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METAIRIE, La. – New Orleans Saints cornerback Corey White still likes his team's chances to emerge as a legitimate playoff contender — not just a team lucky to have a shot because it plays in a weak division.
"We're not your ordinary 4-5 team," White said Monday as the Saints gathered to review their 27-24 overtime loss to San Francisco a day earlier. "We could easily be 7-2 right now."
Or 8-1, by White's logic.
The Saints have lost four games by a field goal or less after having the led in the last two minutes of all those games. Two losses came in overtime after the Saints turned over the ball deep enough in their territory to set up deciding field goals by Atlanta in Week 1 and San Francisco on Sunday.
"We're going to find a way to win close games like that," White asserted. "And when we do that, we're going to be better — way better."
The good news for the Saints is that they emerged from their latest loss still in control of their playoff fate. The entire NFC South has struggled and New Orleans still has a home game against Carolina, its main divisional competition.
"There's still a belief in this locker room that we've got a lot to play for," right tackle Zach Strief said. "We're going to have bigger games come up. But it's a mad scramble every week at this point."
The Saints were done in by turnovers in Sunday's loss, which overshadowed promising performances on both sides of the ball.
After yielding 14 points in the first quarter, New Orleans' defense allowed only 10 more during the final three quarters of regulation. It didn't allow any second-half points until the Niners' tying field goal with 44 seconds left in regulation.
New Orleans also had four sacks of Colin Kaepernick, forcing a fumble on one.
On offense, Mark Ingram got his third straight 100-yard game.
"I love the way he is playing. He is playing hard," coach Sean Payton said. "He is physical. He has been durable."
The Saints rushed for 136 yards, about 45 more than the Niners' second-ranked defense was allowing coming in.
Drew Brees passed for 292 yards and three touchdowns to remain among the league's leading passers. Tight end Jimmy Graham showed little ill effect from his Week 5 shoulder injury, making 10 catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns. He also outmuscled and out-jumped the 49ers secondary for a Hail Mary heave at the end of regulation, but was called for offensive pass interference.
Graham has denied he pushed off, but even some of his teammates thought officials made the right call — regardless of whether defensive back Perrish Cox tried to sell it by throwing his arms out as he went down.
"It was clearly pass interference," White said, jokingly calling Graham "crazy" for saying otherwise. "As much as I like to defend my own teammates, I don't want to lie, either."
More troublesome to White and fellow defensive players was Kaepernick's 51-yard completion on fourth-and-10 to set up the tying field goal.
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro regretted allowing a completion over his head, but said he was concerned Kaepernick would throw to tight end Vernon Davis, who was breaking open for a potential first-down catch. He didn't consider that Kaepernick would be able to complete a pass so far across the field, saying a quarterback had never done that to him before.
Disappointing as that play was, the New Orleans secondary was pleased to see top cornerback Keenan Lewis return to the game from what initially looked like a serious injury to his left leg. The leg had significant, visible swelling around the knee after the game.
On Monday, Lewis walked into the locker room through the training room door and virtually guaranteed he'd be ready to play against Cincinnati next Sunday.
"I'll be ready. I'm just getting ready for the Bengals," Lewis said without being specific about the nature of his injury. "You don't want to run out there and try to make it worse if it had been a (major) injury, but I felt it was nowhere near that standard."
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