After "Bounty scandal", Saints struggle
(Reuters) - The New Orleans Saints, Super Bowl winners three seasons ago, find themselves bottom of the NFC South after losing their opening two games with a defense that has been shredded by two young, mobile quarterbacks.
The Superdome in New Orleans will host this season's Super Bowl but it will take a major turnaround if the home side are to have a shot at playing in that game.
After Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III orchestrated a 40-32 upset in New Orleans in Week One, the Saints struggled in Week Two against second year signal-caller Cam Newton as they fell to a 35-27 loss at the Carolina Panthers.
The poor start continued the troubles at the team, which began in the off-season when the league exposed a so-called ‘bounty scheme', suspending charismatic head coach Sean Payton for the season and imposing other sanctions on coaching and playing staff.
The players won an appeal allowing them to play, for now at least, but the absence of Payton, currently being substituted by interim coach Aaron Kromer, cannot be underestimated, even if everyone in the Saints camp is determined to keep attention away from that issue.
"The preparation aspect of it, the way we practice, everything is the same as it always has been," said quarterback Drew Brees on Sunday.
"Now it just is a matter of as the season starts you come as a team. You gel. You find out who you are, early on.
"Unfortunately for us, it hasn't gone our way. It's going to test us. I'm confident we are going to stay strong and battle through this and we will overcome."
The shaky start looks to have as much to do with the teething troubles for new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who has replaced the controversial Gregg Williams, the man at the center of the ‘Bounty' affair.
The Saints have a great quarterback and an effective offense but they have largely been playing catch-up because of a defense which has given up 924 yards and 75 points in eight quarters of football.
The Panthers were allowed 219 rushing yards on Sunday and the Saints pass rush has not yet established itself.
But Brees, who was not without blame himself after throwing a ‘pick six' in the first quarter, believes it is just a matter of time before the Saints begin to click.
"There is always adversity. Unfortunately it has come to us a little bit sooner than we expected with the 0-2 start," he said.
"There is no doubt in my mind that we have the right type of guys in our locker room and coaches and scheme to overcome this.".
Next week's opponents at the Superdome, Kansas City, are also 0-2, making it a must-win game for both teams.
Since the 12 team playoff system was introduced in 1990, just 12 percent of teams who started 0-2 went on to make the playoffs.
Three teams, Dallas in 1993, New England in 2001 and the Giants in 2007, managed to turn their seasons around and win the Super Bowl but no team has gone on to win the Lombardi Trophy after starting 0-3.
"A lot of teams come back from 0 and 2. We just have to keep playing. We don't want to lose sight of playing the division," said safety Roman Harper.
"With uncharted territory comes uncharted success. We just have to ride this out and rectify it."
(Editing by Julian Linden)
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