Although happy over win against Bears, the Saints know they must play better moving forward | Saints


Try to remember how the Saints beat the Cardinals at the end of last season, or the specific details from either game against the Panthers.

It’s tough to recall the details. You probably remember who won and lost and maybe a key play or two, but the results are the only things that remain clear. So, in time, the details from the Saints’ 20-12 win against the Bears on Sunday will eventually fade, and all that will stand is a notch in the win column.

As Saints coach Sean Payton mentioned after the game, no one is going to remember all the ways New Orleans shot itself in the foot if everything goes right moving forward. No one is going to remember the plays the defense didn’t make or that the offense only converted on 2 of 9 third downs. The only person who is probably going to take anything from this game to heart is Mark Ingram, who said he “sucked” at least a dozen times during a post-game interview after fumbling twice down the stretch.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some concerns and things that need to be cleaned up. New Orleans knows it got lucky Sunday. A play here, a call there, and this story is about the Saints getting tripped up by a domino effect of self-inflicted wounds. Instead, it’s about a team that had a few things go its way and made the plays it needed to win the game.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “We have a lot of room for improvement. We are not satisfied where we are right now. We still feel like we have a long way to go.”

Sure, this is a team that has won five games in a row, has a legitimately good defense for the first time in what feels like forever and has set itself up well to make the playoffs. That alone is enough reason to carry a celebratory tone for another week.

But if New Orleans is a contender — and it looks like it’s becoming one — it must play better than it did against the Bears. And that feeling permeated throughout the locker room after the game.

“Whatever seems to take place through the game, we never panic; we just play with what’s given to us,” Ingram said. “That’s encouraging as a team that we can overcome some things, but we can’t keep doing that and expecting to win big games.”

It seems odd to nitpick the defense after it surrendered just 12 points and 307 total yards. But it has to be somewhat concerning that 141 of those yards came on three plays. The week before, everyone was doing the math to remove runs 46 and 22 yards against the Green Bay Packers.

Entering Sunday’s game, New Orleans had allowed 26 passing plays of 20 or more yards, the fourth-highest mark in the NFL. The seven runs allowed of 20 or more yards ranked seventh. The Saints added two more runs and one pass to those totals.

“We still got a lot we need to clean up,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “Even though we won the game and only gave up 12 points, I still got a bad taste in my mouth from those long runs. Some of those explosive plays are going to come back to bite us later in the year.”

The good news is that the errors are fixable. New Orleans made the corrections on the fly against Green Bay, and Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky getting out for a 22-yard run like “Bo Jackson” in the middle of the field, as Vaccaro put it, was the result of getting caught in an all-out blitz. The big passing plays this week were the result of a couple of broken coverages, which hasn’t been a consistent issue for the Saints since Week 2.

As for Ingram, he isn’t going to keep fumbling in key moments. That’s a rarity, and at some point it seems like the offense is going to get over the hump and start racking up yards as consistently and effortlessly as it once did.

But after all the details wash away from this game, the one thing that will remain is the experience of winning close. These were the kind of games New Orleans would find a way to lose last season. This year, the Saints are winning them, which breeds confidence.

“We didn’t have five turnovers like we did a couple games ago,” defensive end Cam Jordan said. “But we came out in the second half and had a three-and-out. When our offense needed us most, we showed up. At the end of the day, we are a team, and if we can show up for our offense, show up for our team, we can be the pride of the defense. We’ll take that. When we take the field, we take it with confidence.”

New Orleans has already shown it’s a resilient team capable of cleaning up mistakes. And, if that breeds confidence, maybe there’s some value to winning ugly. No one will remember the bad moments in a few weeks, anyway.

Follow Nick Underhill on Twitter, @nick_underhill.​

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