New Orleans head coach Aaron Kromer talks with tackle Zach Strief during the Saints' game against the San Diego Chargers Sunday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Monday, October 08, 2012 8:23 PM
METAIRIE (AP) — If the New Orleans Saints can salvage this season, they may look back at their second-half performance against the San Diego Chargers as the turning point.
Drew Brees' touchdown passes to Marques Colston showed the offense still has the punch to mount a comeback — without suspended coach Sean Payton overseeing the unit. Even the Saints' defense started to look like it was figuring out how its personnel best fits the scheme of first-year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
"We're definitely on the rise," New Orleans interim coach Aaron Kromer said Monday. "We need to keep it going."
A big question is whether the Saints' defense will build on its performance against the Chargers when it returns from the bye week or revert back to the mistakes that plagued the unit in New Orleans' first four losses.
New Orleans, last in the NFL in yards allowed, gave up 288 yards to San Diego in the first half. The defense still appeared lifeless when the Chargers cruised into the end zone to go ahead 24-14 following a turnover to start the second half.
After that, however, a transformation took place.
The Saints shut out San Diego, allowing only 113 yards the rest of the way, and New Orleans rallied to win 31-24. In the fourth quarter, New Orleans sacked Chargers QB Philip Rivers three times and intercepted him once.
Safety Roman Harper, who said last week the Saints were the most confident 0-4 team ever, had his first interception since 2010 on a pass that fellow safety Malcolm Jenkins tipped in the fourth quarter.
"We're still very confident," Harper said. "Nothing has really changed. I understand we lost some games, but you can't let them see you sweat. We understand we're right on the cusp of greatness. We just have to go out there and achieve it, and we did that last night."
Now the Saints get some needed rest.
After meeting Monday, the Saints were due to take off the rest of the week, following their normal plan for an open date. Their next game is at Tampa Bay on Oct. 21.
They are not happy with their 1-4 record, but they feel a whole lot better entering their bye week off a win, particularly since the maligned defense played a huge role.
The Saints, who had six sacks through four games, were able to pressure Rivers. Defensive ends Junior Galette, Cam Jordan and Martez Wilson all got to him in the fourth quarter, with Wilson knocking the ball out of his hands and falling on the ball in the final minute to seal the victory.
"We never lost any confidence," Galette said. "We were 0-4, but what other team in the NFL was not supposed to have its record more than the New Orleans Saints. We need to use this as a steppingstone. We set a mountain for us to climb, so we just have to keep climbing it."
Despite beating San Diego, the Saints know they have plenty of corrections still to make on defense.
The Chargers had six plays of 20 or more yards in the first half, including Rivers completions of 39, 32 and 45 yards. The last one was an easy throw to a wide-open Robert Meachem, who left New Orleans for San Diego as a free agent last March.
"It was a miscommunication in the defense," Jenkins said. "We ended up not having a post safety, and they ran a post. The guys got mixed up."
On the Chargers' final drive, the Saints benefited from a pair of offensive penalties, one for interference on tight end Antonio Gates that wiped out a 28-yard catch and another for holding that nullified a 23-yard reception.
"We have a lot of work to do," Spagnuolo said. "The good Lord helped us out on a number of plays. ... It's such a competitive league. You need a break here or there."
The Saints plan to enjoy their break from football this week. Expecting to contend for the Super Bowl when the season began, they felt the pressure mount with each unexpected loss. The teams that beat them in the first four weeks are a combined 2-14 against everyone else.
"These last few games, they played extremely hard, they put their bodies to the test, and there's a lot of wear and tear on these guys," Kromer said. "It's an opportunity for them to get healed. We just need to carry the momentum back into the next week when we get back."
Notes: Kromer said CB Jabari Greer, who left against San Diego in the first half, had re-aggravated a groin injury that required sports hernia surgery in early August. Still, Kromer said Greer might be able to play against Tampa Bay. ... Kromer said TE Jimmy Graham, who sprained his right ankle against San Diego, still had to be evaluated. . The Saints have placed a commemorative name plate in memory of long-time Associated Press writer Mary Foster on the front row of the Superdome press box. That seat will remain empty for the rest of the season. Foster, who covered the Saints for AP from 1988-2005, and who also covered the club before joining AP, died on Sept. 24 from complications from cancer diagnosed earlier this year.