Courtesy---Mike Triplett/Times-Picayune

New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton has been doing a lot of damage control this season, it seems.

First, he had to insist that New Orleans' early-season struggles weren't cause for crisis. Now he needs to caution that a two-game winning streak isn't cause for celebration as the Saints enter their bye week.

"The Hornets are on a roll with momentum, " Payton said Monday, referencing their 6-0 start. "We've won two games in a row. There's a difference. We hope to stack some games back to back, and we know what that feels like."

Payton did add that the Saints are "encouraged" by their impressive victories over visiting Pittsburgh and at Carolina over the past two weeks, especially considering the struggles they went through over the first seven games. They are now firmly back in contention in the wide-open NFC with a 6-3 mark.

Yet, Payton said, "we're just past the halfway point."

"Without getting into a lot of clichés, we still have a lot of football to play, a lot in front of us in the way the NFC is shaping up, " Payton added. "The month of November is critical. It always has been in regards to separating teams. There are a number of things we have to do better. That will be the emphasis as we get through this bye and lead in to Seattle (on Nov. 21 at the Superdome) and then the short week after that (at Dallas on Nov. 25).

"There's still a lot ahead of us, a lot of challenges ahead of us and a lot of work for us to do. ... That's not just me downplaying it. It's just a fact. The good news is that we're within striking distance, and we've hung in there despite not playing some good football early on. We recognize that. Certainly, I do."

After reviewing the tape of New Orleans' 34-3 victory against the Panthers on Sunday, Payton said he liked the energy the Saints played with. He said he was "encouraged" with how they played defensively, holding Carolina to 195 yards. And he believed the field position played a huge part, especially early when he said New Orleans didn't exactly start "sluggish" but had to fight through some "back and forth."

"A lot of that game was played on their side of the field ... and when a mistake's made, it's exaggerated then, " said Payton, who pointed out that Saints cornerback Jabari Greer was able to return an interception 24 yards for a touchdown, and the Panthers' early interception deep in their own territory ultimately resulted in just three points.

"We settled into a rhythm, " Payton said. "But when you watch the tape, it does bring out things that we can do a better job with that I think our guys will see (today)."

Players will come in today for meetings and a weightlifting session, then they'll be free to go.

The Saints will take the entire week off from practice during their bye week -- a tradition they successfully started last year. Players will be required to keep up with their conditioning throughout the week, but they won't be back on the practice field until Monday.

New Orleans used the same approach last season before coming back with a dominant 48-27 victory over the visiting New York Giants after the bye. That snapped a three-year losing streak for the Saints after bye weeks. In the past, they practiced on Tuesday and Wednesday of the bye week before giving players a four-day weekend.

Payton said he stole the new schedule from Philadelphia Eagles Coach Andy Reid, who has a 12-0 record following bye weeks, including Sunday's 26-24 victory over the visiting Indianapolis Colts. Payton said he also got some encouragement last year from quarterback Drew Brees, who thought the extended break would do the team some good.

The bye week is coming at a good time from a health standpoint. The Saints suffered a handful of injuries against the Panthers to go with lingering ones.

Tight end Jeremy Shockey (bruised rib), safety Malcolm Jenkins (stinger), safety Darren Sharper (hamstring) and tailback Chris Ivory (shoulder) all left Sunday's game with injuries that will leave their status in doubt heading into the Saints' Week 11 game against Seattle.

Meanwhile, tailbacks Reggie Bush (fibula) and Pierre Thomas (ankle), cornerback Patrick Robinson (ankle) and safety Pierson Prioleau (ankle) hope to return after the break.

Shockey's injury appears to be the most significant of the new ailments. Payton said there are no broken or cracked ribs, though he said the ribs were "bruised pretty significantly."

"In Jeremy's case, he's got a lot of soreness right down in the lower portion of his rib cage. That second rib from the bottom is bruised, " Payton said of Shockey, who went to the hospital in Charlotte, N.C., for testing to make sure there were no internal injuries. "So resting that is gonna be important, padding it, avoiding contact to that area."

Ivory said Sunday that his shoulder came out of place and separated from the bone a little bit, but he said he probably could have gone back into the game if needed. Payton said he expects Ivory to "fare pretty well coming off this bye week."

Payton said Jenkins will "have to get a lot of treatment with the stinger he had" but remains optimistic he can return next week.

Payton said Sharper had "a slight hamstring injury that should be fine."

Payton said he almost certainly expects Bush to return from a broken fibula he suffered in Week 2 at San Francisco. Bush returned to practice last week on a limited basis and worked out before the game at Carolina.

Payton said he's also optimistic that Thomas might be back on the practice field with an ankle injury that has lingered since Week 3. But that's no guarantee. Last week, Thomas said he didn't expect to remove a walking boot from his ankle until the end of this week.

"Pierre's making the progress, just trying to get over the hump, " Payton said. "I was encouraged today with how he was feeling, but we'll still see and make sure he's ready before he goes out."