METAIRIE, La. -- Drew Brees readily acknowledges he is an eternal optimist -- and won’t buy into the notion that an 0-3 record is proof the Saints are doomed without suspended coach Sean Payton.
When he reviewed video on Monday of New Orleans’ collapse in a 27-24 overtime loss to Kansas City a day earlier, he took note of how much the Saints’ performance for much of the first three quarters, when they took a 24-6 lead, resembled the club that made it to the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.
"The encouraging thing is that you want to see improvement every week. I’d say the first three quarters of that game was certainly an improvement over the first two weeks," Brees said. "It starts really with consistency. We’ve had moments where offensively we were playing like we play -- defensively, playing like they want to play. We just haven’t been able to put together any complete performance yet and it’s caused us to fall a little bit short."
The Saints still believe they have playoff-caliber talent on the roster. Most key players have returned from the squad that went 13-3 in 2011.
Of course, New Orleans is missing Payton because of his season-long suspension in connection with the NFL’s bounty investigation. Heading into the season, the Saints said they were well equipped to handle Payton’s absence because his "formula for success" had become ingrained in them
What is harder to replicate is Payton’s knack for recognizing mismatches, or his game-day intensity and instincts.
Saints players acknowledged Monday there is no doubt they miss Payton, whom they consider a great coach. But they also stressed there’s nothing they can do about the fact he won’t be around, and they have to keep working until they figure out how to win without him.
"We’re definitely struggling a little bit," guard Jahri Evans said. "Sean Payton is a big part of this team since I’ve been here, but he’s not here now, so that’s something we can’t dwell on or expect him to walk through the door because it’s not going to happen. We have to just go out there and get it done."
Interim coach Aaron Kromer does not want the Saints to respond to their season-opening skid by pressing too much, so he gave players Monday off, though many showed up at team headquarters anyway, if only to do some lifting and conditioning, and to pick up video of Sunday’s game to review on their own.
"They needed a rest after that long game just to refuel," Kromer said.
When practice resumes on Wednesday, the Saints will look to build on a number of things they did well against Kansas City.
The defense showed improvement, allowing only one touchdown while producing three turnovers and three sacks.
"I see a group of men that really poured their heart out (Sunday) in an attempt to win this football game," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. "I think that people that cheer for us and everybody here should realize that."
The Saints did allow a whopping 273 yards rushing, but kept Kansas City’s highly ranked offense out of the end zone most of the game, forcing six field-goal attempts. Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop made all six, but that would not have been enough for Kansas City to come back if Garrett Hartley had not missed a first field for the first time this season, or if the Saints had not given up a safety on a sack of Brees.
The real problem was the total collapse of the Saints’ offense, starting with Brees’ interception late in the third quarter. From that point, he did not complete a pass and the Saints never managed another first down.
Now, in order to avoid going 0-4, the Saints will have to win at Green Bay, where they lost the 2011 season opener in a high-scoring thriller. While Kromer acknowledged the difficulty of winning at Lambeau Field, he saw no reason to count his team out, given the surprising scores around the league already this season.