Payton Happy With Wins, Still Work To Do
Sean Payton is aware that his team's past two victories were anything but perfect. Against the Cowboys and Bengals, he Saints let marginal leads slip away, and had to score in the final two minutes of both contests to come away victorious. While Payton doesn't see his team's sloppy play and mistakes as a trend yet, he knows the Saints can't ingore the errors either.
"The pleasing aspect is, despite the penalties, despite the turnovers, despite third down (failures), despite some of these things that we're talking about, that we were able to get the win," Payton said. "It's a lot easier to come in after a win and clean these things up and I think we're smart enough as a team to ... not fool ourselves and to recognize those are things we're going to have to improve on."
Payton said there were some key differences between the lost leads at Cincinnati and Dallas.
Cincinnati, Payton said, deserved credit for stringing together a number of good plays in turning a 20-6 deficit into a brief 30-27 lead. Payton described it as a more typical change in momentum "just during the course of the second half when they were making plays and we weren't - until the end."
"It wasn't like (the previous) week in Dallas," Payton continued, "where there was a series of events - turnovers - specifically an interception and a fumbled punt."
On Thanksgiving, the Saints led the Cowboys 20-6 at halftime before Reggie Bush's fumbled punt and Drew Brees' interception on a pass tipped by rookie tight end Jimmy Graham both led to Dallas TDs. Those scores allowed Dallas to come back and take a 27-23 lead before Brees hit Robert Meachem for a long gain and then Lance Moore for a touchdown with 1:55 to go. Dallas then missed a potential game-tying field goal, allowing New Orleans to escape with the win.
In Cincinnati, Chris Ivory's short touchdown run gave New Orleans a 20-6 lead in the third quarter. Late in the third quarter, however, Brees' interception led to a Cincinnati TD that made it 20-19, and the Saints were leading 27-19 when they were flagged for too many men on the field during a Bengals punt.
That penalty, one of 11 committed by the Saints for 100 yards, allowed Cincinnati to retain possession and tie the game. The Bengals then took the lead with a field goal before the Brees once again hit Meachem for a long pass, this time to set up a touchdown toss to Marques Colston for New Orleans' fifth-straight win.
It's pleasing that the Saints can overcome adversity, stay poised, and overcome their own blunders. At the same time, the Saints can't get away with their own mistakes of the last two weeks and expect to beat a top tier, playoff football team. One thing the Saints have shown is the ability to clean up mistakes week to week. Many issues earlier in the season are no longer effecting the team. For instance, the Saints have reached 30 points in their last four games. They only hit that mark one time in their first eight games. Now all they have to do is cleanup penalties and giving up sizable leads.