e_SDLqThis week, it’s about focusing on what your job is and preparing the best you can. If we all do that we’ll improve.” zach strief, Saints tackle
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A quick NFL history lesson tells us that teams that open a season with back-to-back losses have a tall hill to climb in order to make the playoffs.
Then again, they’re sometimes lucky to even finish with a winning record.
The seven teams that started 0-2 last season all went on to losing seasons, dropping the percentage of teams making the postseason after such a start to 11.9 percent (22 of 184) since the playoff field was expanded to include six teams from each conference in 1990.
That’s what the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers are facing when they meet at noon Sunday in Bank of America Stadium. After dropping their openers, one team will be feeling a little better about itself and the other will be 0-2 by the end of the day.
While an 0-2 start isn’t the end of the world, it’s a tough hole to dig out of when you consider it might take 10 wins or more to earn a playoff berth if you don’t win your division.
The Saints and Panthers aren’t worried about historical stats, however; they simply want to get on track after tough losses.
In their first game under interim coach Aaron Kromer, the Saints struggled on both sides of the ball in a 40-32 loss to the Washington Redskins, while the Panthers lost 16-10 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
So, how big a game is this for both teams?
“The added significance is that it’s a divisional game,” Kromer said of the NFC South matchup. “It’s important to our program. It’s important to our psyche.”
Kromer said the New York Giants finished 9-7 a year ago — after falling to the Redskins in their season opener — and went on to made a strong playoff run that was topped with a win in Super Bowl XLVI.
“Constant improvement, constant skill development and learning what we are as a team (is important),” Kromer said. “We have to make sure we are doing a good job in what our assignment is. We’ll let the wins and losses handle themselves.”
The Saints, of course, thought they were poised to get off to a good start after an offseason of distractions. But a ragged offensive performance, coupled with a shaky start by the defense against Redskins’ rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, doomed them even though they twice had a chance to tie it in the end.
“As we get into this season, you kind of start to come together as a team,” said quarterback Drew Brees, who had one of his worst days as a pro last week in completing 46.2 percent of his passes.
“You start to establish that identity. Sometimes, you’re going to have struggles, and you have to find a way to pull through it.
“We just have to kind of swallow it a little bit,” he said. “We didn’t go out and play our best. It didn’t start the way we wanted it to, especially in our home opener.”
For the Saints, 12 penalties — including six on offense — only added to the disappointment and frustration of losing to the underdog Redskins after going undefeated at home in 2011.
“A lot of little mistakes … a lot of things killed drives for us, whether it was a penalty or a mental error or you just missed an opportunity,” Brees said. “We just had a lot of those, and they came at pretty inopportune times. You walk away from it saying it never really felt like we were ever in a rhythm.”
On their first six possessions against the Redskins, the Saints had four three-and-outs and had only 194 total yards midway through the final period.
Getting that straightened out this week, of course, was a priority as they prepared to face a Panthers team that gave up a touchdown on the Bucs’ opening possession and then limited them to three field goals.
“We can’t listen to the doom and gloom because if we put up 50 points, they’d be calling us the greatest offense in history again,” said tackle Zach Strief. “So it works both ways. As players, your job is to have a consistency in your approach, your work ethic and your preparation.”
“You just want to go out there and get it done,” tackle Jermon Bushrod said of the 0-2 hole one team is facing. “Yeah, that is not a good position to be in, but we’re not thinking about that. We’re just thinking about the next week, thinking about how we can get a little better each day.”
The defense was thinking the same thing after being shredded by Griffin.
This week, the challenge is another dual-threat quarterback in the Panthers’ Cam Newton.
A bigger version of Griffin, Newton won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after throwing for 21 touchdowns and running for 14 more while piling up 4,757 yards from scrimmage.
But like the Saints, they struggled against the Bucs.
While Newton was 23 of 33 for 303 yards with one TD, he threw two interceptions and was sacked three times. It didn’t help that the Panthers rushed for only 10 yards on 13 carries.
“As an offense, we have to come back and start faster,” Newton said.
“We came out and played lethargic. It was different players at different times, including myself, that were making mistakes.”
That’s the same thing the Saints were saying.
“Across the board, everybody would say we could have played better as individuals, as an offense, as a team,” said tight end David Thomas. “This week, it’s about focusing on what your job is and preparing the best you can. If we all do that we’ll improve.”