METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans Saints veterans and coach Sean Payton appear committed to putting a brave face on a 1-4 start that has the Saints a lot closer to irrelevance than anything else.
"There are a lot of young guys with a lot of hope. There are a lot of older guys that see that there are bright spots," defensive end Cameron Jordan said Monday. "We're playing with passion and we're playing our butts off.
"At the same time, we're not capitalizing on plays that we should," Jordan added. "We're missing some minor details and that is something that you can't be proud of. Going forward, we have the chance to rectify a lot of this."
As "minor" as the Saints' missed details might be, collectively they are causing major problems. And New Orleans has just a few days before hosting unbeaten Atlanta on Thursday night.
If the Saints lose that game, they'll be off to their worst start since Payton took over in 2006.
Twice before, in 2007 and 2012, the Saints have started 1-4. Both seasons, they finished 7-9 and out of the playoffs.
The only victory the Saints have this season came in overtime, at home, against an injury-decimated Dallas squad that has lost three straight.
Before this week, at least, the Saints could argue that they were competitive in their first three losses against Arizona, Tampa Bay and Carolina.
But Sunday, they lost 39-17 to a Philadelphia team that also came in at 1-3, and the Eagles' margin of victory easily could have been much wider.
The Eagles virtually moved the ball at will, racking up 519 yards, but Sam Bradford threw two interceptions in the Saints' end zone in the first half, which prevented Philadelphia from pulling away earlier.
The last of New Orleans' two touchdowns in the game, and the last 80 of their 338 total yards, came on the final possession of a lopsided game, accomplishing little more than helping some members of New Orleans' offense pad stats against a defense that no longer had a reason to play with urgency.
Even Jordan conceded "nothing is misleading" about the Eagles' wide advantages on the stat sheet or the scoreboard.
"It's definitely a critical time," Jordan said. "That is something that you can't stress enough."
As the season comes closer to slipping away, it begs more questions about whether major changes are afoot in New Orleans.
Barring an extension, the contract of 36-year-old quarterback Drew Brees will expire after next season, and his salary cap figure of about $30 million in 2016 could be more than the Saints are willing to absorb.
Receiver Marques Colston injured his right shoulder Sunday and it's unclear how long he'll be sidelined.
Meanwhile, Payton sounded annoyed that speculation he could wind up coaching elsewhere next season has gained traction on sports talk shows and NFL commentaries.
"You ignore half of that stuff and obviously dismiss it," Payton said. "Our players aren't distracted by that. The focus of our team is dead square on getting better.
Speculation about coaching moves "happens when you're in Year 10 and you're not having success. There's this, 'Well, is there another job he'd be interested in,'" Payton continued. "So my point is, if you predict that every year, at some point, someone's going to be right.
"I love it here," Payton added. "You get tired of answering the questions. I'll say what I've said before. This is where I see myself."
Payton said he talks to players all the time about "tuning out the noise" and not letting it become a distraction to their more immediate task of improving as players and winning games. Running back Mark Ingram said he is confident the Saints are doing just that.
"All we have is each other," he said. "Everybody else is going to talk bad about us and criticize us, but all that matters, if we're going to do anything good, is that it's between us.
"We will all have each other's backs and we're trying to push each other through it."