METAIRIE — Malcolm Jenkins and Zach Strief appreciate that the Saints’ season-opening loss did nothing to change the minds of those who expect the bounty scandal and related suspensions to undermine their 2012 season.
The team captains only pointed out that New Orleans was not immune to poor performances during previous playoff seasons, either. Even then, they had a few games that looked a lot like their out-of-synch, turnover- and penalty-ridden, 40-32 loss to Washington on Sunday.
“You’re going to lose at some point in the season. That’s just the reality of it,” Jenkins, a starting free safety, said calmly after a Monday film session breaking down the defense’s performance in Sunday’s defeat. “I’d rather lose early. You find out what you’re team is about. You find your identity, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and you correct them.”
Two seasons ago there were losses to Arizona on the road and Cleveland at home. Last season, one week after putting up 62 points against Indianapolis, the Saints lost to St. Louis, which came into that game 0-6.
The loss to the Rams included six sacks of Drew Brees, two Brees interceptions and a blocked Thomas Morstead punt. New Orleans rebounded to win its last eight regular-season games and set numerous offensive records.
Now, however, it remains to be seen whether the Saints will rebound in a similar fashion while coach Sean Payton is suspended and banned for the whole season from lending even a shred of advice to his remaining staff.
Interim head coach Aaron Kromer said he could only imagine what Payton was thinking, assuming he watched the game on television.
“I’m sure he was disappointed that we didn’t play better than we did, and he should have been,” Kromer said. “We were all disappointed: players, coaches, everyone.”
Kromer conceded that the months of buildup to the season opener since the bounty scandal erupted in March may have at least subconsciously affected the Saints in their season opener. When he addressed the team Monday morning, he said he saw too many instances during Sunday’s loss of players “doing someone else’s job and not doing their own job.”
“That’s when you try to make a play that’s not yours on defense instead of just doing your job and staying within the scheme,” Kromer said. “That’s when you try to make a pass that isn’t needed at the time, because you’re trying to press to throw a deep ball to get us in the game right now as opposed to two plays from now. That’s when a lineman is trying to help his buddy block a guy by doing something differently. There are plenty of examples within the game.”
The Saints have been largely defiant in the face of bounty sanctions, saying their team remains built in Payton’s image, that they intend to be in the playoffs for a fourth-straight season and contend for the Super Bowl, which will be played on their home field in February.
In retrospect, they wondered if they were trying too hard to prove that point in their home opener.
“There was a lot of emotion going into the game,” Brees said. “At times, when emotions are so high, you get into the game and you can have a lapse.”
Jenkins said it looked to him like some of the corrections began even before the game ended, which is why New Orleans was able to make it a one-possession contest late in the fourth quarter.
“We finished well,” Jenkins said. “To have over 10 penalties, to lose the turnover battle and not really have a rhythm the entire game — to really have a chance to tie it up at the end of the game is encouraging. That just shows us what we have if we really play smart football.”
In order to avoid an 0-2 hole and a divisional loss at Carolina next Sunday, the Saints must make a number of corrections quickly. They must recognize what they could have done better against rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, whose dual-threat capabilities present some of the same challenges defenses face against the Panthers’ Cam Newton. They must get more comfortable with the scheme installed by new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The offense, meanwhile, needs to be more in synch, eliminating pre-snap penalties and missed blocking assignments.
“You wish you didn’t have that game where you have to come in and refocus,” said Streif, a starting right tackle who has been with the Saints since 2006. “Sometimes that’s hard to see, and maybe guys are not looking in the mirror like they should, but at the same time, that’s the benefit of them building a locker room with character.
“I tell you right now, the practice on Wednesday will be a good practice, and that’s speaking from experience here of what happens after these (difficult) games,” Streif added. “We’ll get closer, and we’ll respond.”
The Saints placed recently re-instated linebacker Jon Vilma on the physically unable to perform list, meaning he’ll be out at least six games. Vilma is rehabilitating from offseason left knee surgery. ... The Saints brought back wide receiver Adrian Arrington, who had been cut Saturday, and signed offensive tackle Bryce Harris off of Atlanta’s practice squad. .. Kromer said cornerback Johnny Patrick’s right leg injury, which forced him from Sunday’s game in the second quarter, is “hopefully not as bad it looks.” Kromer said the same appears to be the case with wide receiver Devery Henderson, who was hit in the back of the head, and linebacker Scott Shanle, who left the game with an undisclosed leg injury.