One of the most frequently asked questions that will come this week in the wake of the New Orleans Saints’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs will be whether Sean Payton would have made a difference in the outcome.
It came up after the Saints dropped their season opener, and again when they fell to 0-2 with a loss to the Carolina Panthers.
It’ll certainly be a hot topic in the days leading up to Sunday’s matchup with the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field, which looks like a daunting task when you consider the Saints are reeling for one of the few times since Payton became their coach in 2006.
Only twice before have the Saints lost three straight games in the regular season under Payton. Right now, they’re a lot closer to the 2007 team that started the season with four straight defeats than the 2009 club that finished the season with three losses in a row.
Of course, we all know the 2009 team rebounded in the playoffs and went on to win Super Bowl XLIV.
But as Drew Brees pointed out when someone mentioned how that last three-game losing streak produced bigger and better things, the Saints are a long, long way from talking about — or even dreaming about — the Super Bowl.
It was evident in the way they collapsed against a winless Chiefs team, which managed to hang in when they trailed 24-6 late in the third quarter before scoring 21 unanswered points for a stunning 27-24 overtime win.
So, would Payton have made a difference?
No matter how many times the question has been asked, or will be asked (which will be whenever they lose a game), no one can know for sure.
Maybe Payton, wherever he was watching Sunday’s game from, might have thought that he’d have pushed the right buttons to stem the tide and somehow turn the game back in his team’s favor.
But we really don’t know, just like we didn’t know if he would have affected the outcome of the first two weeks.
And we won’t know, because Payton isn’t coming back this season.
As a result, the Saints know they have to fight their way out of this deep hole they’ve dug for themselves.
Only three teams that have started a season 0-3 since 1990 have rebounded to make the playoffs.
At this point, however, that word is as foreign to the Saints as it was to Jim Mora when his Indianapolis Colts were going through a bad stretch.
“What we need to be talking about is how we can each get a little bit better,” Brees said. “How we can make those plays we haven’t been making, how we can eliminate those mistakes that have put us in the situation we’re in.”
This time, they’ll have to do it without Payton.
“All I can say is, Sean Payton’s a great football coach and he’s great at those (adjustments),” Brees said. “But he’s not here. The rest of us have to find a way.”
And they have to do it pretty soon.