METAIRIE, La. — Roman Harper’s recent experience tells him it would be short-sighted for the Saints to succumb to pessimism this early in the season.
The Saints are 0-2 for a third straight year, and the previous two campaigns didn’t turn out well; New Orleans went 7-9 and missed the playoffs each time.
But Harper spent his past two NFL seasons with another team — defending NFC champion Carolina — which has been among the league’s best since its seven-game winless streak in 2014.
“Going two straight months in Carolina my first year there without winning a game was very frustrating to me. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t accept it very well,” Harper said, crediting Panthers coach Ron Rivera for doing “a great job keeping everybody together.”
The Panthers won their final four regular season games of 2014 to win the NFC South, then opened last season on a 14-game winning streak, meaning they won 18 straight regular season games immediately after a stint in which they’d tied one and lost six straight.
Now Harper, who returned this year to the club with which he began his career, hopes New Orleans can earn a tide-turning victory when its hosts NFC South Division rival Atlanta on Monday night. The Superdome is bound to be infused with energy and emotion for that game, when the Saints and their fans will mark the 10th anniversary of the renovated stadium’s re-opening after Hurricane Katrina.
“If we got some kind of mojo or some kind of magic, it’s got to be this one,” Harper said. “So we’ve got to be desperate, man. We’ve got to go out here and get this win. Winning just breeds confidence throughout a locker room and it breeds success.”
While the Saints’ margin for error is thinning, they haven’t been losing by much. The Raiders needed a late 2-point conversion to pull out a 35-34 victory in the Superdome in Week 1 and the New York Giants hit a field goal as time expired to beat visiting New Orleans 16-13 on Sunday.
The Saints’ much-maligned, injury riddled defense looked its best in a while, producing three turnovers in New York while keep quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants’ offense out of the end zone. But this time, New Orleans’ normally prolific offense sputtered and the Saints were sunken by a blocked field goal attempt that the Giants returned for a touchdown.
“You have to learn how to not lose a game before you can ever learn how to win,” Harper said. “Those are the things and growing pains that we’re going through right now, where we’re doing certain little things, where yesterday the blocked field goal cost us the game. Other than that, we played pretty good.”
On defense, that is.
Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense, which led the NFL with 507 yards in Week 1, finished with 288 at New York. Brees passed for one TD, down from four a week earlier. He still has not thrown an interception, making him the only QB since at least as far back as 1960 to be on an 0-2 team despite passing for five TDs without an interception during the first two weeks of the season.
“We’ve gone down to the wire in two straight games and unfortunately come out on the losing end,” Saints tight end Coby Fleener said. “Hopefully we can not get discouraged by that and realize we’re one or two plays away.”
Heading into training camp, Saints coach Sean Payton emphasized the importance of trying to win preseason games to cultivate a competitive edge. He also said it would be important for his relatively young team to get off to a fast start in the regular season. Instead, the Saints haven’t yet won any preseason or regular season games.
“There is only one way to work yourself out of it, and it’s coming back and having a better week of preparation,” Payton said Monday. “I was encouraged with a lot of things that I saw on tape and yet discouraged in some areas. And in these days after here, we have to be brutally honest with ourselves, not only with the players but the coaches as well. We have to be better.”
Notes: Payton said after studying video of rookie Wil Lutz’s blocked field goal in New York that the problem was the blocking along the right side of the line. He did not fault a play by name, but cited “B-gap pressure” between the guard Andrus Peat and tackle Terron Armstead. … Payton said cornerback P.J. Williams, who was carted off the field Sunday and hospitalized to be evaluated for a possible concussion or spinal injury after taking a knee to the helmet, was traveling back to New Orleans on Monday afternoon. Payton said Williams was diagnosed with a concussion, but added that the news was otherwise “positive, which is real encouraging.”