Saints' close calls produce mix of frustration, optimism
METAIRIE, La. (AP) Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro takes little consolation from how close three of New Orleans' four losses have been.
He's not ready to throw in the towel on the season. But he wants teammates to demand better of themselves and not get caught putting a positive spin on things by saying they could have won those close games if just a few plays had turned out differently.
''Nobody blows anybody out anymore. Every team that lost is answering questions, `Well, these three plays,'' Vaccaro said. ''You can't have those three plays if you want to win. The good teams eliminate those penalties and eliminate those mistakes.''
The Saints lost their first game by one point after a defensive pass-interference call on a fourth-down play allowed Oakland to continue a late drive that ended with a touchdown and bold 2-point conversion for the win.
New Orleans lost its second game on a last-second field goal by the Giants, whose only touchdown came on the return of a blocked Saints' field goal attempt.
And on Sunday, an interception for a touchdown on Drew Brees' deflected pass, the recovery of Saints running back Mark Ingram's fumble inside the Kansas City 10-yard line and defensive tackle Nick Fairley's late personal foul away from the ball all helped sink the Saints in a 6-point loss.
''It's three games where there's really been pivotal times where we had the opportunity to win,'' veteran safety Roman Harper said. ''We're just finding ways to lose games. ... These things will continue to happen if we don't accept the fact that we have to change.''
Fortunately for the Saints, they play in the NFC South, a division in which no team has pulled away. Atlanta has dropped two straight to fall to 4-3 and Tampa Bay has won two straight but sits at 3-3. Carolina is 1-5. So the Saints (2-4) are 1+ games off the division lead with 10 to play, starting against Seattle in the Superdome on Sunday.
After starting 0-3, New Orleans appeared to have righted itself with victories over San Diego and Carolina.
''Trust me. Everybody in this city was ready to jump on the bandwagon if we'd have won three straight,'' Harper said. ''Talent's not an issue for this team. I think that's the most frustrating part, is that we're a really good team. It doesn't always look like it on paper, but performance-wise and some of the things that we're doing are what really good teams do.''
For the most part, New Orleans' offense has looked elite. If not for his somewhat fluky interception, Brees would have had a stellar statistical line, completing 77 percent of his passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, coach Sean Payton said he thought New Orleans' defense played one of its better games in Kansas City. Yet that unit's task became harder because of two Saints turnovers - one resulting in a Chiefs TD, while the other almost certainly prevented New Orleans from scoring.
One on hand, Payton wants to maintain a positive, optimistic vibe in the locker room. But the coach also said he found it ''disturbing'' that his team gave itself a chance to win a third straight game on Sunday, only to squander it with pivotal mistakes.
''You have to be brutally honest with your team,'' Payton said. ''Our margin for error is different with this team. We are going to play in these close games. You're going to bat .500 if you're making the same type of mistakes.''
NOTES: Starting CB Delvin Breaux, who fractured his fibula in the regular-season opener, said he went through individual cornerback drills on the field Monday and came away encouraged. ''I feel amazing,'' Breaux said, but stopped short of forecasting when he'd return to the lineup. ''It's up to the trainers and the coaches, and of course, me. We're just being patient, taking it one day at a time and working. We should be out there soon.''
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