Bradley Handwerger / Eyewitness Sports
METAIRIE, La. ― Heading into last season’s playoffs, the undercurrent to New Orleans’ postseason push dealt with the Saints’ penchant to come up with the takeaway while protecting the ball.
They had a plus-11 turnover differential thanks to 39 takeaways, including 26 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries. They were even more brilliant in the postseason, finishing a differential of four better than the next closest team.
A season later, there’s a similar undertone as the Saints begin defense of their Super Bowl XLIV title.
Only, the question has become can the Saints take better care of the ball instead of how they’ll get that next takeaway.
“The one thing that we talked a lot about in the meeting to start this week was how we handled the turnovers in the postseason a year ago,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said. “We were plus-(seven) to lead teams in the postseason and certainly that’s going to be an important part of this game this weekend.”
The No. 5-seeded Saints (11-5) head west to play the No. 4 seed Seahawks (7-9) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
The problem is the Saints haven’t been secure in holding onto the ball this season, starting with from the quarterback position.
Drew Brees had a career-high 22 interceptions this season, including four pick-sixes (one versus Arizona, two versus Cleveland, one versus Atlanta). The Saints fumbled the ball away nine other times.
And while the Saints did have 28 giveaways a season ago, New Orleans’ 39 takeaways canceled out many of those. This year, New Orleans has only 25 takeaways, including only nine interceptions.
But it gets back to not taking care of the ball. In New Orleans’ five losses, the team is minus-11 in differential, giving it away 15 times, including 11 interceptions and four lost fumbles.
Brees said it’s possible he’s putting too much pressure on himself.
“I’m telling myself that it’s about everything, not just one person,” Brees said. “As a quarterback, you are responsible for a lot. No need to force things, just play the game and play within yourself to execute the play that was called.”
Running back Reggie Bush said Brees shouldn’t alone accept responsibility for the turnovers, instead, blaming a multitude of issues, including pass protections and missed assignments.
One thing is clear, though, and that’s that giveaways need to cease for the Saints to have a shot at getting back to the Super Bowl.
“Turnovers get you beat,” Bush said. “If you look at the difference between last year and this year, I think by the end of the Super Bowl we were plus-seven. The next team closest to us was plus-three or something like that. That just goes to show you that one of the oldest stats in the history of football still proves to be true. Turnovers are the reasons why teams win and lose games.”