton said, citing holding and false start penalties. ''There are a handful of technique things that need to be cleaned up, and yet there are a few times on the film where you are looking at it and you're like, `Wow, that is pretty good.'''
Asked if Peat would get another start at guard this week, Payton responded, ''We'll see how the week goes.''
The Saints now have virtually no margin for error if they want to sneak back into even the periphery of the wild card playoff race. This Sunday, New Orleans hosts the Carolina Panthers, who are the NFL's only unbeaten team.
''Time is running out,'' Cooks said. ''We've got to put up points. We've got to win games and that's what it's all about.''
Notes: The Saints named cornerback Delvin Breaux this year's recipient of the club's Ed Block courage award, given to a player on each NFL team who has persevered through adversity. Breaux, whose high school neck injury prevented him from playing at LSU, is in his first NFL season with his hometown NFL team after working his way up through arena football and the CFL. ''It's pretty cool because these guys see me every day and know my personality,'' Breaux said. ''I'm just blessed that they picked me to win the award. It means a lot. It's an awesome award.''
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