METAIRIE, La. — Steve Spagnuolo saw the statistics from Thursday night. Heck. He saw the game from the sideline.
So he knows just how well his much-maligned defense played.
And yet, four days later after New Orleans’ 23-13 loss at Atlanta, something is still gnawing at the Saints’ defensive coordinator.
“I really wish we could have found a way to play better on that first drive because, quite honestly, after that we played a pretty good game defensively,” Spagnuolo said Monday. “(We) found a way to have five three-and-outs. But you know what? We’re a team. If our offense is only able to generate 13 points, we have to hold them to 12. It’s just how we feel defensively.”
On the opening drive of the game, Atlanta (11-1) bulldozed 80 yards, including 71 on the ground, to take an early 7-0 lead. By the end of the first quarter, the Falcons had 140 total yards and 98 on the ground.
But after that, the Falcons got nothing thanks the resurgent Saints (5-7) defense.
After allowing at least 400 total yards in 10 consecutive games, New Orleans hasn’t let that happen in back-to-back games. Atlanta gained only 283 yards, of which only 143 came in the final three quarters.
The Saints held the league’s second-best third-down offense (48 percent) to just 1 of 11 for the game. Tight end Tony Gonzalez, who pillaged New Orleans’ secondary in the first meeting, was held to just 58 yards on four catches. Julio Jones and Roddy White combined for just six catches for 68 yards.
That’s something even Spagnuolo can’t deny is a positive, though, in the end, unsatisfying.
“I think our guys should feel good about that,” Spagnuolo said. “I think what’s hard to overcome is we want to win and we didn’t get the win so the result is not really what we wanted.”
Since Week 8, when the Saints were strafed by Peyton Manning and Denver, the defense has cut off 35 units of total yards from their season average.
“Obviously, we allowed the yards; we didn’t have things together,” cornerback Jabari Greer said. “But I think it’s unfair how we were characterized seeing how hard these guys work and now seeing some success on our side.”
Added defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, “I think we’re finally starting to gel together. I wish it could have been a lot earlier, but at this point, we’ll take what we can get and try to finish the last four games of the season strong.”
Still, with four weeks to play and the Saints technically not eliminated from the playoffs, that’s not enough for Spagnuolo.
There’s still significant football to play.
“I don’t go down that road, quite honestly, because there’s still a lot of season to go,” he said. “If you rest on any laurels, I get concerned you’re going to go backwards. We’re still climbing the hill. The goal is not to just get over the hill, it’s to get over it and keep going further.
“I think all the guys will tell you – is it better than it was before? Yeah. But it’s not exactly where we want it.”