NEW ORLEANS — Herm Edwards has seen it happen before.
So has Joe Horn, or at least something close to it.
Edwards was the coach of the 2002 New York Jets, one of five NFL teams since 1990 which started the season 1-4 but still make the playoffs.
Horn was the top receiver for the 2000 Saints, who started their season 1-3 before they won five straight and wound up 10-6, winning the NFC West along with the first playoff game in the franchise’s history.
And both see it possible for the 1-4 Saints of 2012 to make a similar turnaround.
Horn, as might be expected, is the more optimistic of the two.
“It’s not what your record is,” said Horn, who played for the Saints from 2000-06. “It’s all about the guys in the locker room.
“They know they’ve got a mountain to climb, but it’s like Drew Brees said, you do it rock by rock. Those guys still believe in themselves.”
Edwards, now an analyst for ESPN, put the pressure on the coaches.
“No one player can do it all by himself,” he said. “Every individual coach has to send the message that now that we know what it feels like to win a game, let’s keep that feeling.
“You can’t put doubt in their minds. They need encouragement.”
The Saints defense and running game, Edwards added, also need retooling, which made this the perfect time for a bye week.
“They’ve got enough firepower,” he said. “But because the running game has not been strong (27th in the league at 75.2 yards per game and 28th in rushing attempts per game at 19.2) the defense is having to stay on the field too long, and they are already struggling there.
“When you don’t run the ball well, panic sets in and you start throwing it all the time, and your time of possession gets all out of balance. I don’t know what the deal is with Mark Ingram, but the Saints have got to get something going there because their defense can’t hold up without it.”
Perhaps not coincidently, both the 2000 Saints and 2002 Jets began their turnarounds following a bye week.
The Saints, in their first year under Jim Haslett, had lost to Philadelphia 21-7, to fall to 1-3.
But after a week off, they went to Chicago and beat the Bears 31-10 behind Ricky Williams’ 128 rushing yards.
“Yeah, we went out and pretty well dominated that day,” Horn said. “I think, with us, it was getting personal.
“We were mostly a bunch of castoffs (the opening-game roster had a 60 percent turnover from the final game of 1999), and everybody thought we were horrible. I know we didn’t have the talent level this team did, but we just kept believing in ourselves.”
The 2002 Jets won their opener at Buffalo in overtime 37-31, and then dropped four straight, the first three by a combined 102-13.
During the bye week, Edwards made the decision to bench quarterback Vinny Testaverde for Chad Pennington.
“We’d gone to the playoffs the year before, but we couldn’t score any points and were blowing too many assignments on defense,” Edwards said. “We couldn’t bench everybody, but made the change at quarterback to try to get something started.”
In its first game after the bye, New York snapped its losing streak with a 20-7 victory against Minnesota followed by a 24-21 loss to Cleveland after which Edwards went on his famous “You play to win the game,” tirade.
Taking Edwards’ message to heart, the Jets then went to 6-1 San Diego and beat the Chargers and Brees 44-13. They would win six of their last eight, finishing 9-7 and winning tiebreakers over New England and Miami for the AFC East championship.
For the Saints, winning the NFC South is doubtful. They’re already four games behind the 5-0 Atlanta Falcons, even though both games against them still lie ahead.
But going 9-2 the rest of the way, a difficult but not impossible feat, would most likely mean a wildcard berth.
The schedule is not overly daunting. Of the remaining 11 games, only five are against teams that currently have winning records and three of those are at home.
But that may mean little considering two of the teams that beat the Saints — Carolina and Kansas City, haven’t beaten anyone else.
Also, the Saints would lose head-to-head tiebreakers with Washington and Green Bay, both currently 2-3. While most experts don’t expect the Redskins to remain a playoff contender, the Packers, given their history, figure to be in the hunt, even though they play at unbeaten Houston on Sunday.
Games against Philadelphia, the New York Giants and Dallas all give the Saints the opportunity to have the head-to-head edge over those teams, although one is likely to win the NFC East. There’s also the Nov. 25 home game against 4-1 San Francisco that looms large.
“Every game in the National Football League is a test, so you can’t be thinking about anybody but the next team you play,” Edwards said. “That’s enough pressure as it is.”
The best thing the Saints have going for them, Edwards added, is that they went into the bye week coming off a victory, in fact, a dramatic, come-from-behind one that included Brees’ breaking a historic record.
“When you win a game in the National Football League,” he said, “it’s amazing how much better you feel.”