And for the second consecutive week, the Saints (2-3) will have to play through off-the-field issues when they go against the Minnesota Vikings (3-1) in the Superdome.
One week after a heated exchange between quarterback Aaron Brooks and defensive end Charles Grant on the charter flight home, the Saints fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. A day later, General Manager Mickey Loomis said the team has not performed up to his or owner Tom Benson's expectations and that everyone in the organization is accountable.
Loomis told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that while he still believes in the coaching staff and players, he's not afraid to make changes if the season doesn't turn around.
"Ultimately, we all are judged by wins and losses," said Loomis, who is in his third year as the team's GM. "If we can't work it out, then changes have to be made. And I'm not afraid to make them. That's my job, to bring the right players into our program and the right coaches to coach them."
Loomis said he has discussed these issues with fifth-year coach Jim Haslett. Since claiming the NFC West title and first playoff win in franchise history back in 2000, the Saints are 26-27. After getting off to a 2-1 start this year, they lost to the Arizona Cardinals and Bucs, who were 0-3 and 0-4, respectively, when they met.
"I believed, and I still believe, that we have a good football team," Loomis said. "But something is missing. It's a bottom-line business. And the bottom line is wins and losses."
The Saints finished 8-8 last season, and Loomis said expectations for a playoff run were realistic. He said he believes the coaching staff and players are working as hard as they can to correct the problems that have held them back recently. But he said it's time to see results.
"We've got good coaches, and we've got good talent," Loomis said. "Something's missing. If the chemistry doesn't work, then we'll have to do something different."
Addressing the media after practice Wednesday, Haslett said he understood the message but wondered about the timing since there are 11 games remaining in the season.
"I'm not really sure what it was directed at, but coaches know that it's a win-loss business," he said. "That's what you are judged on. I don't think anybody really cares about the rest.
"As long as the players understand that we're in this thing together, the coaches and players, and if you're not successful bad things happen and a lot of families are affected on both sides of the ball — coaching and playing. So, I don't know if the timing was right, but I think the message was understood. But I think that's kind of a given with coaches anyway."
Loomis said Benson, who rarely speaks to the media, is upset with the situation, as are the fans. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 7,000 tickets remained for the game with the Vikings.
"They're frustrated, we all are," Loomis said. "We keep talking about how we've got to correct the little things, and they're tired of hearing that. And, frankly, so am I. And coaches are tired of saying it. We all feel their pain."
Loomis said no one in the organization is free from the blame, including himself, and added he isn't ready to give up on the season. At 2-3, the Saints are two games behind the Atlanta Falcons (4-1) in the NFC South.
"We're not ready to give up on the season," he said. "We still believe we have good players, and we believe we have good coaches. We've got to get a big win this week against Minnesota and get back on the right track."
SERIES HISTORY: 23rd meeting. The Vikings lead the Saints 15-7 after winning four of the past five matchups. The Vikings won 32-31 the last time they met on Dec. 15, 2002, scoring a touchdown with five seconds to play to pull to within one point. Instead of kicking the PAT and going to overtime, however, coach Mike Tice gambled and went for the win and Daunte Culpepper ran it in for the victory.
Grant, who recorded two sacks in a 20-17 loss to the Bucs last Sunday, already has seven sacks this season. That ties him with Atlanta Falcons defensive end Patrick Kerney for the league lead.
All of Grant's sacks have come in the last four games after he was shut out in the season opener with the Seattle Seahawks. He collected a career-high three sacks in a 28-25 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sept. 26.
Grant, a 6-foot-3, 290-pounder, has 24 career sacks in only 37 games with five multiple-sack games. He also forced a fumble in the loss to the Bucs.
Horn, who is in his fifth year with the Saints, caught a 3-yard scoring pass from quarterback Aaron Brooks in last week's game with the Bucs.
Horn has 37 TD catches in his career with the Saints, which ties him with Danny Abramowicz (1967-73). Eric Martin has the most touchdown catches in Saints history with 48 from 1985-93.
Indianapolis Colts punter Hunter Smith leads the league in net average at 41.2 yards per kick. Berger, who has a gross average of 43.6 yards, has also dropped 10 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line in the first five games.
It was the second lengthy streak that Brooks has put together in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. He finished the 2003 season with 232 consecutive attempts without an interception and extended it to 256 before Seattle's Michael Boulware ended it in the opener.
Since the beginning of the 2003 season, Brooks has thrown 31 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.
McAfee, who is in his 14th NFL season, was also a valuable leader in the locker room before the Saints decided not to re-sign him during the offseason.
"I thought Freddy could help us more than a couple of guys we had inactive every week," coach Jim Haslett said. "I think he's a great team player and is good to have around for morale. He's probably the best I've ever had (in the locker room). And he's a good football player, he's a Pro Bowler on special teams and he can help us in that area."
BY THE NUMBERS: 10 — Points scored by the Saints in the first quarter of their five games so far this season. All of those points came in a 30-27 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 19.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I told the guys after the game that they have to be resilient. You've got to bounce back from it. You've got to take the bullets when they're coming, and they're going to come this week. They're going to be flying from all directions and you've got to be able to handle it, deal with it, and get ready to play the upcoming opponent. It's just the nature of the business." — Saints coach Jim Haslett on losing two straight games to previously winless opponents.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
With a game coming up Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings and All-Pro wide receiver Randy Moss, the Saints made the move everyone thought they would make Wednesday.
Cornerback Mike McKenzie, who was obtained in an Oct. 4 trade with the Green Bay Packers, worked with the first-team defense when the team began preparing for the Vikings on Wednesday.
Saints coach Jim Haslett said McKenzie will start at left corner Sunday night in place of Fred Thomas, who has been a starter for the last three seasons. McKenzie did not play last week against the Bucs because of his unfamiliarity with the Saints' system.
Thomas will still play a lot Sunday night — the Saints will likely be in a nickel defense most of the night against Moss and the Vikings' three-receiver sets.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
McAllister told trainers that he had some soreness Monday, but he was able to practice at full speed when the team returned to work on Wednesday. He is listed as probable for Sunday's game.
McKenzie, who is expected to start in place of Fred Thomas against the Vikings, is officially listed as questionable.