METAIRIE, La. — Drew Brees backpedaled about seven steps, his right foot crossing the goal line, his eyes initially looking as Marques Colston released off the line of scrimmage to his left on the first play of New Orleans’ game at St. Louis.
He immediately shifted his attention to his right and Jimmy Graham 23 yards down the field.
But as he began his throwing motion, St. Louis’ Robert Quinn undercut left tackle Charles Brown and hit him, forcing a short throw that landed in Rams defensive back T.J. McDonald’s hands instead of Graham’s.
And like the seven games prior to the St. Louis one, the Saints failed to score points on their first drive of the game.
“Some of our starts have been kind of detrimental, kind of digging the hole from a get go and this business and this league, it’s too hard to come from behind,” fullback Jed Collins said.
Coach Sean Payton has often described the importance of starting halves quickly. As New Orleans (10-4) heads to Carolina (10-4) Sunday for arguably the team’s biggest game of the season, starting quickly has suddenly become a problem.
New Orleans hasn’t scored points to open a half since Oct. 13, when the Saints connected on a field goal to begin the second half.
In the eight games since, they’ve punted 10 times, missed three field goals, had two passes intercepted and lost one fumble.
“It sets the tone maybe for the half,” center Brian de la Puente said. “I don’t think it defines the half but there is definitely a momentum you want to stay on top of. To get that momentum early can really define how the half goes.”
In that St. Louis game, Brees also lost a fumble to begin the second half, making it two turnovers on two opening possessions. It was punts in six consecutive opening possessions prior to that game, including two against Carolina on Dec. 8. And before that, it was a split between punts and missed field goals to begin halves.
“We feel it and we know it and it’s something on the sidelines that we try to find,” Collins said. “It’s as simple as one play every drive.”
The Saints are 37-11 when scoring on the first possession of a game, according to statistical researcher Tommy Cooper. When scoring on the initial possession of both halves, they’re 20-2.
“We always talk about a fast start,” Brees said. “Anytime you can go down and get points right away or at least feel like you’re finding your rhythm, those are good things.”
The drought right now is the longest since 2006 and nearly three times as long as the previous one under coach Sean Payton, a three-game streak in 2008.
It’s also imperative that Brees not turn the ball over. According to Cooper’s research, the Saints are 8-12 in games in which the quarterback has turned the ball over on the first possession. Fifteen of those games have come on the road and the Saints have won only five of those games.
For Collins, it’s less about points and more about what a good drive does to the psyche of the defense.
“I think the first drive is definitely a feeler, but if a statement can be made, it speaks very loudly, especially from a team like us,” Collins said.