Saints miss postseason on too many mistakes

by Bradley Handwerger, AP sports

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A day after being eliminated from the playoffs with a 30-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, it didn’t take long for New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton to point out the reason.

Payton regularly calls the turnover stat the most important in the game. It was against Atlanta, with the Saints committing four of them.

For the season, the Saints are minus-11 in turnover margin.

“You really just keep yourself from having an opportunity to win a game,” Payton said. “That’s something that I obviously have to look closely at.”

That close look will come in the offseason.

Payton said Monday there wouldn’t be any wholesale changes in how the Saints approach the season-ending game at Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Those who have played a role in New Orleans going 6-9 will carry a similar responsibility against the Buccaneers, a 2-13 team in position for the No. 1 pick in the draft.

“We’ll have our best guys out there and preparing and doing everything we would normally do if we were playing for a playoff spot,” Payton said. “It won’t be a bit different.”

That means if the Saints finish 7-9, they’d have to eliminate the costly mistakes going into next season.

And besides turnovers, the losses have piled up for a myriad of other reasons.

The offense scored only 24 points in the final two home games of as the Saints finished with a five-game home losing streak.

The Saints haven’t allowed as many sacks as in 2013, when they gave up 37, but the ones they have given up this season have played a part in the inconstant play.

Against Atlanta, which entered last in the league in sacks, the Saints allowed a season-worst five.

New Orleans’ defense didn’t hold up when it needed to in key situations.

While the Saints have forced 15 fumbles, they have only recovered five of them.

A group that finished No. 4 in the NFL last season is ranked 31st in yards allowed. The Saints are 30th in the league on third downs and have given up at least 400 yards seven times.

“We rarely put together a complete game — offense, defense and special teams,” tight end Benjamin Watson said.

New Orleans has one more opportunity to put together that complete game.

Though Payton said preparation will be similar to any other week, it would be easy for the players to lose focus before heading into the offseason.

Those in the locker room on Monday said getting ready for the Buccaneers won’t be a problem, however.

“You can’t just sit around and feel sorry for yourself all day,” linebacker Parys Haralson said. “The season didn’t go the way you wanted to, but you’ve got this last game right here to go and still get to do what you love to do.”