CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Sure, the New Orleans Saints were short-handed on Sunday.
They were without eight assistant coaches because of COVID-19 concerns and seven projected starters because of injuries, but coach Sean Payton said that’s no excuse for the team’s lopsided 26-7 loss to the NFC South rival Panthers, a game in which his team was outgained 383 to 128.
Jameis Winston was sacked four times and threw two interceptions as the Saints managed just six first downs.
“Our protection plan wasn’t very good. It had nothing to do with us being short-handed with coaches, or us being away (because of the Hurricane Ida), or the COVID," Payton season. "All of those would be excuses. They played better than us today and deserved to win the football game.”
The Saints have 25 coaches listed on their regular staff.
Payton said he had to adjust some of their responsibilities, asking more of the coaches the Saints did have available.
“As far as game day, we had a few new guys up in the booth, and then we handled the substitutions a little differently,” Payton said.
“None of that really was a big issue. I think, and I mean this, starting with me, we’ve got to have a better plan with some of the stuff that we saw. We’d seen it on tape and obviously, we got more of it and didn’t handle it well. We clearly didn’t work on it well enough and effectively enough, and it kind of bit us in the butt today.”
The Saints looked out of sync in most phases of the game right from the start, especially on offense.
They were slow getting out of the huddle, lacked focus by jumping offside amid unfamiliar crowd noise and failed to adjust to Carolina's array of blitz packages. They were forced to call timeouts because they weren't lined up incorrectly or simply weren't prepared for what the Panthers were ready to throw at them.
The defense wasn't much better, with too many self-inflicted mistakes such as unnecessary roughness penalties that allowed the Panthers to keep drives alive.
Alvin Kamara was particularly ineffective.
The Saints normally reliable running back was held to 5 yards on eight carries and caught four passes for 25 yards.
“It wasn’t about anybody not being here,” Kamara said. “It’s our responsibility to still come out and play without our coaches being there. There’s no handicap. We don’t get an extra second on the clock because we don’t have our coaches. We don’t get an extra down because there’s no coaches. It is what it is. There’s still a game to play with or without the whole coaching staff. You’ve got to keep going.”
Winston said earlier in the week he liked the idea of Payton breaking down tape with players because the Saints were short-handed and five offensive assistants weren't allowed to attend meetings in person.
He thought Payton's experience would prove beneficial.
“We just have to push forward, man, put this one behind us,” said Winston, who refused to use the coaches’ absence as an excuse. “Build on the positives and eliminate the negatives and come back next week ready to fight and compete.”
The Saints (1-1) will look to regroup before next Sunday when they travel to face the New England Patriots.
All of the Saints coaches have been vaccinated, so they should be ready to return and things can get back to some sense of normalcy.
“Obviously, the Saints have been through a lot over the last month,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said. “Respect for them. A tremendous amount of respect for Sean Payton, down coaches this week, and we know we will see them again at the end of the season for a great game.”
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