METAIRIE (AP) — Sean Payton can’t complain about the Saints’ 2-0 record. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t isolated worrisome shortcomings in the performance of his normally prolific offense, and even his own play calling.
There is “a lot that we have to look at and clean up. Fortunately it’s coming off of a win,” Payton said Monday after reviewing video of New Orleans’ 16-14 victory at Tampa Bay on Sunday. The victory was clinched by Garrett Hartley’s winning 27-yard field goal as time expired.
“We’ve got a lot to fix. We’ve got a ton of football to play,” Payton continued. “Obviously, we’ve got to be better at scoring and I’ve got to do a better job.”
Indeed, it is relatively rare to see Payton’s offense score only one touchdown in game. Even last season, when the Saints went 7-9, it happened only once in a loss at Atlanta, when Brees was intercepted five times.
Brees was intercepted twice and sacked four times on Sunday. He also was hit numerous other times right after throwing, and would have been sacked a fifth time, as well as stripped for a third turnover, if not for a personal foul call on the tackler for a helmet-to-helmet hit.
“There were some plays that even after the pass, he took a pretty good shot,” Payton said. “We’re always mindful of that.”
Payton also blasted himself for the play calling following a first-and-goal from the 1 late in the first half. The Saints came away with no points after an incomplete pass and three unproductive runs. Mark Ingram was stuffed on the final play of the series.
“The goal line sequence is on me,” Payton insisted. “I did a poor job of really giving our guys the best opportunity. That was coaching; it wasn’t the players.”
Yet, as with any victory, some things had to go right. For New Orleans, that meant a second-straight strong performance by coordinator Rob Ryan’s new defense.
New Orleans yielded only one defensive touchdown, and that came on a short field after Brees’ first interception.
The unit produced two turnovers, one on Malcolm Jenkins interception and one on defensive end Cameron Jordan’s strip of Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman and Junior Galette’s recovery.
Also crucial was the final third-down stop that forced a failed field goal try with just more than a minute left, setting up New Orleans’ game-winning drive.
“We played with real good effort and energy, came up with some big plays, turnovers and did enough for us to win the game, especially when it comes down to that final series,” Payton said.
Although the Saints have played only two games, the No. 10 ranking of its defense (heading into Monday night’s game between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh), is an encouraging sign for a unit that finished last in the league in 2012.
“We are flying pretty high as a defense,” linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “Last year is last year, that’s in the past. This is a new team, new defense, new defensive coordinator, so we moved way past that.”
Payton also gushed about tight end Jimmy Graham, who had 10 catches for a franchise record 179 yards and the Saints’ only TD on a 56-yard catch — with much of his production coming after he was folded backward awkwardly by a late hit to the head by safety Ahmad Black.
“He had an outstanding game. He was physical, changed field position for us and was very focused,” Payton said. “It was great to see Graham take the hit, get back up and then a couple plays later catching a seam (pass) right through the middle of their defense. He ended up really being the difference for us.”
The Saints allowed themselves to celebrate on the flight home, but Monday’s video review session was sobering, right tackle Zach Strief said.
“You get on the plane, you sit down, it’s all smiles and laughs and jokes, and then the reality is the next day when you turn the tape on, you say man, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Strief said.
Still, Strief added that there is something to be said for a team that can pull out a victory in crunch time despite not playing its best.
“Down the road, these games that were early that we just found a way to win will come back big,” he said. “At the end of the year, there’s no asterisks next to the stats and the schedule.”
Notes: Payton declined to offer any updates on the health of CB Patrick Robinson, who appeared to have a serious knee injury, and DE Tom Johnson, who had a leg injury. ... Payton refrained from commenting on whether he thought Black should be punished for his late hit to Graham’s head. “You look at it for what it is and I think the league is doing that,” Payton said. “It doesn’t matter if it upset me.”