Despite winning the last two times out, Saints coach Sean Payton says his team has a lot of room for improvement as they near the midpoint of the season.
While there are many areas to clean up, Payton is specifically concerned with the Saints' third-down efficiency on offense and their ability to stop third downs on defense.
They were two of the things that Payton and his coaching staff zeroed in on after the Saints' 22-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. When they met Monday, the focus was on cleaning up those areas as they prepared to turn the page to Sunday's game at San Francisco.
A win there would pull the Saints (2-4) to within one game of the .500 mark -- which seemed like an unreasonable goal when they started the season with four consecutive losses.
But in order to get that third win, Payton knows the Saints have to be better on third downs. They converted 4-of-12 third downs (and were also 1-of-3 on fourth down) and the Falcons were 9-of-18 on third down. As a result, Atlanta ran 12 more plays than the Saints and held the ball for nearly 11 more minutes (35:27-24:33).
Payton pointed to himself as being one of the culprits. He said time of possession and number of plays could have been improved if he hadn't gotten in a rut in calling the plays in the second and third quarters.
In addition, the second-year coach took the blame for having to use two timeouts on the Saints first possession of the second half. The good news was the Saints finished that drive with a 24-yard touchdown run by Pierre Thomas that gave them a 14-13 lead.
"Yesterday I wasn't as good," he said. "We were late getting the play in and I hate to burn (timeouts), especially in the second half when you get left with just one. I would prefer not to burn those for no reason. We just have to keep working through the substitutions. I can be a lot better that way; I need to be."
--QB Drew Brees completed 22 of 34 passes for 219 yards, but wasn't particularly sharp early. However, he did throw a perfect 37-yard TD strike to Devery Henderson. Brees finished with two TDs and one interception and had a passer rating of 90.2. He was not sacked for the third straight game.
--RB Reggie Bush didn't put up great numbers, but he came up with the yards when the Saints had to have them. He rushed 17 times for 54 yards and had five catches for 19 yards, including a 4-yarder in which he powered his way into the end zone to give the Saints a 20-16 lead with five minutes to play and then added a two-point conversion. He also had a 7-yard run in the final two minutes for a first down to help the Saints run out the clock.
--WR Marques Colston caught three passes for 45 yards, but his clutch 33-yarder on third-and-5 kept the Saints' game-winning touchdown drive alive. He caught a short pass, shook off a tackle and galloped to the Falcons' 31. Eight plays later, Bush crashed in for the touchdown.
--WR David Patten had only two catches for 29 yards, but he also had a key 11-yard grab on third-and-4 from the Atlanta 25 to keep the game-winning TD march going.
--TE Eric Johnson caught five passes and led the Saints with 54 receiving yards against the Falcons. He had a long gain of 21 yards.
--LDE Charles Grant may have had his best game of the season with five tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and two quarterback hurries.
--FS Josh Bullocks had another active game with four tackles and two quarterback hurries. He also broke up one pass.
--RDE Will Smith didn't have any sacks, but he was credited with three quarterback hurries and was solid against the run while recording five tackles.
--RB/KR Pierre Thomas, an undrafted rookie, made the most of his two carries with a 24-yard TD run in the third quarter to give the Saints a 14-13 lead. He finished with 28 rushing yards. He also returned three kickoffs for 78 yards, including a long of 32.
--WR/KR Lance Moore caught only one pass for 10 yards, but he also had a season-long 48-yard punt return in the first quarter.