In his first six seasons as coach of the New Orleans Saints, Sean Payton seemed to relish the opportunity to play primetime games.
While NFL coaches over the years have groused about games that disrupt the weekly routine, mainly because you have a short week to prepare for the next one, Payton seemed to embrace them.
So, as the Saints go into their first of at least four primetime game this season on Sunday night, they may try to channel some of Payton’s positive energy.
As one of only two remaining winless teams going into the weekend, the Saints (0-4) need a boost of any kind for their 7:20 p.m. game against the San Diego Chargers (3-1) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
If the Saints are to make something of a what has so far been a miserable season, Sunday night’s game is their best shot. They’re 5-0 on Sunday night in front of the NBC cameras and 15-6 overall in primetime since Payton took over in 2006.
With Payton expected to be watching from somewhere in the building as Drew Brees tries to break an NFL record with a touchdown pass in his 48th consecutive game, the Saints hope it all finally comes together.
The Saints are 0-4 for only the second time since Payton took over, but for the players still on the active roster from that 2007 team, the situation is not as dire as it was then.
“We’re better than the ’07 team. That’s the crazy thing,” said strong safety Roman Harper, one of 20 current players around then. “Wins have just not come our way. But they don’t come easy in this league, and nobody feels sorry for anybody.”
The ’07 Saints were outscored 103-38 in their first three games before losing their fourth game by a field goal.
But after that, they recorded four wins in a row and were 7-5 in their final 12 games even though they missed the playoffs with a 7-9 mark — Payton’s only losing season.
“I bring up a lot of things … that included, yes,” interim coach Aaron Kromer said when asked if he has used 2007 as an example this week. “There are a lot of examples you could bring up of teams overcoming adverse situations.”
The Chargers would be Exhibit A.
Even though none of the current players or coaches were around, their 1992 team overcame an 0-4 start to win 11 of its final 12 games and reach the playoffs — the only NFL team to do that after losing its first four.
Like their 2007 team, the Saints say they’re close after their two most recent losses. They fell to Kansas City in overtime and suffered a one-point loss at Green Bay last week after having a chance to take the lead in the final three minutes.
“They are not getting discouraged; they are disappointed,” Kromer said. “They are not discouraged at all. They are excited about the opportunity. They wish it wasn’t this kind of opportunity, but it is.”
In the past two weeks, it’s been a case of not finishing.
“These last two games, we had an opportunity to win it and didn’t,” Kromer said. “When you put yourself in that situation, you have to finish the game.”
Kromer and Brees, who last week tied Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas’ record with a TD pass in his 47th game in a row, know what the Saints face.
“It’s a mountain we have to climb,” Kromer said. “Like Drew said, ‘Bring your climbing shoes because we have to get out of this thing. It’s one game, one play at a time. Just finish these games.’”
Brees addressed the team last week before the loss to the Packers with the goal of encouraging his teammates to remain positive.
“You have to face reality a little bit, but when you go through times like this, you have to find the positive and find the things you can build on,” he said. “We have gotten better each week, there’s no doubt about it, in so many ways. Unfortunately, in a few of these games, it’s been just a matter of finishing.
“We have to finish the game the way that we know how, the way we’ve done many times in the past.”
And even though they didn’t make the playoffs in 2007, Brees said it’s important that they try to draw something from the way they rebounded — especially with a bye coming next week.
“We can get on a roll, we can get on a streak and in order to get on a streak you have to win the first one,” he said.
“That’s what we’re focused on doing, especially before we go into the bye — get healthier, rejuvenated and ready to roll. But it’s all about Sunday night.”