METAIRIE, La. — It would be easy to look at the rankings and 4-0 record and think the Saints are back.
They are, after all, No. 4 in total offense and No. 6 in total defense and second in point differential.
But Sean Payton and the veterans won’t have it. They don’t have time for it, not with the next game already days away and the next two coming against teams that are a combined 7-1.
“Our players understand that by no means are we a finished product,” Payton said Tuesday. "We’ve got a lot of work to do, especially after looking at that tape. There’s a handful of things we need to get cleaned up.”
It’s that idea that it’s never as good as it seems and never as bad as it appears is what Payton believes will keep his team grounded as one of the five remaining undefeated teams.
What also will aid the team is having a core group of veterans who have been through this before and understand the drill.
“I think we have a pretty mature team, guys, veterans that understand that you’re not just staying even,” Payton said. “You’re getting better or you’re regressing. That’s kind of the approach we try to take each week.”
One of those veterans, receiver Marques Colston, said realizing they’re only four games into the season is part of the process.
“You’ve got to fight against human nature at all times and 4-0 is obviously the start that we were looking for but there’s still a lot of football left to be played,” said Colston, who has been through two 4-0 starts and two 0-4 starts in his eight seasons in New Orleans.
It should help, then, that there are noticeable problems that need correcting, including the running game. New Orleans averages just 81.3 yards per game on the ground, 25th in the league. And the 3.35 yards per carry is 27th.
Add that to the 12 sacks the Saints have given up along with the 35 quarterback hurries Brees has faced, according to Pro Football Focus, and there’s plenty to correct.
“As a line, starting 4-0 with so much to work on and to continue and improve at, we don’t walk in the meeting room and say we’re great,” right tackle Zach Strief said.
How the Saints handle success, meanwhile, will only multiply should they win Sunday in Chicago and improve to 5-0 ahead of a showdown with New England, which could also potentially be unbeaten.
Payton and the veterans won’t allow those inside the training facility to look that far ahead, however. Not when the next opponent has won three straight against New Orleans, including an NFC title game, in Soldier Field.
The last time the Saints won in Chicago, in fact, was on October 8, 2000.
“We’ve just got to do a good job of continuing to do the things that got us to be 4-0 and realize that the next game is really the most important game,” Colston said. “That has been our approach and we’ve done a good job from top to bottom just approaching it week to week like that and finding a way to win these games.
"Really just got to tune out everything outside of the locker room and really focus on going to play a good opponent this week.”