CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When training camp began in late July, the New Orleans Saints were united and defiant in the wake of this spring’s bounty scandal.
Despite the offseason distractions that included the season-long suspension of coach Sean Payton, the Saints reported to camp believing they could become the first team to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium.
Their ultimate goal, of course, on the night of Feb. 3 was to be handed the Vince Lombardi Trophy by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who had slapped the Saints with the most severe penalties in league history.
Two games into the regular season, the Saints remain united and defiant.
But after two straight losses, neither of which they saw coming, they’re adamant about one thing: righting their first 0-2 start since 2007.
It’s not going to be easy, especially after Sunday’s 35-27 setback to the Carolina Panthers put them in an uncomfortable situation. No team that started 0-2 from 2009-11, 24 of them in all, qualified for the playoffs.
If they don’t care to add their name to the dubious group, the Saints are going to have to do something in a hurry.
After Sunday’s home game with the Kansas City Chiefs, who are also 0-2, the Saints close the pre-bye part of their schedule at Green Bay (1-1) and back home against San Diego (2-0).
While they could think about the 162 teams that have started 0-2 and didn’t make the playoffs, the Saints coaching staff is focusing on the 22 teams that did make it since the postseason field was expanded in 1990.
Most notably, they pointed out the three teams — the 1993 Dallas Cowboys, 2001 New England Patriots and 2007 New York Giants — that managed to win the Super Bowl after that kind of start.
Before they can think of that, they have to win their first game with an offense that’s struggled at times and a defense that hasn’t shown the ability to stop opposing teams in giving up 922 total yards.
“We’re just not playing as good as we want to yet,” said free safety Malcolm Jenkins, who tied for the team lead on Sunday with 10 tackles. “We had high expectations, and we’ve worked hard and prepared hard. We’ve just got to jell and continue to do the things we need to do to get better.
“We just have to continue to chip away at this thing,” he said. “It’s one of those deals where each individual has to evaluate himself and find out what he can do to get better. That’s what we have to rely on.”
Quarterback Drew Brees noted the Saints are used to dealing with, and eventually handling, adversity. But it has come a lot earlier than it has in the past, he said.
“We trust our preparation. We trust our approach,” Brees said. “Unfortunately, we’ve done some things that have set us back, prevented us from winning. The important thing is recognizing what those things are and having an answer for them. I feel like we have that.”