They’ve lost three straight games in a frustratingly consistent way that shoots themselves in the foot, their starting quarterback is out with a back injury, and their top receiver is also on the shelf, but the New Orleans Saints balked to describe her current condition as “panic”.
They know they have plenty of season left to get this thing back on track – 13 games to be exact. Those are 13 individual ways to show they’re not the team that’s going to keep beating themselves, and that starts Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.
Panic is not the right word, nor should it be. But what about the urgency? The Saints definitely have.
“The sense of urgency has to be high,” center Erik McCoy said. “When you’re 1-3 you don’t have a lot of room for error, you don’t have a lot of room for error — really no room for error or error.
“I would definitely say we’re not in panic mode, we’re just in the sense of urgency mode.”
There is plenty of data to support McCoy’s claim. NFL teams start 1-3 all the time—228 times since the 1990 season began. And history, especially more recently, has shown that a 1-3 start isn’t necessarily a death sentence for a season – but things change pretty drastically depending on the outcome of Game Five.
According to Pro Football Reference’s database (which goes back to 1990 for this purpose), 156 NFL teams started the season with a 1-4 record. Only 11 of those teams made the playoffs (7.1%) and one made the conference championship game.
Compare that to what happened with teams that started 2-3 instead. Of the 263 teams that started the season with that record, 59 made the playoffs (22.4%), 73 won records (27.8%), and 11 made it to the conference title.
The difference between 1-4 and 2-3 was particularly pronounced last season when the NFL extended its regular season to 17 games.
Two teams — the Miami Dolphins and the Indianapolis Colts — started last season 1-4 and finished 9-8, one game outside of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, five of the nine teams that started last season with a 2-3 record made the playoffs, and two of those teams — the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers — won the Super Bowl.
Thinking about things like end-of-season records and Super Bowls goes well beyond where the Saints’ focus is right now, part of that whole sense of urgency.
“This week it’s all about being 1-0,” said left stacker James Hurst. “We cannot play ten games next Sunday. We’re going to play a game and all we can do is win that one game. One point or 40 points, whatever it is, we just have to win. I think we’re all focused on that.”
But the thing is, as long as the season is, the Saints have gotten themselves into a position in four games where the margins are already very narrow, and they’re getting exponentially thinner with each subsequent loss.
This is new territory for some of the Saints’ core players. Running back Alvin Kamara, for example, has never experienced a losing NFL season.
“I don’t think anyone likes to lose, but I hate losing,” Kamara said. “I go into every week thinking I’m going to win. There is definitely a sense of urgency to turn it around again and move in the right direction because we still have many goals to achieve this year and they are not out of reach.
“Right now it’s just a little blurry, but if we fix those bugs and get it working, we’ll be fine.”
Tyrant Mathieu has been in a situation like this before. He was on that Chiefs team that struggled early last season before finding his stride late. And he was also on a Texan team in 2018 that started 0-3 before clinching nine straight wins.
Reflecting on that season with Houston, Mathieu recalled how the team just tightened up after their slow start. It focused on the small details and invested extra hours in studying film. When you do that, Mathieu said, it often results in the ball bouncing a little bit more in your direction.
On the other hand, there’s the other part of the turnaround: “Big players have to play big,” Mathieu said. “It will always come down to that.”