Saints' Payton focuses on accountability after stunning loss

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Sep. 10, 2018 8:13 PM EDT

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Saints coach Sean Payton spent the first part of Monday urging players and his own coaching staff to acknowledge everything they did wrong heading into a surprising season-opening loss to Tampa Bay.

“Today’s a tough day in our league, obviously, after a loss like that,” Payton said. “It wasn’t a good tape. It was not a good film.

“The first thing I said this morning was: ‘It is oftentimes said that these early weeks of the season, your team can improve a lot.’ I believe that to be true,” Payton recounted.

“Now, if that is to happen, then today has to be a day where we’re willing to shoulder and not deflect (criticism). That is me as the head coach and everyone in that room. What I mean by that — shoulder — is accept, ‘Hey, I have to do this better. I have to find a way to improve this rather than try to deflect.'”

While Payton wanted his team focused primarily on addressing what went wrong in Sunday’s 48-40 loss , a lot had to go right — namely on offense — in order for the Saints to score as many points as they did.

It was apparent that at 39 years old, Drew Brees remains effective enough to pass for 439 yards and lead the offense on five touchdown drives. Receiver Michael Thomas set a team record with 16 receptions. He also had 180 yards receiving and scored a touchdown.

Alvin Kamara picked up where he left off as Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, scoring three times to go with more than 100 yards receiving. Even 37-year-old tight end Ben Watson looked effective in his first game as a Saint in three years, catching four passes for 44 yards.

But Watson said that on good teams, every unit feels as if it came up short after a loss, so the offense was not praising itself. He said he would expect the defense would do the same in a low-scoring loss.

“We should have scored 49 — and a good team looks at it that way,” Watson said, alluding to the fact New Orleans could have indeed scored more if not for two lost fumbles — one of which was returned for a touchdown — and three drives than ended with punts.

Tampa Bay, by contrast, did not turn the ball over and punted only once.

“It’s about looking in the mirror and being willing to acknowledge what we see,” Watson said. “Football is a game played by humans. There’s going to be mistakes made. … How do we return from those?”

Veteran linebacker Demario Davis, who made his Saints debut on Sunday, said his defensive teammates should understand how urgent it is that they understand exactly what went wrong and how to correct it — fast. The Saints gave up more than 500 yards and three TDs longer than 35 yards.

“When you give up 48 points you didn’t do nothing right — technique, assignment, alignment, eyes, discipline. It just wasn’t a good performance,” Davis said. “It wasn’t good enough and we’ve got to get it fixed.”

Heading into the season, the schedule appeared to allow a fast start for New Orleans, which has Super Bowl aspirations after nearly advancing to the NFC title game last season.

There was Sunday’s opener at home against a Buccaneers squad coming off a five-win campaign and with its starting quarterback suspended, followed by another home game against Cleveland, which did not win a game last season.

Cleveland hasn’t won a game yet this season, either. But the Browns’ tie with Pittsburgh on Sunday left them better off than New Orleans, and also provided evidence that Cleveland may have improved considerably.

“This is going to be an important game for us,” Davis said.

Added defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins: “We’ve just got to go out and play to win, regardless of whether it’s the ’85 Chicago Bears or the 0-16 Cleveland Browns from last year, or whatever.”

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