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Short-yardage plays are getting to be a problem for the Saints. In each of their first three games, the Saints have failed to convert a third-and-one situation late in the contest that would have given them a better chance of winning.

On Sunday, they couldn't make a first down on a running play with about two minutes to play, then misfired on a 43-yard field-goal attempt in a 34-32 loss to the Denver Broncos.

As a result, the Saints (1-2) have dug themselves a bit of a hole going into Sunday's game with the 49ers (2-1) in the Superdome.

They could have gone into a three-game homestand with a 3-0 mark, but couldn't hold a lead against the Washington Redskins one week earlier and couldn't get the lead against the Broncos.

"I don't look back at one third-and-one or one fourth-and-one call," Saints coach Sean Payton said when asked about his team's inability this season to get a first down to make things a little easier on themselves.

Making it more frustrating for Payton on Sunday was that his offense, which gobbled up huge chunks of yardage against the Broncos, couldn't scratch out one little yard.

But their problem wasn't confined to that one play. They had seven total snaps with a yard to go against the Broncos and made just two. They were also stopped on second-and-goal and fourth-and-goal, both coming from the Broncos' 1 just before halftime.

On third-and-goal, Drew Brees mishandled the snap on a quarterback sneak and Pierre Thomas was stopped short of the goal line on the next play.

"When you look back on that goal-line sequence, sure I'm (ticked off) about that," Payton said. "We should have scored and we didn't get anything. We had a quarterback sneak the play before."

This one hurt more than losing to the Redskins. After trailing 21-3 early in the second quarter, Brees rallied his team. Then, they got one final shot to take the lead when the defense got a takeaway with 5 1/2 minutes left.

Brees moved his team to a first down at the Broncos' 33, but after Reggie Bush got seven and two yards on two running plays, Thomas couldn't convert.

Payton said the plan was to pick up the first down and get the ball a little closer for Martin Gramatica, then kick the game-winner with four seconds left.

"It's frustrating because if we had gotten a new set of downs and a few extra yards, it makes the field-goal attempt more manageable," said Brees. "You get a little closer, we kick it, we win."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's heartbreaking. We've got to learn how to finish, that's everybody (on the team). We've got to fix it and move on." -- Saints FB Mike Karney, on their failure to convert on third-and-one late in the game despite having 502 total yards against the Broncos.

TRENDING: It's not a good sign when Drew Brees throws more than 40 passes in a game. He was 39 of 48 in a loss to the Broncos on Sunday and the Saints are now 3-12 (counting the playoffs) when he has more than 40 attempts.


PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--- LCB Mike McKenzie played for the first time since tearing his right ACL in Week 16 last season and had an interception and four tackles in a loss to the Denver Broncos.
--- RB Deuce McAllister was active, but did not play against the Broncos as the Saints continue to monitor his return from double-knee surgery.
--- LT Jammal Brown left Sunday's game early in the fourth quarter with a groin injury and did not return.
--- LT Zach Strief, a third-year pro, replaced Jammal Brown in the lineup and played the remainder of the contest.
--- LCB Randall Gay injured his hamstring in the second quarter and did not play in the second half of Sunday's game.
--- WR David Patten strained his groin in the third quarter against the Broncos and watched the remainder of the contest from the sideline.
--- SLB Scott Fujita was inactive for the second straight week because of a bruised right knee.
--- WR Marques Colston missed his second straight game with a torn ligament in his left thumb.
--- CB Aaron Glenn did not play against the Broncos because of a strained ligament in his right ankle.
--- WR Terrance Copper was inactive for Sunday's game with the Broncos because of a left hamstring injury.
--- RB Aaron Stecker was inactive for the third straight week because of an injury to his left hamstring.
--- TE Mark Campbell injured his hamstring in practice Friday and was inactive against the Broncos.
--- DT Antwan Lake missed his second straight game with a groin injury.
--- QB Joey Harrington was signed to be the emergency quarterback against the Broncos.
--- DT Alvin McKinley was released to make room for QB Joey Harrington on the roster.
--- TE Buck Ortega was signed from the practice squad because the Saints needed an extra tight end with TE Mark Campbell out with a hamstring injury.
--- G/C Matt Lehr was released for the third time since Sept. 6 to create a roster spot for TE Buck Ortega.



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