METAIRIE, La. – For the past six years, few teams might be as good as the New Orleans Saints at thinking of out-of-the-box motivational techniques.
Bat games. Locker mirrors. Championship wrestling belts. Exit signs posted throughout the facility.
This week, as the Saints prepared to begin clawing their way back from 0-2 with today’s noon game against Kansas City, the biggest motivational tactic came not in an object, but in a saying.
The Saints have been “digging a hole,” one they hope isn’t already too deep to spelunk their way out of.
New Orleans knows how precipice it has come upon, the ledge its toes are hanging over.
“Right now, there’s a hole,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “There’s no doubt about it. But it’s not necessarily a hole we can’t get out. Bu the deeper and deeper you put yourself in a hole, the more and more urgent you get to get out. Eventually, when you realize you can’t get out, you panic.”
The statistics are maddening and well-known. Believe them or not, they’re there.
Only 12 percent of teams starting 0-2 have reached the playoffs since 1990. Start 0-3 and, well, the Saints don’t want to start there – only 2.7 percent of teams without a win in the first three weeks fight their way back to get to the postseason.
Since 2009, the Saints have won 37 regular season games and lost only 13. For the first time in five years, they’re facing true adversity early in the season.
“It’s somewhat good to have your back against the wall and to see if you’ll respond by fighting and digging yourself out of the hole,” Saints linebacker Scott Shanle said. “But at the same time, it’s very emotionally exhausting and draining to do that week in and week out. It’s much easier to be out in front of the pack and trying to stay there than to catch the pack the whole time.
“I just know in ’07 when we were 0-4 and fought our way back to 4-4 how emotionally draining it was.”
The exhaustion includes having to answer questions about a poor start on top of the already draining queries about the offseason distractions. Whether they like them or not, Jenkins said they’re deserved.
“To get these questions, we deserve it because we’re 0-2 and those come with the territory,” he said. “When we win, we get all the questions about why we’re so great. When you lose, you’re going to get those questions. It’s up to us to change them.”
The good news for the Saints is they couldn’t have asked for a better opponent to face in trying to crack into the win column.
Kansas City (0-2) is 28th in the NFL in sacks per pass play, having given up eight this season. The Chiefs defense is 32nd – last in the league – in sacks per pass play and have only one.
And Kansas City is last in the league in turnover differential, have turned the ball over six times and have yet to take the ball away.
The Chiefs fifth-ranked offense has picked up yards largely when games have been out of reach; Kansas City has lost by an average of 18 points.
“Teams have been able to move the ball and score points and we haven’t been able to stop them enough,” Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel said. “Offensively, we have had spurts and done well in spurts and then other times we haven’t done as well.”
New Orleans hopes to take advantage of the situation. And there’s one other factor the players are hoping works to their advantage.
“We need a win bad and sometimes the most desperate team is the most dangerous one and we’re getting pretty desperate,” Saints safety Roman Harper said.