In Part I of an exclusive three-part series, SFIllustrated.com's Craig Massei and SaintsInsider.com's Matthew Postins begin their back-and-forth interaction with five questions from Matthew to Craig. Who's considered the QB of the future now in SF? What has Mike Martz's arrival meant for Mike Nolan and RB Frank Gore? How's the O-line doing after Larry Allen's departure? These Q&As and more inside. Read Part I by Just click here.
For the second straight season, the Saints are traveling down a rocky road to start the NFL campaign.
The only difference in their first three games of last year and this year is they won their season opener three weeks ago. But back-to-back road losses have the Saints at 1-2 going into Sunday's matchup with the San Francisco 49ers (2-1) in the Superdome.
Even though they guaranteed themselves that they wouldn't start 0-4 as they did in 2007 when they defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the season opener, the Saints will be in a similar hole if they can't beat the 49ers.
The Saints have been riddled by injuries since that win over the Bucs, which contributed to two straight losses at Washington and Denver by a total of seven points.
At least the Saints will have the comforts of home for the next three games, starting with the matchup against the 49ers. That's good to know, but coach Sean Payton knows it won't mean a thing unless his team can shake off losses to the Redskins and Broncos -- games they could have won.
"We're 1-2 and coming off a tough loss," Payton said earlier this week. "There's a lot of football ahead of us. It starts with this game, and you really can't go past San Francisco. We have to find a way to get to 2-2."
Payton said he told his players after a 34-32 setback at Denver that he feels good about his team. The offense ranks fourth in the NFL in total yards (first in passing), but the running game and defense continue to struggle even though the defense has had its moments despite some key injuries.
"We have to improve and play better," he said, "but I feel pretty good about this team right now."
The reason for the optimism is the Saints had a chance to win those last two games despite having a lengthy injury list that saw six starters miss at least one game and a total of 14 players on the opening day roster miss a combined 25 games so far.
If you think it's going to get better this week, think again. Tight end Jeremy Shockey is out 3-to-6 weeks after having sports hernia surgery this week and left tackle Jammal Brown (hip) and wide receiver David Patten (groin) could miss this week's game after they were injured at Denver. Left guard Jamar Nesbit also starts a four-game suspension this week for a violation of the NFL's Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances.
"I'm kind of a glass half-full guy, and hopefully, we can lean back on this experience when our guys are healthy and feel like some of these guys in backup positions have more playing experience," Payton said.
"But we're no different than anyone else," he added. "It comes sometimes in numbers. Sometimes you're healthy. We just have to be able to fight through this right now."