Defensive captain Junior Galette is disgusted by the Saints' sluggish start.
"You have to be realistic and know that we're not as good as we thought we were," Galette, a pass-rushing outside linebacker, said Monday. "We have three quarters (of the season) left, and we have to improve drastically."
With the Saints (1-3) coming off a 38-17 loss at Dallas on Sunday night and at the bottom of the NFC South, Galette doesn't seem to be getting any arguments from teammates or coaches.
Instead of naming one or two overriding concerns, coach Sean Payton rattled off the offense, the defense, the special teams, preparation and coaching as areas that needed to get better before Sunday's home game against Tampa Bay (1-3).
The Saints appeared staggered and stunned by their lopsided loss in Dallas, particularly because of how much more competitive they looked in their first three games. They held leads in the last 10 seconds of their first two games — which were both on the road — before losing each by three points or fewer.
New Orleans then responded with a 20-9 win at the Superdome against Minnesota before heading to Dallas with a chance to even their record. Instead, they fell behind 24-0 by halftime and trailed 31-3 entering the fourth quarter.
The only positive came from outside. The Saints remained one game out of first place in the division because co-leaders Atlanta and Carolina, both 2-2, also lost on Sunday.
Right now, though, the Saints are worried about what is wrong on the inside.
"Nothing is encouraging right now," Galette said. "We're not looking at other teams. We're looking at ourselves, and how we played last night was discouraging. At the same time, you've got to be tough and be strong through these tough times because they never last."
Coming off an 11-5 season in 2013, the Saints talked in the preseason about having the most talented roster in Payton's nine-year tenure. They pointed to the addition of three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd and wide receiver Brandin Cooks, a first-round draft pick.
But September has told a different story. The contrast between their performance against Dallas last season and on Sunday was dramatic.
The Saints beat the Cowboys 49-17 last November at home, recording an NFL-record 40 first downs while Dallas failed to convert any of its nine third-down opportunities.
This time, the Cowboys scored four touchdowns and a field goal on their first five possessions. New Orleans hasn't forced a turnover since the first quarter of the season opener against Atlanta.
"Whenever you have a talented group like this on paper, you shouldn't be 1-3, but it's still early," cornerback Corey White said. "In order to go far into the playoffs, we have to fix those problems, but we still have a shot to get into the postseason."
The offense was part of the problem, too, committing three turnovers. Drew Brees threw an interception in the first half. Tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Travaris Cadet lost fumbles in the second half.
Even in its victory against Minnesota, New Orleans scored its fewest points at home since its final regular-season game in 2010.
"At the end of the day the players are the ones that have to make plays," offensive tackle Zach Strief said. "The coaches can re-scheme or try to motivate and all those things, but it's on us. It's absolutely on the leadership in the locker room. It's on us to get it straight."
The kicking game hasn't helped, either. Shayne Graham was wide right on a 41-yard field goal against Dallas a week after missing an extra point. When the Saints pulled within 31-17 in the fourth quarter at Dallas, a fake punt ended with punter Thomas Morstead losing two yards after finding no open receivers.
"There's a lot of things that need to be cleaned up," Payton said. "Quite honestly, we're playing like a 1-3 team right now, and that's what our record is."
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