NEW ORLEANS — So much for the idea that the New Orleans Saints‘ continuity would give them an advantage this season.
“It’s been a while since we felt that, but three years ago, we were 0-2. A little bit of a gut check, and yet we aren’t playing well enough. Let’s not fool ourselves,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “We’re making too many mistakes. We aren’t playing disciplined enough on both sides of the ball. That’s really just the truth.
“You’re frustrated as a coach because that starts with us. We have to do a better job. We have to get ready to play a better game against Detroit [on the road next week].”
Running back Alvin Kamara almost single-handedly carried the Saints to victory with a career-high 139 receiving yards on 13 catches, a total of 197 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.
Quarterback Drew Brees found more of a rhythm than he did in Monday’s loss at Las Vegas, throwing for 288 yards and three TDs.
But the Saints couldn’t make up for two deep passes from Aaron Rodgers to Allen Lazard (72 and 48 yards) or a costly fumble by read-option QB Taysom Hill in Packers territory in the fourth quarter. Plus, they added to their NFL-leading penalty yardage total with eight penalties for 83 yards.
“I think we just gotta find more,” Kamara said. “We gotta find more on offense, we gotta find more on defense, we gotta find more on special teams. We all gotta do more. We gotta correct the mistakes. It’s little things killing us — penalties, some of the same stuff that went on last week. We just gotta play smarter. We gotta play better.”
Kamara is certainly doing his part. He joined Roger Craig as the second player in NFL history with three rushing TDs and three receiving TDs in his team’s first three games, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau.
Kamara ranks fourth in receiving yards (285) by a running back through three weeks in the Super Bowl era. He has already set the Saints franchise record with 16 multitouchdown games just 48 games into his career.
“Listen, he’s a special football player,” Brees said. “It’s nice when you’ve got a weapon like that, that you just get the ball in his hands in space, and he’s tough to tackle, and he’s just kind of a human highlight reel.”
Brees has been scrutinized early this season for not throwing the ball downfield. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, his average air yards per attempt dropped from a league-low 4.81 to 4.61 on Sunday.
But Brees, who scoffed at that statistic earlier this week, pointed to Kamara’s sensational 52-yard touchdown catch on Sunday as a prime example.
“We called a couple shot plays today, and unfortunately, again we just got bad looks,” he said. “Ironically, the second one was the one where I threw it to Alvin Kamara, and he went 52 yards for a touchdown.
“So I don’t care how far I have to throw the ball down the field. My job’s to make good decisions. I’m not gonna force it if it’s not there.”
Brees is not shying away from the fact that New Orleans needs to clean up its act across the board, however.
It doesn’t help that superstar receiver Michael Thomas has been sidelined since Week 1 because of a high ankle sprain that he is hoping to return from next week.
“If you’re a veteran player in this league, you know you are not guaranteed anything year to year,” Brees said. “You come out and have to earn it. Based on the last two losses, we need to take a hard look here. What we’re doing, how we’re doing it, we need to be doing it better, bottom line.
“Listen, I love our team. I love the way we work, the way we prepare. But obviously, there are things that need to be corrected so we can get back on track.”
The Saints had given up only two passes of more than 30 yards all season before Sunday night (37 and 31 in a Week 1 win over Tampa Bay). But Lazard got behind No. 1 cornerback Marshon Lattimore on the beautifully thrown 48-yarder from Rodgers in the second quarter. Then Lazard broke wide-open behind dime safety P.J. Williams for the 72-yarder three plays into the second half on third-and-10.
“Talent really doesn’t get you much in this league on paper — especially when you’re as undisciplined as we’ve been playing, mainly on defense,” said veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins, who returned to the Saints in free agency this year. “Whether it’s been penalties, assignments here or there. … It’s early in the season, and those are things we can correct, but we gotta do it if we want to be the team we set out to be.
“For me personally, I feel like that was what I was brought here to do. So up to this point, I feel like I’ve been failing in that regard. But I think it’s definitely something, between myself and other team leaders on defense, [we] can get fixed.”