METAIRIE — In the aftermath of the New Orleans Saints’ meltdown Sunday, when they surrendered a 24-6 third-quarter lead and dropped a 27-24 overtime decision to the Kansas City Chiefs, no one was harder on himself than right tackle Zach Strief.
The 6-foot-7, 320-pound Strief stood tall in front of his cubicle in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to bare his soul to a large group of reporters looking for answers to the team’s third straight loss to open the season.
Strief, a seven-year veteran who was elected one of the team’s offensive captains just before the season opener, didn’t have all the answers.
But he was blunt in taking responsibility for allowing two of the four sacks the Chiefs’ defense registered against Drew Brees, who was under pressure for much of the day.
“I know that the guys in here have my back, and I knew that when I said that,” Strief said Wednesday after the Saints returned to the practice field. “I knew the guys would defend me. I have no problem jumping on the sword.
“If it takes three more minutes out of the coverage of the Saints to put the attention on me instead of somebody else, I’ll take that,” he added, “because I know I can handle that type of pressure.”
Even though he’s only in his second season as a starter, Strief has been with the Saints since Sean Payton’s arrival in 2006.
Which means the former seventh-round draft pick has been with the team through the highs and lows and has watched how his friends, particularly former tackle Jon Stinchcomb — whom Strief took over for last season — handled the tough times with the Saints.
“Leaving that game, it was hard because you know there are going to be difficult questions that there are going to be no good answers for,” Strief said.
“If we knew this is the answer right here, then we would fix it.”
After allowing just three sacks in the entire 2011 season, he gave up two of Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston’s three sacks on Sunday.
“One was a three-step (drop) where we didn’t have anywhere to go with the ball and we had to run around a little bit,” he said. “But two were my fault. Absolutely, without question, I take full responsibility for them.”
Strief drew praise from Brees and interim coach Aaron Kromer, who also serves as the Saints’ offensive line coach, for the way he handled himself after such a tough afternoon.
“Zach is a captain and he’s a leader, certainly, for this team and the offense,” Brees said. “He’s a guy that when he speaks, people listen. I think it takes a man to come out and want to shoulder that responsibility.
“That’s why he’s one of our leaders, why I have so much respect for him and we do as a team.”
Kromer, who has been with the Saints since 2008 and became offensive line coach a year later, said it was typical of Strief to blame himself for his poor performance.
“That is Zach Strief. Zach will own up to a game that he didn’t play his best,” Kromer said. “He’s played well this year. Until this game, he didn’t (surrender) a sack.”
He noted that the Saints didn’t do Strief any favors when they were backed up deep in their own territory and had to throw the ball when the Chiefs knew they were going to throw it.
“In that situation, it’s a tough down for a tackle,” Kromer said. “In that situation, he could have been better. But he can in no way, shape or form blame himself totally. But I get it, he fell on the sword for the team because that’s the type of guy he is.”
Strief said Wednesday he didn’t mind doing that because he knows he’ll learn from his mistakes and be ready for Sunday’s game with the Green Bay Packers.
“I feel more responsible for this team and this offense, and part of that is stepping up and taking blame sometimes,” he said.
“One of the reasons I’m willing to do that is because I know that I have enough confidence in myself that I’ll bounce back right away this week. And I will.”
He said Wednesday’s practice was a good start.
“I got back to some of the stuff that was effective for me last year,” he said. “I was kind of refocusing and making sure about the things that I was doing differently last week. I think I have a good bead on it.
“You work to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and that’s the focus.”
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