NFL Nation: Drew Brees

QB snapshot: Drew Brees

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
A quick observation of quarterback Drew Brees and how he played in the New Orleans Saints' 34-27 loss in Week 12:

Believe it or not, Brees is actually on pace to throw for 5,078 yards with 32 touchdowns and a league-best 70.3 completion percentage.

But it’s still easy to see that he’s not playing up to his usual standard. And it’s easy to identify why: the turnovers.

Brees has thrown 11 interceptions and lost two fumbles this year. And it’s not just the volume that’s disturbing -- it’s how incredibly costly they’ve been in huge moments. His interception returned for a touchdown in the third quarter of Monday’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens was the latest example.

Brees has thrown three pick-sixes this year. Only Blake Bortles and Austin Davis have thrown more, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Brees' accuracy also has been a tick off on some of his deep balls throughout the year and some of his red zone throws Monday night. And I don’t disagree with analysts who say he’s not the same as usual this season.

But I also believe that’s magnified by the fact that the Saints so desperately need Brees to do it all for them. Brees has been pressing too much with the Saints' defense once again playing so poorly (a flashback to 2012 in both regards).
NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints got one thing right in Monday night's 34-27 loss to the Baltimore Ravens -- the offensive aggressiveness and sense of urgency that was so blatantly lacking a week earlier.

The Saints' first play of the game was an empty-backfield pass, with Drew Brees hitting Jimmy Graham for 11 yards.

Their second: a 67-yard gain on an end-around run by seldom-used dynamic receiver Joe Morgan.

Of course, that drive ended with a failure to punch it in, despite having first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. But we've established by now that this team is far from perfect.

At least the Saints looked more like their usual selves on offense while failing to get the job done.

"Last week was real tough the way we looked, but I thought we had energy tonight," said Saints coach Sean Payton, who had admitted his team was too "flat" after a 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. "I felt like our guys had the energy and were ready to go. It's a game that comes down to opportunities, and we weren't able to capitalize on them."

That aggressive approach backfired when Payton said he went with a "gut feeling" to go for it on fourth-and-1 on the Saints' opening drive because he thought it was an important time in the game to send a message. Saints running back Mark Ingram wound up getting stuffed for the third time on that goal-line stand.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
AP Photo/Jonathan BachmanDrew Brees threw for 420 yards and three TDs, but he also had a costly interception against Baltimore.
But it was the execution that failed -- not the mindset, especially considering the Saints need their offense to lead the way with their defense struggling so mightily.

"Our approach going in, and our players knew it, was that we were going to be aggressive in this game," Payton said. "And we obviously could look back and [have] kicked it. But it's something I decided."

Brees' performance was also aggressive but imperfect.

His stat line was a pretty good summation of what kind of night it was, for better and for worse: 420 yards, three touchdowns and one colossally-costly interception that was returned for a touchdown in the third quarter.

Brees admittedly missed a couple of throws in the red zone -- where the Saints scored only 20 points on five trips inside the 16-yard line. However, he seemed to be too generous on himself for a poor decision to throw the interception while under pressure.

Brees described it as "really just bad luck -- you get wrapped up just as the ball's coming out of your hand and it kind of deviates the throw a little bit."

The offensive line did earn its share of the blame, too -- on that play and many others. The Saints couldn't run a lick in the first half, and Brees was sacked four times overall.

In a bit of a role reversal, the unit that played the best was the receiving corps, which had been sagging for much of the season. Morgan also had a 62-yard catch in the first quarter. Marques Colston and Kenny Stills also had big nights. Even Nick Toon got in on the action.

Another positive spin for the Saints: Baltimore's defense was probably the best remaining on their schedule. New Orleans will certainly have better opportunities for success against the other three struggling members of the NFC South later this season (vs. Carolina in Week 14, vs. Atlanta in Week 16, at Tampa Bay in Week 17).

And, yeah, that's grasping at a consolation prize at this point. But, hey, someone has to win the embarrassing division. And an aggressive, attacking Saints offense offers their only hope to be that team.
NEW ORLEANS -- The Baltimore Ravens' first offensive snap on Monday night was a 38-yard run by Justin Forsett.

Their last meaningful snap was a 20-yard touchdown run by Forsett.

And in between was a whole bunch of other ugly stuff for a New Orleans Saints defense that has somehow managed to regress during the Saints' current three-game losing streak.

New Orleans' defensive performance in Monday night's 34-27 loss to the Ravens might have been its worst yet this season. And the only reason I say "might" is because there are so many other worthy candidates.

"I think every game we come off, it's something new. Sometimes we have problems with the pass, sometimes we have a problem with the run, sometimes we have a problem with both," Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis admitted bluntly. "So we gotta fix everything."

Of course there's plenty of blame to go around after this loss -- and for the Saints' pitiful 4-7 season, in general.

And of course quarterback Drew Brees deserves a large share of it after he threw yet another game-killing interception in the third quarter that was returned for a touchdown.

But Brees' sin is that he hasn't been able to handle the burden of needing to be almost perfect every week. He's pressing too much because he's all the Saints have -- and it's not working out.

It's 2012 all over again.

At least the Saints had an excuse that year, when they went 7-9 and set the NFL record for yards allowed in a season while coach Sean Payton was serving a year-long suspension.

This year has been a much more startling disappointment because the Saints' up-and-coming young defense under second-year coordinator Rob Ryan was actually supposed to alleviate that pressure on Brees and the offense more than ever.

Last year was a breakout year for the Saints' defense. This year, it has been nothing but breakdowns.

"This year has been kind of funny, just the way we find a way to lose the game," veteran linebacker and captain Curtis Lofton said. "We gotta quit finding a way to lose the game and find a way to win a game."

The Saints' defensive sins were too many to count Monday night. They couldn't get off the field again on third downs (Baltimore was 9-of-13). They allowed five plays of 35 yards or more. They forced one turnover and one sack -- but it wasn't nearly enough to make up that big-play deficit.

More than anything, though, the Saints couldn't stop the run, which has recently emerged as their biggest problem in a series of rotating biggest problems this year.

Forsett ran for 182 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. He set the tone on the Raven's opening drive, which ended in a touchdown. And he put the game out of reach late with that final touchdown that put Baltimore up by 14 with 2:53 remaining.

"I think tonight it was apparent we struggled just consistently stopping the run. That happens, and there are a lot of things that become more challenging," Payton said. "Your third downs become more challenging. Your pass rush becomes more challenging. The pressure on the back end becomes more challenging."

The Saints did try to make a couple of lineup tweaks this week -- moving cornerback Patrick Robinson back into the starting lineup ahead of struggling Corey White and thrusting recently-signed rookie Pierre Warren into the starting free safety job vacated by Rafael Bush's season-ending leg injury.

Those moves actually paid off a little, with those two combining to force a fumble near the goal line.

But not much else panned out. Ryan dialed up more blitzes than usual on third-and-longs, but Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco fired off quick passes that burned the secondary just as much as when the Saints weren't getting any pressure.

When asked if it's frustrating that the Saints are still trying to figure out so many issues this late in the season, Payton said, "We're not trying to figure it out. We're trying to correct it."

"Obviously our margin for error is not good enough to win close games," Payton said -- a realization that's even more disturbing. "We have to play better and coach better."
NEW ORLEANS – Observed and heard in the locker room after the New Orleans Saints' 34-27 loss to the Baltimore Ravens:

Brees on pick-six: After throwing for 420 yards, three touchdowns and one extremely costly interception that was returned for a touchdown, Saints quarterback Drew Brees said, "There's just not a large margin for error ... and we're just not doing quite enough to get the job done right now."

Brees said his throws in the red-zone weren't good enough on the drives that fell short, and he said his pick-six was "really just bad luck -- you're getting wrapped up just as the ball's coming out of your hands, and it kind of deviates the throws a little bit. ...

"This is a game of inches and split seconds. Unfortunately a lot of those haven't gone our way this year."

Brees later added, "It's the team that makes the least amount of bad plays that wins, not necessarily the team that makes the most amount of good plays."

Saints vow to keep working: The Saints didn't try to sugarcoat their performance, but there were also no signs of frustration boiling over in the locker room. Coach Sean Payton said the team remains "together" and "tough-minded." Cornerback Keenan Lewis said, "If you're down at this point, you find a way to fix it, not walk out." And offensive tackle Zach Strief said, "If there's one good thing I can say about this team is there's been a constant elevation in work."

Payton, who took an extra-long time addressing the team before meeting the media, kept his message in-house. Brees' message was that they just need that one win to start turning things around. "Winning cures a lot of things," Brees said.

Vaccaro on personal foul: Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro got the raw end of the deal on a personal-foul penalty after he retaliated against Ravens receiver Steve Smith for shoving his helmet off after a tackle in the third quarter. The penalty had Payton incensed on the sideline for several minutes. Neither dwelled on the penalty after the game, though.

"He's just a competitive player. I made a tackle, he stiff-armed my helmet off, and that was it," Vaccaro said. "I mean, I'm not gonna back down. At the same time, I can't get stupid penalties."
METAIRIE, La. – Rookie receiver Brandin Cooks played such a versatile role for the New Orleans Saints that no one single player will be able to replace his production.

Fortunately for the Saints, they have more than a half-dozen options to help pick up the slack. Especially now that pass-catching running back Pierre Thomas and deep-threat receiver Robert Meachem are on the mend from lingering injuries.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesJimmy Graham could get more targets after the injury to Brandin Cooks.
“Here’s the thing. Are we gonna miss him? Yeah. Is he a great player, was he really kind of coming into his own? Yes. So it’s unfortunate that he had the injury he had and he’s going to be out,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said of Cooks, who was placed on injured reserve with a broken thumb. “But I’m excited by the opportunity this now poses for these young guys. And I feel like they’re gonna do a great job.”

“This has happened with us before with regards to a number of different players,” Saints coach Sean Payton added. “And it falls on the rest of the group picking up his touches. It’s the receivers, the running backs -- candidates that would be doing some of the same things.”

Mostly, I think we’ll see a slight uptick in targets for all of the Saints’ usual suspects – tight end Jimmy Graham, receivers Marques Colston and Kenny Stills and Thomas, who can provide a similar threat to Cooks in the screen game.

But as I wrote the other day, the area of the Saints’ offense that most concerns me is the deep passing game. That was a problem even before Cooks’ injury. But he had definitely started to emerge as their most dynamic downfield threat.

The Saints could turn to Meachem, Joe Morgan or even Stills on those routes. All have thrived in that role in the past -- we just haven't seen it consistently from any of them this year.

“Everybody kind of has the ability to be in there during those [shot plays], just depending on when they are called,” Brees said. “Did I think Brandin was doing a nice job with that stuff? Yes, I do. I also believe that the guys that we have can do a nice job as well.”

Brees and Payton were both asked if they think the loss of Cooks will hurt Graham, because defenses can now focus even more attention on the All-Pro tight end. But they both kind of shot down that notion because Graham already receives so much attention as it is.

“I would imagine everybody who we play looks at Jimmy and says, 'We've got to have a plan for this guy.' So I don't think it's really gonna change a whole lot," Brees said.

Regardless, I believe the Saints must find a way to keep Graham heavily involved in their passing game, even if Brees has to risk interceptions while force-feeding him. Brees and Graham are the two players who most make the Saints special. And they lost that special quality last week while losing a 27-10 dud to the Cincinnati Bengals. Graham had just three catches for 29 yards and no touchdowns.

Colston is another player the Saints need to resurrect after he has been so inconsistent this year, both with dropped passes and just plain lack of involvement.

I think Brees gave the best answer of all when asked specifically about Colston. Essentially Brees suggested that the biggest key to success for everyone is simply cleaning up a passing game that hasn't lived up to its usual standard all year -- even when Cooks was healthy.

"I think [Colston] is as involved as he’s ever been. I would say we haven't been hitting on all cylinders," Brees said. "We haven't been hitting all of the plays necessarily that we want to hit on."

Saints vs. Ravens preview

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21

When: 8:30 p.m. ET Monday Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans TV: ESPN

The New Orleans Saints (4-6) have perhaps never appeared less intimidating in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era than they do right now after limping away from a 27-10 loss at home to the Cincinnati Bengals.

But the "Monday Night Football" stage offers New Orleans its best chance to bounce back against the Baltimore Ravens (6-4). The Saints have won 14 straight prime-time games at home, including the playoffs, by nearly 20 points per game.

The Ravens, however, have dominated the woeful NFC South with a 3-0 record. They will try to make it a clean sweep coming out of their bye week.

ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett and ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley discuss this week's matchup:

Triplett: Jamison, the Saints' pass defense has been struggling all season -- especially on third-and-long -- and now they have big injury concerns. Is Joe Flacco capable of taking advantage like fellow up-and-down quarterback Andy Dalton did last week against the Saints?

Hensley: It certainly would follow Flacco's trend of exploiting bad secondaries this season. In four games against pass defenses ranked in the bottom 10, Flacco has completed 65.9 percent of his throws and has averaged 281.5 yards passing. He has thrown 10 touchdowns and three interceptions for a 112.0 passer rating. The Saints are the NFL's ninth-worst pass defense, and they looked even worse in allowing Dalton to regain his confidence.

The biggest concern with Flacco's inconsistency is he typically has his "down" games on the road. Since the start of the 2013 season, Flacco's passer rating on the road is 73.1, the fifth worst in the NFL over that span. Only Jason Campbell, Kirk Cousins, EJ Manuel and Geno Smith have been worse. This isn't exactly elite company. Beyond these numbers, the Ravens' ability to pick up blitzes and Flacco's poise under pressure will ultimately determine whether he keeps the Ravens in this game.

Mike, Flacco is 2-of-10 on passes of 25 yards or more over his past three games. Based on the current state of the Saints' secondary, what are the chances that Flacco gets back on track with the deep pass?

Triplett: He has a great chance -- especially if the Saints' top cornerback, Keenan Lewis, continues to be limited by a knee injury. Lewis is underrated as one of the NFL's best cover men, but the rest of the Saints' cornerbacks have been inconsistent. Now they are down to their third option at free safety with veteran Rafael Bush suffering a season-ending leg injury last week.

The Saints will have to rely heavily on their pass rush, which should be their strength, led by Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette. They have been inconsistent, too, this season. But it's worth noting that Dalton's success last week came almost exclusively on quick, short throws. He attempted only four throws of 15 yards or more (completing three).

On the flip side, the Saints' passing offense has had two of its worst performances against AFC North teams this season, in losses to Cleveland and Cincinnati. But it looks like Baltimore is much stronger against the run than the pass. What do you expect in that matchup, and how will the Ravens handle tight end Jimmy Graham?

Hensley: You are exactly right about the Ravens' run defense. That has been a major strength of the team because of the front seven. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and nose tackle Brandon Williams clog up the middle, and rookie inside linebacker C.J. Mosley has great instincts. This is why the Ravens have allowed 100 rushing yards twice this season, and they are allowing 2.9 yards per rush since Week 8, the second fewest in the NFL over that span. They have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 20 straight games, the longest current streak in the NFL.

Where the Ravens are vulnerable is the deep pass. Teams have thrown six passes of more than 40 yards against the Ravens this season, and they have completed five (tied for most in the NFL). The Ravens are hoping that free safety Will Hill, who has started the past two games, develops into a ball hawk and cuts down on the big plays.

As far as Graham, the Ravens believe the best way to match up against him is to change how they match up. Coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens will use man coverage as well as zone coverage. They will jam Graham at the line and then back off. The Ravens don't want him to feel comfortable.

How committed to the run do you expect the Saints to be?

Triplett: Based on this matchup, I don't expect the Saints to be too stubborn with the run -- especially after their run game was surprisingly shut down by Cincinnati last week. But in general, the Saints have relied on the run game more this season than ever in the Payton-Brees era. They are eighth in the NFL in rushing yards per game, and Mark Ingram had three straight 100-yard games before last week.

But the offense is really stuck in a sort of identity crisis that we haven't seen before. The efficiency stats are up: Brees leads the NFL in completion percentage and the Saints lead the NFL in third-down success. But Brees also has turned the ball over too much (10 interceptions, two fumbles). And the deep ball has been hit or miss -- even before they lost their best deep threat, Brandin Cooks, to a broken thumb. I'm guessing we will see the Saints get pretty aggressive to try to get out of their rut Monday night.

The other complicating factor is Baltimore's pass rush. How disruptive have guys such as Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs and Ngata been this season?

Hensley: With the injuries to the Ravens' secondary, the only way they are going to slow down a top quarterback like Brees is to get pressure on him. Few teams can get to the quarterback like the Ravens. Over the past seven games, the Ravens have 23 sacks, which is tied for the third most in the NFL. Dumervil and Suggs get most of the attention crashing the edges. They have acknowledged there is a competition on who can get the most sacks. What often goes unnoticed is the pressure the Ravens get up the middle. Ngata and Pernell McPhee constantly collapse the pocket. It's difficult for teams to shift their protections, because the Ravens win their one-on-one battles so often. In total, these four rushers have combined for 67 quarterback hurries this season. The Ravens need to rush quarterbacks so they don't have enough time to pick apart a secondary that has started six cornerbacks in the first 10 games.

The Saints have been surprisingly vulnerable at home recently, but they have been dominant in prime-time games at the Superdome. Why is it so tough to beat the Saints in those home night games?

Triplett: It really is uncanny how dominant they are in these games. They don't just win them. They routinely score in the 40s and win by 20 points. Obviously the atmosphere has a lot to do with it. The crowd is even more frenzied from the start in night games, and the Dome is one of the louder venues in the league. The conditions obviously favor New Orleans' offense (fast track, no weather, no crowd noise). And the Saints defense probably benefits even more because of that volume, which forces a lot of timeouts and false starts.

All of that being said, it's up to the Saints to keep that crowd in a frenzy with big plays. And it was really stunning to see how lifeless both the team and the fans were last week. The Saints have lost two straight home games now, after having won 11 straight before that. And their 10 points against Cincinnati was the lowest total at home since 2006.

METAIRIE, La. – Unlike Terrell Suggs, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is well aware that the Baltimore Ravens are the only NFL team he has yet to beat in his 14-year NFL career.

“Just this one,” Brees said, almost interrupting a reporter when the question was asked Thursday.

Anyone familiar with Brees’ encyclopedic knowledge of pretty much every game he’s played shouldn’t be surprised at that.

“I can tell you each game too. It was really just three, ‘03 in San Diego, ‘06 here, ‘10 there,” Brees said.

Then when asked if that adds a little extra motivation heading into the Saints’ Monday night matchup against Baltimore, Brees said, “Maybe a little bit.”

That also shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s familiar with Brees’ ultra-competitive nature.

But Brees doesn’t exactly need any extra motivation this week, considering the Saints are 4-6 and coming off of one of their most lackluster offensive performances in his nine-year tenure in New Orleans. The Saints lost 27-10 at home to the Cincinnati Bengals, their lowest point total at home since 2006.

Brees was efficient, completing 33 of 41 passes for 255 yards without a turnover. But he didn’t complete a pass longer than 17 yards as the Saints’ long drives stalled repeatedly.

Brees said he thinks the extra day off this week leading up to a Monday game was helpful for guys, “especially maybe coming off that game, just to kind of get realigned and really focused on the task.”

But he added that he didn’t want to dwell too much on the Cincinnati game since it’s now “in the past.”

“I think you walk away from that saying, ‘Gosh we didn’t feel like we had a whole lot of opportunities offensively, and we weren’t really efficient with the ones we did have. We sustained drives, we did some things, but obviously not near enough,” Brees said. “So in some ways you just say, ‘We’ve gotta find ways to be more efficient, take the things that we’re doing well, continue to master those, and then the things that we need to work on, let’s really fine-tune.’

“Because when you get out there, you want to be able to simplify the game as much as possible. And you want to play fast and confident.”

There’s no better opportunity for the Saints’ offense to do that than at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in prime time. They’ve won 14 straight primetime home games, including the playoffs, by nearly 20 points per game.

“It’s primetime ‘Monday Night Football.’ We’ve had a lot of these games here. Our fans always seem to rise to the occasion. I think our team always seems to rise to the occasion,” Brees said. “And we need it more than ever right now.”

The Film Don't Lie: Steelers

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
A weekly look at what the Pittsburgh Steelers must fix:

Tennessee Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger looked like anything but a rookie in throwing for 263 yards and two touchdowns without taking a sack in a 27-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night.

Imagine what a seasoned quarterback like the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees might do to the Steelers on Nov. 30 at Heinz Field following Pittsburgh’s bye week.

The Steelers did not consistently pressure Mettenberger, who was making his third start, even though they blitzed him often. He stepped up in the pocket with confidence and moved well in it even when the Steelers generated pressure from their outside linebackers.

The Steelers were credited with just five quarterback hurries against the Titans, and it’s not like they didn’t try to pressure Mettenberger. They sent five or more pass-rushers on 62.5 percent of Mettenberger’s dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, their highest rate since a Dec. 19, 2011, loss at San Francisco.

The Steelers have to find a way to generate the kind of pass rush that consistently harassed the Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck and Baltimore Ravens' Joe Flacco in earlier wins.

The bye week provides extra time to heal for injured starters such as strong safety Troy Polamalu, linebacker Ryan Shazier and nose tackle Steve McLendon.

Getting Polamalu and Shazier back against the Saints would add speed and give Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau more flexibility as he tries to find a way to pressure Brees, who has been sacked just 13 times in 10 games.

The Steelers have to make Brees uncomfortable in the pocket by hitting him early and often.

If the perennial Pro Bowler gets as much time to throw as Mettenberger did Monday night, the Steelers may well have to win a shootout against a Saints team that is currently 4-6 but sure to play with a sense of urgency when it visits Pittsburgh.
NEW ORLEANS -- For the record, yes, Drew Brees insisted he remains "annoyingly optimistic" about the New Orleans Saints' ability to turn their season around.

But Brees' words have never rung more hollow than they did after New Orleans' most disturbing loss of the season -- a 27-10 drubbing by the Cincinnati Bengals -- at home, no less.

If the Saints (4-6) can play this uninspiringly at home against a team they should've been able to match up against, when exactly is that turnaround going to take place?

The only thing that kept the Saints from hitting rock-bottom Sunday was the pile of other woeful NFC South teams that keep cushioning their fall. Amazingly, New Orleans is still tied for first place.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsQB Drew Brees believes there's a chance for redemption in Week 12 against Baltimore.
But this loss felt different. For the first time, the Saints looked like a team that just might not be good enough to take advantage of playing in the NFL's worst division.

"We've gotta look closely at everything we're doing, or else we'll find ourselves in this up-and-down swing we seem to be in," said Saints coach Sean Payton, who said he told players after the game that he's obviously not doing his job well enough either.

Safety Kenny Vaccaro said Payton suggested he'll make some unspecified changes this week. Whether that's to the routine or personnel is unknown, but clearly the message was different than the more encouraging messages Payton sent after the Saints had played very well in parts of recent losses to Detroit and San Francisco.

The mood was also a little different this time in the postgame locker room. There weren't any significant meltdowns or cases of finger-pointing. But some players expressed more frustration than usual over how their relentless confidence and hard work haven't translated to success on the field.

"When you're turning over every leaf, what do you do? I don't know," Vaccaro said. "I mean, does the film really matter? Why'd I watch all that? What's the point in doing all that if you're gonna lose anyway?

"But at the same time, like Drew said [in a postgame speech to the team], that's always been the formula to winning. So you've gotta keep doing it, and eventually something will click. ... He's a Hall of Fame quarterback, so whatever he says, obviously, it works. But I think you've gotta have 22, 23 guys all doing that. You know what I'm saying? We're not good enough to just slap something out there and win."

Vaccaro suggested there has just been a "different vibe" with the Saints' defense this season, and he wondered if it's because they let go of so many veteran players in the offseason who had played together for so long.

Vaccaro stressed he doesn't blame the coaching, though, and called Payton the "best coach in this league."

"At some point as players, you just take over a team," Vaccaro said. "If I did have a solution -- just as players, you've gotta take over a team and just refuse to lose."

Vaccaro, Payton and Brees all agreed the Saints didn't come out "flat" and lacking desire or energy. They all put the onus of blame on their execution.

"Everybody's hyped up, ready to roll, there's always energy [to start]," said Brees, who explained the Saints just didn't produce any of those big moments that guys "feed off of" as the game went on.

The biggest killer was the Saints third-down defense, which Payton called "awful." The Bengals converted nine of their first 11 third-down attempts, including a third-and-18, a third-and-11 and three third-and-8s on their opening touchdown drive.

The Saints offense also couldn't close the deal. They marched into the red zone on their first two drives. They first settled for a field goal, then got stuffed on a goal-line stand.

Brees actually completed 33 of 41 passes without a turnover, but the Saints didn't have a single play of more than 17 yards.

True to his nature, though, Brees kept insisting he believes in the Saints team that produced so many of those big moments over the past month, including big wins against Green Bay and Carolina.

Brees said he's confident the Saints will use the "Monday Night Football" stage at home next week against the Baltimore Ravens "to come out and make a statement as to how we see the rest of our season going."

They have to. Otherwise, even Brees might start to lose confidence in this team.
NEW ORLEANS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the New Orleans Saints' 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals:

Different vibe: Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro expressed his frustration about the "embarrassing" performances the defense has put out there too often this season -- mostly because he said he can't put his finger on exactly what's missing because the players have "turned over every leaf."

"I came in as a rookie [last year and] the team was different. It was a different vibe. I don't know if it's when you lose guys that have been together. Just something's changed," said Vaccaro, who referenced the veteran departures of players such as Roman Harper, Malcolm Jenkins, Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma and Jabari Greer. "You've gotta think that just because you've got great players on paper, not everybody's always gonna mesh together right away. ... So eventually -- shoot, at this rate, if we all stay together -- we've gotta get that chemistry."

Still 'annoyingly optimistic': Saints quarterback Drew Brees shared some of that frustration but insisted he's still "annoyingly optimistic" -- especially because the Saints remain tied for first place in the woeful NFC South. Brees addressed his teammates after the game and said they have to stick with what they know works -- working hard and preparing during the week.

"I'm confident we're gonna be able to come out this week with an extra day ... and because it's 'Monday Night Football,' really have the opportunity to come out and make a statement as to how we see the rest of our season going," Brees said of next Monday's game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Payton blames self: Coach Sean Payton said he told players after the game that he's obviously not doing a good enough job if the Saints keep swinging up and down as much as they have this season. Vaccaro said Payton promised to make some changes this week, without specifying. Payton made it clear that the offense, defense and special teams all deserved blame.

Rapid Reaction: New Orleans Saints

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16

NEW ORLEANS -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome:

What it means: The Saints (4-6) somehow managed to discover a new low in this disappointing season. This was their ugliest loss yet, considering they were at home and playing against an opponent that was struggling on the way into the game.

The Saints' season is still far from over since they are actually still tied for first in the woeful NFC South. (Atlanta holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.) But the bigger question is whether they are good enough to take advantage.

Somehow New Orleans lost big even though it didn't turn the ball over until the final minutes, when the game was well out of reach. This time the problem was that the Saints couldn't finish off any of their drives. The offense kept stalling in the red zone and the defense couldn't get off the field on third down.

Stock watch: The Saints' defense regressed Sunday after showing signs of life over the past month or so. They allowed Cincinnati to convert nine of its first 11 third-down attempts -- including an 18-yarder, an 11-yarder and three third-and-8s (all on the opening touchdown drive).

A week after Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had a passer rating of 2.0, he had a 143.9 against the Saints (16-of-22, 220 yards, three TDs, no interceptions).

But the ugliest play of all was Bengals running back Jeremy Hill's 62-yard run that set up a field goal before halftime -- when Cincinnati appeared to be running out the clock.

Too conservative? This game won't add much ammo to the insistence that the Saints should work harder to establish the run with Mark Ingram. He ran the ball 23 times for 67 yards. Drew Brees completed 80 percent of his passes. And the Saints didn't turn the ball over until the final minutes on a fumble by Travaris Cadet. But their usually potent offense lacked firepower, scoring only 10 points and gaining only 330 yards.

The Saints' NFL-record streak of 28 straight home games with 20-plus points was snapped.

Game ball: Since I can't abstain, I'll give it to receiver Kenny Stills, who caught the Saints' only touchdown pass (a 9-yarder in the fourth quarter) and caught two other passes on third down. Stills finished with four catches for 32 yards.

Up next: The Saints will host the Baltimore Ravens (6-4) on "Monday Night Football." Although the Saints have suddenly lost their magic touch at home, the one thing they have continued to do consistently well this season is dominate in prime-time games at home. They have won 14 straight, including the playoffs, by nearly 20 points per game.

W2W4: Bengals at Saints

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
After losing at home for the first time in 12 games last week, the New Orleans Saints (4-5) will try to start a new streak today against the visiting Cincinnati Bengals (5-3-1) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Bengals, meanwhile, will try to reverse a disastrous road trend. They have been outscored a combined 70-17 in their past two road games, at New England and Indianapolis.

Here is What 2 Watch 4:

Lewis vs. Green: Hopefully for the sake of the viewers (not to mention the teams), Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis and Bengals receiver A.J. Green will be close to full speed after battling recent knee and toe injuries, respectively. Even at less than full strength, it should be the most tantalizing matchup to watch in this game.

Lewis has quietly been playing at an elite level over the past two seasons since transferring from the Bengals’ rival Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency. And he added to his growing respect last week by limping his way back onto the field after suffering the knee injury and still making some big plays against the San Francisco 49ers.

Green’s emergence as one of the NFL’s elite receivers has been even more noticed. He already has more than 4,000 receiving yards in less than four years, and he has a touchdown catch of 70-plus yards in each of the past three seasons. Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro called Green the most complete receiver in the NFL.

Brees vs. Dalton: This one is a much more decisive mismatch. But quarterbacks Drew Brees and Andy Dalton have a lot to prove this week. Brees was actually booed by the home fans last week after two first-half interceptions. And his 12 turnovers this season have been a huge cause for the Saints’ 4-5 start -- although he has played at a very high level otherwise (he also threw three TD passes in the 27-24 overtime loss to the 49ers, for instance).

Dalton, meanwhile, had a disastrous performance last week with a 2.0 passer rating in a loss to the Cleveland Browns that included three interceptions and zero touchdowns. Over the past four games, Dalton has two TD passes and six interceptions and a 52.3 completion percentage, which is the worst in the NFL according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Finish! Even if the Saints dominate for the first 56 minutes, they will need to make sure they don’t blow it in the final four. According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Saints have allowed 37 points in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter this season -- the most in the NFL. And all 37 have come in the Saints’ five losses.

Worse, the Saints were actually leading four of those games with under two minutes left in regulation.

The Saints went on to lose all four of those games by three points or less. No other team has lost more than two games by that margin this season.
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints and Cincinnati Bengals don’t see much of each other, but they have a lot in common.

Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief, a Cincinnati native who grew up as a Bengals season-ticket holder, even pointed out that they spent years running into the same red and gold wall.

“There’s actually a pretty strong parallel to Cincinnati and here in terms of the teams and their successes and the chants ('Who Dat' vs. 'Who Dey') and the team that was the cause of all the woes in the years that we were good and had a chance, and who took that away from us,” Strief said. “The Saints played in the division with the 49ers when they had Joe Montana and Steve Young, and they could never get over that hump. And we went to the Super Bowl twice and lost to Joe Montana in the Super Bowl. So there’s a lot of parallels there.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer also wrote a detailed behind-the-scenes piece on how the two cities battled to land the 16th NFL franchise back in the 1960s, with the Saints beating out the Bengals.

Brees and Dalton: One parallel that hasn’t quite come to fruition yet is the development of fourth-year Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) was compared by some to Saints quarterback Drew Brees coming out of college because he’s a smaller, cerebral quarterback. But so far Dalton has been hit or miss, with three playoff appearances and zero playoff wins.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis mentioned when talking about Brees this week that he tries “to get Andy to emulate Drew all the time.”

When asked how specifically, Lewis said, “The way Drew goes about it as the leader, the leader of the offense, the leader of the team, working through his progressions, how hard he works in practice, even how he enters the huddle and the things he does. It’s what you want from the leader of your team.”

Brees said he has met Dalton only once, during a past Pro Bowl. But he said he admires what he’s seen and heard about the fellow Texas native, saying they have somewhat of a shared background because of their paths through big-time Texas high schools and less high-profile colleges (Brees at Purdue, Dalton at TCU).

“I have a lot of respect of what he’s been able to accomplish and what his team’s been able to accomplish,” Brees said. “I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with him, but from everything I hear, he’s a great young man.”

Payton and Still: Saints coach Sean Payton also established a new bond between the franchises this season when he was moved to buy 100 jerseys in support of Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still, whose daughter is battling pediatric cancer. The two will meet in person for the first time Sunday.

“I think players in our league, people in our league, in a time like that when someone needs help, they really rally around their own people,” Payton said this week of why he was moved by the way the Bengals supported Still through a charitable promotion with his jersey sales. “That was good to see, and it’s still good to see because I’m sure it’s a long fight.”

Bengals news: For all your info on the Bengals this week, check out their team page on and follow ESPN NFL Nation Bengals reporter Coley Harvey on Twitter @ColeyHarvey.

NEW ORLEANS – Drew Brees has produced a lot of rare moments inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome over the past nine years. But this was a new one on Sunday -- the New Orleans Saints quarterback being showered by boos from the home fans after his second interception in the first half of Sunday's 27-24 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

You'd think by now that Saints fans would be well aware that they have to live with the good and the bad of Brees, who has always been one of the most aggressive quarterbacks in the NFL.

But that's how much of an impact Brees' turnovers have made this season.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesDrew Brees had three turnovers in Sunday's loss to the Niners.
And he doesn't need thousands of people to remind him of it.

"I would've booed myself on that one," said Brees, who once again bluntly took the blame after his two picks and his overtime sack-fumble made all the difference in yet another gut-wrenching, last-minute loss.

"I've been playing this game a long time, I know how to play it at a high level," Brees said. "But certainly when you turn the ball over, it can compromise a lot of the good things."

Brees has been close to his usual self this year in almost every area but one. Those turnovers.

He has now given away 10 interceptions and two fumbles this season -- many of them costly for a 4-5 Saints team that has now lost four games that they were leading in the final two minutes of regulation.

"That's something's that's gotta get fixed. I'm not happy about it," said Brees, who has perhaps demanded more personal blame in recent weeks than at any other time in his career with the Saints. "I can't turn the ball over at the rate that I'm turning it over, and I certainly can't turn it over in the situations that I'm turning it over."

Most of the interceptions have followed a similar theme: Brees trying to fire the ball into a too-tight window or get rid of a ball under pressure. And he admittedly held the ball too long in overtime Sunday, waiting for running back Travaris Cadet to get free after being knocked off his route early on the play.

But that has always been Brees' style. As I've now written multiple times this year as this same theme keeps emerging, Brees has always been similar to Brett Favre in that regard.

And sure enough, Brees flashed the good side of that style in the third quarter Sunday, when he threw a classic, "No he didn't ... yes he did!" touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham after spinning out of a sure sack.

For that, Brees remains unapologetic. As he said last week when he was lauded for his aggressiveness in a win at Carolina, Brees is never going to change his aggressive approach.

"I think at the quarterback position you understand that there's gonna be moments -- for whatever reason, whether it's a bad decision, a bad throw or bad luck -- and you have to be able to compartmentalize that, move on to the next play, continue to stay aggressive and just do what you're coached to do, what you've been kind of programmed to do," said Brees, who threw three touchdown passes Sunday and helped rally the Saints back from a 21-10 halftime deficit to take a late 24-21 lead over the 49ers.

And it shouldn't go unnoticed that the Hail Mary that was nullified by Graham's offensive pass interference penalty at the end of regulation was a gorgeous throw.

But as Brees himself admitted Sunday, the good has to outweigh the bad. And that hasn't been happening enough this year.

"I think we did do a lot of good things out there," Brees said. "I think just unfortunately, for me personally too, there was too many bad things that you couldn't overcome with the good things."
NEW ORLEANS -- Seconds after his strip-sack of Drew Brees was confirmed via replay, Ahmad Brooks was approached on the sidelines by a teammate.

“Karma is real,” the San Francisco 49ers player told Brooks.

His retort?

“I don’t believe in karma,” Brooks said.

[+] EnlargeAhmad Brooks and Drew Brees
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsAhmad Brooks' strip-sack of Drew Brees in overtime all but won the game for the 49ers.
Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, though, said “poetic justice” was served with the play.

“The referees got it right this time,” Fangio said.

A year ago, it was Brooks who hit Brees from the front and caused a fumble that was recovered by Patrick Willis to seal an apparent victory over the New Orleans Saints.

Until his clothesline tackle was deemed an unnecessary roughness penalty for a blow to the head and neck area of a quarterback and the Saints retained possession, kicked a game-tying field goal and then booted a game-winning field goal as time expired.

This time?

The call of fumble and recovery by rookie Chris Borland, who is playing in place of an injured Willis, was upheld and the Niners took over on the Saints’ 17-yard line.

And rather than run a play on offense, Phil Dawson was summoned, and he knuckled through a 35-yard game-winner with 5:14 remaining in overtime.

Last year’s score: Saints 23, 49ers 20.

This year’s final: 49ers 27, Saints 24.

“I was really surprised [Brees] held the ball as long as he did,” Brooks said. “I was rushing and turning the corner and thinking to myself, ‘Dang, is he going to throw the ball yet?’ But he didn’t, and I was able to make a play.”

Brees said he was targeting running back Travaris Cadet.

“But he was tripped up so he was on the ground and I couldn’t get it to him,” Brees said. “He was on the ground so I brought [the ball] back. Then I tried to throw it again as he started to get up. There was nobody around him; he could have run forever.

“I got hit as the ball was coming out.”

The Niners had been unable to get to Brees all day long.

But then Quinton Dial registered the 49ers’ first sack of Brees with about 6 minutes left in OT. One play later, Brooks rode to the Niners’ rescue, karmic comeuppance or not.

“It is ironic,” he admitted.

“That play was real similar to last year, in a sense.”

Just different outcomes.