Sunday’s debacle inside the Superdome was an embarrassing episode for the New Orleans Saints, as they dropped their second home game in a row.
However even at 4-6, the Saints are still talking about reaching the playoffs. Given the poor state of the NFC South, it’s an achievable goal.
"It’s wide open," guard Jahri Evans said. "That’s what we talked about today: there are six games left in the season, and we have three NFC South opponents. Right now, we are tied for first place with Atlanta holding that tie-breaker. Our division, somebody has to step up and take it."
So far, everyone in the division has seemed intent on giving it away. For New Orleans, who rode into the season on a big wave of optimism and expectations, it’s particularly disappointing.
"At the beginning of the year, we definitely, like most people, thought of ourselves as the frontrunners," Evans said, referring to winning the NFC South. "That is the thing about this league: we have a lot of talent on this team, but the NFL is full of talent. We just have to continue to get better as players, continue to work on our craft, continue to learn and let’s get out there and execute."
If the Saints can find a way to pull things together enough to make the playoffs, Evans says then it’s a whole new ballgame.
"I think every team around this league doesn’t care what their record is as long as they make the playoffs," Evans said. "That is kind of the second season. Just getting there is the goal. We’d be able to get there at 7-9 if we just take care of business. Teams have done that before."
It’s a lofty goal, based on recent events, including a seemingly troubled locker room.
Defensive captain Curtis Lofton chastised second-year pro Kenny Vaccaro for being overly vocal after the Saints loss Sunday. Vaccaro told reporters that something had changed within the defense this season, that it had a different "vibe" than last year.
"I think that when you express your frustration, you don’t express sit to the media, you keep that in house," Lofton said. "He is not the only player who feels that way. There have been numerous guys that have expressed the same feeling, but there is a different way to do that. That’s how it’s been handled in the past, and it’s how it needs to be handled in the future too."
Monday, the coaching staff charged the players with reviewing film alone, without any coaches present. The hope is to spark a sense of urgency starting from within.
"I think that as a leader and as captains we have to push these guys," Lofton said. "Coach is very real with us in understanding where we are as team and if you don’t see that and that doesn’t inspire you or motivate you to go out there and do your job and be enthusiastic about it there are millions of other people out there that want your job and want to be where you are at. As players you have to understand that. I have to do this and if I don’t I am going to be replaced."
Coach Sean Payton, in an effort to motivate, often talks about doors with exit signs over them, a symbol that’s more poignant than ever this week.
"Coach Payton always talks about those exit doors," Lofton said. "It is very easy to walk out one of those doors. He said as players you have some players that are always looking for a way out and some coaches looking for a way out too. But it is the guys that who want to stay and fight and that is the players and coaches that we have in this locker room. We will address and definitely fix these problems."
While the team still believes there is a chance to play in the post season, they aren’t deceiving themselves about the difficulty involved in reaching that goal. The next six weeks will be telling, about who these players are behind the helmets and how they respond to adversity.
"This is exactly where we are at in the NFC, exactly what we have to do, and if we do this then at the end of the year we are going to be very happy," Lofton said. "This is what it is about so guys have to see that, you have to feel it, you have to breathe it and you have to believe in it. You have to do everything in your power to make this team better and make yourself better for these last six games."