EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — It has been 16 years since the Saints were in this lengthy a slump. It's also the first time Sean Payton has lost five straight games since taking over as coach in New Orleans.
It's ugly and unusual. And they're all focused on ending their skid this week against the New York Jets.
“There’s that sense of urgency," Payton said. "Let’s go, all of us collectively. That’s the way you have to approach it. There’s nothing walking through the entrance or doorway here that is going to change it. It has to be done today in the practice and the meetings and leading up to playing on Sunday.”
In 2005, the Saints (5-7) snapped a six-game skid by beating — yep, the Jets — and then lost the last five games of Jim Haslett's tenure as coach.
Payton came in the following season and led New Orleans to three straight wins to open the year and eventually to the NFC championship game. The Saints have lost as many as four in a row a few times since, but never five straight.
“The culture has been established,” left guard James Hurst said. "This is a winning culture, traditionally, and five weeks in a row, we’ve been on the wrong side of it. So that’s tough, it’s very frustrating. Obviously, it’s pretty easy to be motivated when you’ve lost five in a row. So looking for the positives, I guess that’s one of the few.”
And here's another: The Saints head to MetLife Stadium and should get running back Alvin Kamara back from a four-game injury absence to take on a skidding Jets team that is 3-9 under first-year head coach Robert Saleh and has dropped four of its past five.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley said last Sunday after New York's 33-18 loss to Philadelphia that the Jets aren't making teams respect them. That comes from winning, something that hasn't happened much for the franchise.
The Jets are crawling toward an 11th straight season without a playoff appearance, the longest drought in the NFL — and could tie the worst skid (1970-80) in franchise history.
“This organization has been through a rough time over the last 10 years and it’s not something that’s easy to fix,” Saleh said. "It’s not easy to change a narrative. It’s not easy to change perception. C.J. is 100% right. I've got his back on that one. We’re going to get this thing flipped and we’re going to change the narrative and we’re going to earn the respect that we deserve.
“While it might be frustrating now, I know there’s something good happening and it’s going to happen.”
Payton hasn’t been pleased with the play of his defense during portions of New Orleans' skid and this week let that unit know their tackling, energy and assignment soundness have all been below expectations.
“Just put the tape on,” Payton said. “I don’t think the effort’s where it needs to be either, just watching the big plays.
“I challenged them (Wednesday) morning in the meeting,” Payton continued. “It’s hard to play good team defense if all 11 aren’t playing. If 10 are on the screen and you do not see No. 11 or 11 shows up 20 to 30 yards downfield, it is hard to play good defense. That needs to be improved.”
New Orleans’ defense ranks fifth against the run, but gave up a 58-yard TD run in its 27-17 loss to Dallas last week. New Orleans ranks in the bottom third of the NFL against the pass, giving up 250.1 yards per game.
SIGNS OF PROGRESS
A glimmer of hope for the Jets in last week's loss was rookie quarterback Zach Wilson's play in the first half.
He went 12 of 14 for 108 yards and two TD passes and added a scoring run before halftime while running the offense effectively and efficiently. It was Wilson's second game since returning from missing four weeks with a sprained knee ligament, and appeared more comfortable than he had at any point before the injury.
New York held the ball for only 70 seconds in the third quarter and Wilson and the offense fell out of rhythm, but there was enough there for the team to feel good about its young QB.
“His footwork was awesome, his eyes, his tempo, everything was within the scheme,” Saleh said. “He was not overanalyzing things and I thought this was by far his best game.”
Payton figured at some point he’d have to go into a game without top returner and increasingly productive receiver Deonte Harris because of the third-year player’s offseason drunk driving arrest.
The Saints learned this week Harris’ appeal of his three-game suspension was denied. The first game he’ll miss comes this weekend. He’ll be back for the final two regular-season games.
Harris, an All-Pro punt returner as a rookie in 2019, has become an increasingly prominent receiver for New Orleans. He leads the Saints in yards receiving with 523 to go with three touchdowns.
His absence also means the Saints will have to use backup returners. Receiver Marquez Callaway is among their top options at that spot.
While doubt was cast over Saints defensive end Cam Jordan’s availability this weekend because of his positive COVID-19 test, New Orleans had a couple of key defensive players return to practice this week.
One was defensive end Marcus Davenport, who leads the club with 5½ sacks. The other was defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who has a sack, an interception and four passes defensed this season.
Rookie cornerback Paulson Adebo said Gardner-Johnson is “bringing a lot of energy — something we’ve missed on the defense.”
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed.
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