Saints Seeing Signs Of Patience Wearing Thin, Frustration Growing As Mistakes Continue

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs after a catch against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs after a catch against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — During each of Alvin Kamara's first four NFL seasons, the New Orleans Saints were a playoff team and even the NFC's top playoff seed during the dynamic running back's second year on the club.

So Kamara knows what it feels like to be on a team of such quality, and it's not a feeling he has now.

The Saints (5-6) missed a chance to take control of the NFC South when they lost to Atlanta on Sunday and enter Week 13 plagued by numerous injuries and lingering red zone issues that are sinking their season.

“We don’t have an identity as a team,” Kamara said. “We’re a team that says we want to do and we don’t do — and it shows.

“It gets to a certain point where all the talking in the world doesn’t matter," he added. “You have to find a way to do it.”

Second-year Saints coach Dennis Allen on Monday disagreed with the notion that the Saints lack an identity. He sees a team that is “explosive” on offense and “opportunistic” on defense.

Two interceptions on Sunday by veteran safety Tyrann Mathieu, for instance, gave the Saints 20 takeaways this season, tied for fourth most in the league.

Meanwhile, the Saints outgained Atlanta in total yards, 444-396. And that was without starting receiver Michael Thomas, who is out at least three more games with a knee injury, and for most of the game without fellow starter Rashid Shaheed, who injured his right leg in the first half.

Leading receiver Chris Olave had seven catches for 114 yards before being knocked out of the game with a concussion in the second half.

But Allen says that what the Saints have done well this season has been repeatedly undermined by game-changing mistakes, be it untimely penalties, botched assignments or turnovers.

“The message to the team was that’s unacceptable. We’ve got to be better,” said Allen, who has an increasing number of fans calling for his firing on social media and local sports talk shows. "I can appreciate the fans’ urgency and I can assure you that the people inside the building feel the same sense of urgency.”

In eight Saints drives that presented scoring opportunities, New Orleans never got in the end zone.

The Saints attempted six field goals (with kicker Blake Grupe making five) and turned the ball over twice inside the 10-yard line on Derek Carr's interception that was returned for a touchdown and on Taysom Hill's fumble.

“We made some critical mistakes that, if we don’t make critical mistakes in those situations we’re probably having a different discussion here,” Allen said.

For Kamara, seeing so many opportunities squandered through 11 games is getting tiresome.

“We already know we got to get better," Kamara said. "How are we going to get better? What are we going to do to get better?”

WHAT’S WORKING

The Saints' secondary continues to rank favorably against the rest of the NFL after giving up just 168 yards passing to Falcons QB Desmond Ridder. New Orleans ranks seventh against the pass, allowing 196.3 yards through the air per game.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The red zone offense is in crisis. After the Saints made five trips inside the Atlanta 20 without a TD on Sunday, they are converting 42.5% of red zone opportunities into touchdowns this season. That ranks fourth worst in the NFL.

“That’s certainly been an issue for us. We haven’t been able to get that corrected," said Allen, who wouldn't rule out seeing if there should be more opportunities for veteran tight end Jimmy Graham in the red zone. “That’s going to continue to be a focus of ours.”

STOCK UP

S Tyrann Mathieu. His two interceptions of Ridder included one in the red zone. He now has three interceptions this season, second most on the club.

STOCK DOWN

Carr is becoming increasingly associated with the Saints' inability to get in the end zone. The Saints have just three TDs in their past 32 offensive possessions and Carr didn't touch the ball on any of them. Winston threw the Saints' past two TD passes after Carr got hurt in Minnesota. The touchdown before that came on a pass from Taysom Hill against Chicago in Week 9.

INJURIES

The Saints could be without all three of their starting receivers this week, given the injuries to Olave, Shaheed, and Thomas already being out at least three more games. Meanwhile, defensive end Cameron Jordan left Sunday's game with an ankle injury that is still being evaluated, Allen said.

KEY NUMBER

1 — The number of times the Saints have won as many as three games in a row since franchise all-time passer Drew Brees retired after the 2020 season (a season in which New Orleans won nine straight).

NEXT STEPS

Three straight home games, starting this Sunday against Detroit, which lost to Green Bay on Thanksgiving and has not lost two straight all season. The good news for the Saints, schedule-wise, is that Detroit is the last team that currently has a winning record that they will play — not that it helped against a Falcons team that was 4-6 before Sunday.

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