METAIRIE, La. (AP) Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro hears the panic in the voices of football fans in and around New Orleans.

He does not, however, hear it in the locker room. At least, not yet.

The Saints are winless after three games, but they've been competitive in all three, giving them at least a measure of hope they can find a way to start winning in time to remain relevant in the NFC. Their next chance comes Sunday night in the Superdome against the Dallas Cowboys.

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''You know it's coming when some team's 0-3; the sky is falling outside of here,'' Vaccaro said. ''You know we are going to hear it, but we just have to stick together and focus on Dallas. We have a great locker room. We are all pretty close, a lot closer than last year. So I think this adversity isn't as big an issue as it would have been last year.''

Last year, the Saints lost their first two games. They wound up 7-9 and out of the playoffs.

This season, NFC South foes Carolina and Atlanta are already 3-0, meaning the Saints are already three games out of first place.

''It's certainly a hole. There is no way to sugarcoat that,'' coach Sean Payton said. ''We can't go play this game quick enough and because, listen, there is that since of urgency to get a win.''

Then again, the Saints have at least one reason to be pleased that kickoff isn't until Sunday night as opposed to, say, Thursday night. That reason is the health of quarterback Drew Brees, who on Sunday missed his first start because of an injury in his career (although he was benched based on performance during his first few NFL seasons with San Diego).

Brees is optimistic he'll return soon from a bruised rotator cuff in his right (throwing) shoulder, but Payton said Monday it was too soon to say when exactly that would be.

Then again, Payton has often displayed an inclination to preserve any element of mystery he can in the week leading up to a game.

''I would say optimistic, and yet we'll just pay attention to his symptoms and strength,'' Payton said about Brees' chances of playing this Sunday. ''I don't know that there's more clarity. The thing that's positive is the progress daily.''

If Brees cannot play, the Saints can at least be confident in their ability to move the ball regardless, given the numbers backup Luke McCown put up in his first start since 2007.

McCown went 31 of 38 for 310 yards in a 27-22 loss at Carolina. He had the Saints in range of a go-ahead touchdown inside the final two minutes, but his pass intended for Brandin Cooks in the end zone was intercepted by Josh Norman, who made a leaping, twisting catch.

New Orleans got the ball back with just 10 seconds left near midfield, setting up - for the second straight week - a final desperation pass as time ran out. The Saints also had a chance to drive for a winning score in the final minutes of their Week 1 loss at Arizona, but could not move the ball and wound up giving up another score in a 31-19 loss.

''We have to know that we're not that far away,'' McCown said. ''If we start listening to the outside noise, too much about how we're 0-3 and we're so far back in the division, then it will pile on.''

Cornerback Brandon Browner, who has played for the past two Super Bowl winners, insisted his latest club has the talent to turn the season around.

''You need to continue to come to work with a positive attitude and try to get better,'' he said. ''We've been in every game so far. It's come down to the last two minutes. We just have to find a way to finish at the end of the game.''

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