As he opened his post-game press conference last night, Saints head coach Sean Payton spoke the words that he might find himself saying very often during the rest of the 2017 regular season, if last night's season opening game for New Orleans was any indication.
"I don't know where to begin," Payton said.
Well, how about this Coach? The team that you were coaching last night -- the same team that we've been led to believe is "improved" and ready to be much better than the team that's finished 7-9 for the last 3 straight seasons in a row -- doesn't appear to be any better at all.
In fact, they looked A LOT like the same team we've seen for the last 3 years worth of 7-9 seasons.
“There’s some numbers we paid close attention to in regards to the pressures and the sacks,” Payton said. “You have to be mindful of the match-ups. We knew there were certain things we weren’t going to do in this game, but we just didn’t do it well enough.”
Saying that they didn't do it well enough would be an understatement.
Minnesota's offense, thought to be slightly above-average at best, gained 470 yards of total offense --- its most since Week 3 of the 2014 season. The Saints also allowed the Vikings offense to be nearly dominant on every single third down and long situation, as the Vikings were able to convert a whopping 9-of-14 on 3rd Down conversions.
Perhaps even more disturbing was the way in which the team was beaten "down in the trenches" physically, and was never able to truly recover.
Both the Saints offensive and defensive lines looked like they struggled at times against the Vikings lines on both sides of the football; and they seemed to be outmatched PHYSICALLY on several different occasions throughout the contest.
When you are getting beat physically at the point of attack on just about every play, there usually isn't much hope for winning that particular game or being successful in that specific situation, and that proved to be true once again like it usually does.
So if Payton and the Saints are really paying close attention to the numbers as he put it, then perhaps he ought to look at these numbers moving forward.
4. As in 4 straight years without a win in the season's opening game.
3. As in 3 straight years, that the Saints have failed to qualify for the NFL Playoffs.
2. As in 2 whole drives (at the beginning of the game), where the Saints actually looked to be at least "as good" or the better team than their opponent.
And 1. As in, the Saints have started off 1-3 in their last 3 seasons dating back to that first 7-9 finish after the 2014 season; and after last night's results, they could potentially be looking at another 1-3 start right in the face; with games against New England, Carolina, and an improved Detroit team coming up on the schedule's next few weeks.
But for Sean Payton last night, the only real answers that he was able to provide are the typical ones (and the standard lines) that he's given to us for the last few years now.
"When we watch this tape, there's going to be a lot of dirty hands," Payton said last night.
While there's certainly plenty of blame to go around, Payton only needs to look at one pair of dirty hands.
And those would be his OWN hands.
Why is that you ask? Simple.
Because it is the job of the head coach to make sure that his team is fully prepared and ready to play an opponent, and especially one that he had MONTHS to get ready for, prior to last night's game.
Instead, the Saints appeared to be almost completely and unequivocally unprepared.
One can only surmise that there has to be a lot of questions that still need to be answered as to why this Saints team coached by Payton last night, didn't show up ready to be their very best. At all.
Questions like: why did the Saints defense open the game with only 10 men on the field, for the very first snap of the nationally-televised broadcast? They do know there's 11 players per side, right?
Or --- why did Sean Payton decide to leave 2nd year UDFA CB De'Vante Harris in the game at "nickel" CB, after he kept repeatedly getting beat in pass coverage?
Leaving Harris in the game when he was getting beaten time and time again was definitely a head-scratcher; especially since back-up veteran and former starter Sterling Moore was (and is) a proven commodity.
It was just a couple of the things about last night, that made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Additionally, the Saints definitely appeared to be outmatched and clearly outplayed, in what had to be one of the most uninspiring-played season openers in the team's entire 51-year history.
And once you include the off-season long company line that's been repeatedly given to the media from Saints team brass and Payton in particular; that neither he or the organization feel any added or extra "pressure" to win games this year -- it suddenly makes last night's poor performance seem all that more egregious, since it occurred and took place right in front of the man who's been tasked with turning these very type of things around this year and further beyond.
Let's just be quite honest: in the NFL, it's all about WINNING FOOTBALL GAMES.
The coaches in the NFL that do are recognized as the sport's very best, while those who can't find themselves unemployed and without a job.
And how long of a rope do you really believe that Sean Payton has right now, with regard to his time as the team's head coach (and in charge of the Saints on-field football operations along with having the final say on all of the team's roster decisions) after the type of performances like the one we witnessed last night?
Saints owner Tom Benson --- as it's well-known --- LOVES Sean Payton; but just how far and how long will that affection last, if we continue to see games like the one that took place last night in front of the entire world on the national stage?
What happens if the Saints aren't able to "bounce back" this week, and instead lose again to an angry and mad defending World Champion New England Patriots football team next Sunday; looking to wipe the taste of last week's upset loss to Kansas City out of their mouths?
Sure, the Saints could end up doing the same thing to the Patriots themselves after last night's performance, but do you really believe that will occur after what we saw unfold in Minneapolis last night?
It will take a concerted effort to be sure, but no one's job will be more critical than Payton's; who has to now suddenly find a way to get his team to respond positively from this point on, or at least for the next 15 weeks.
All of the things that went wrong last night fall directly back upon the head coach, a coach who supposedly wants to be in New Orleans through 2020, but probably wished he was somewhere other than where he was last night.
Hopefully, the Saints will respond and do so with authority; by putting some much-needed wins up on the scoreboard in these next few weeks, while also putting everyone's minds at ease.
Because if they don't?
Then the cries from Saints fans for Sean Payton's head will grow louder. And louder. AND LOUDER.
Sean Payton might not be on the "hot seat" just yet, since we're only 1 week into the 2017 NFL regular season.
But you can bet that before it's all over with, that sucker sure is gonna get warm......