EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Standing alone at his locker in the corner of the Saints’ locker room beneath MetLife Stadium on Sunday, linebacker Parys Haralson pondered the meaning of what has gone on with his team in the past three games.
Twice they’ve gone on the road. Twice they’ve lost.
Once they’ve played at home in what was excoriated by those on the team as a mistake-filled victory.
Suddenly, a team once believed to be one of the best in the NFL is finding itself in a midseason gut-check situation, the latest setback a 26-20 defeat to the inconsistent Jets.
Haralson understands where the focus now turns.
It’s not about Dallas, the next opponent. Or San Francisco, following that game. Or Atlanta and Seattle, the next two after that.
It’s about looking within before it’s too late.
“It’s always about the answer,” Haralson said. “We took one on the chin. It’s about how you get up and come back from it.”
He added, “You hate to lose any time, but you just have to get ready for the next one. You’ve got to be ready for the next one so it’s not two in a row.”
A week ago, when the Saints filleted the Dolphins in an 18-point win, coach Sean Payton blasted the team for doing the little things that get teams beat, but happened not to that day.
The pre-snap penalties. The timeouts needed to keep too many or too few players on the field from hurting. The missed blocks. The missed tackles.
These are the same things that got the Saints beat Sunday.
You’ve got to believe that as much as Payton predicted this, he wishes he hadn’t been right.
“You can’t turn the ball over, gotta have balance, gotta stop the run, gotta protect the quarterback and we did none of them,” long-time Saint and right tackle Zach Strief said. “And so it gets you beat and we got what we deserved.”
It was a little bit of everything Sunday.
New Orleans committed nine penalties for 59 yards. It was 3 of 11 on third down. The Saints allowed 198 yards rushing, including a painful 139 to former New Orleans running back Chris Ivory.
Drew Brees threw two interceptions, could have thrown two more, and was throwing behind or above receivers through the game.
While the defense was missing tackles, the receivers were dropping passes, including what would have been a key third-and-one conversion by fullback Jed Collins.
Even the coaching staff outthought itself, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan over aggressively calling run blitzes and Payton calling an ill-advised tight end reverse on fourth-and-one that was blown up for an eight-yard loss.
These are the things that get you beat in the NFL.
But one thing is certain – the Saints won’t panic.
It’s not in their nature.
“They always say there’s crisis or carnival,” Strief said. “This is a great time for crisis. We’ve lost the last two on the road and can we win on the road and that’ll be a big deal. And yet, I think the locker room is built to get better in these situations.”
With the upcoming schedule – Dallas, San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle – they have to be better and they have to do it soon.
Or else the grand plans for the postseason, a legitimate belief in the chances to at least host a playoff game, will go up in flames, burned in a bevy of pre-snap penalties, turnovers and lack of doing the little things.
One thing that has remained constant since 2006 when Payton took over is that the Saints won’t be burned here.
They’ll circle the wagons, as the cliché goes, and get back to basics. Payton will harp on the small things more than ever in practice and they’ll eventually go away.
Sunday won’t be the last time the Saints play an overmatched team and fail to run away with it. It’s what they’ll learn from this, though, that may be the most important thing to come from Sunday.
“We know there’s going to be more of these in the future and just need to make sure we right the ship in regards to how you come on the road out here and get those W’s,” Brees said.