Slip-sliding away? No, say Saints

by Walter Pierce

"This is a tough situation and a tough time for us, but we've been here before and we can get out of it."

METAIRIE, La. (AP) - Lance Moore has a hard time believing the veteran New Orleans Saints will be undone by their recent midseason slide.

"It happens to all teams," Moore said Monday, a day after the New York Jets handed New Orleans its second loss in three games. "We've got a lot of guys who have been around for a long time.

This is a tough situation and a tough time for us, but we've been here before and we can get out of it."

New Orleans was primed to run away with the NFC South after a 5-0 start. In the past month, however, the Saints (6-2) have seen the Carolina Panthers pull within one game of the division lead.

The Saints and Panthers meet twice in December.

But even before that are some of the toughest games left on New Orleans' schedule.

NFC East leader Dallas visits on Sunday night, followed by reigning NFC champ San Francisco the following week. Two weeks after that, the Saints travel to NFC leader Seattle.

"November and December is when the great teams separate themselves from the good teams," Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "We know that, and that's what we're going to do.

"We're not down," Lofton added. "We know the kind of players we have in the locker room and what kind of coaches we have. When we do play efficient football and execute, there's not too many teams that can play with us."

Lately, however, that hasn't been the case.

Even after a victory two weeks ago over Buffalo, coach Sean Payton spoke in gruff tones about mental mistakes and sloppiness against the Bills that would eventually come back to haunt the Saints if they didn't clean up their act.

It took only one week for those warnings to come to fruition in New York, where the Saints fell 26-20.

The lowlights on offense included constant pressure on Drew Brees, who was sacked twice and intercepted twice; several dropped passes; a missed field goal; untimely penalties; and squandered timeouts.

New Orleans' defense, meanwhile, allowed seven plays of 19 yards or more, including several big runs by former Saint Chris Ivory, who finished with 139 yards rushing and a touchdown.

"The thing that's disappointing about (Sunday) is we knew getting off the bus this was a team that was going to run the football, and they knew they were going to run the football," Saints coach Sean Payton said of the Jets.

"I think everyone at MetLife Stadium knew they were going to run the football and we weren't able to stop them. So that's frustrating and we've got to look at why and make those corrections."

New Orleans' defense ranks 10th overall in what has generally been a greatly improved unit under new coordinator Rob Ryan.

But stopping the run has been its weakness. Before Monday night's game, the Saints ranked 26th in the league in yards rushing allowed with 121.3 per game.

Lofton chalked up the poor showing against New York to "missed alignment, not being lined up and not having the right people in the right spots - and just missing tackles."

Although Ivory's game looked great on paper, Lofton added, "there wasn't anyone in his way most of the time he ran. That's more so us. We didn't do our jobs."

After watching video of the loss to the Jets, Payton said he noticed mistakes by every position group, adding that it wouldn't be fair just to single out the offensive line for all the pressure Brees was under. He said receivers and tight ends did not run crisp routes and dropped balls.

Payton also stressed that his own play-calling was part of the problem. The Saints went into the game expecting to throw a lot against the top rushing defense in the league, only to find the Jets using a scheme designed more to stop the pass. The Saints finished with only 41 yards rushing, but ran the ball on only 13 of 64 plays from scrimmage.

"We've been a little bit lopsided," Payton said of his play-calling. "Pass protection becomes more manageable when you're running the football and so this gets back to me."