On paper, it looks as if coach Sean Payton has the Saints rolling once again.
They’ve won five straight and enter a second straight week atop the NFC South all by themselves.
Then there’s the more complicated, nuanced reality of how the past two games have gone.
When the Saints won at Green Bay in Week 7, they didn’t have to play against star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who hurt his collarbone the week before.
In a win over Chicago on Sunday, New Orleans had two pivotal replay reversals go in their favor and also were facing a rookie QB making his fourth start.
On Monday, Payton said his message to the team is that there are “a lot of things we’re doing well and yet there’s a number of things we’re not doing as well, and I do believe when we play in a bigger game against a better team, those can catch up with you.”
“We’re still chasing a perfect four quarters of football as opposed to a good half,” Payton added.
What Payton won’t do is apologize for good fortune, such as a reversal of what was initially ruled a fumble by Saints running back Alvin Kamara, or the disputed reversal of what appeared to be a touchdown catch by Bears tight end Zach Miller, who seriously injured his knee as he came down with the ball.
“Our league each week is made up of breaks,” Payton said. “We can’t control the quarterback (in Green Bay) and quite honestly I thought (officials) missed some calls” to New Orleans’ detriment against Chicago.
Regardless of breaks, the improvement of New Orleans’ defense is evident. The unit has closed out the past two victories with interceptions and hasn’t allowed as many as 350 yards in a game during the winning streak after allowing an average of 512.5 yards in New Orleans’ two losses during Weeks 1 and 2.
“As long as we’re winning, even when we’re not playing our best in all phases, that’s always good,” veteran safety Rafael Bush said. “We’re getting those gritty wins. We’re closing out games on defense. That’s going to pay dividends when we get to the latter part of the season.”
Bush said confidence is growing with each victory, but stressed he doesn’t “want us to get ahead of ourselves or think we have arrived.”
The previous time New Orleans won five straight was 2013, when left tackle Terron Armstead was a rookie reserve. He became a starter later that season, after New Orleans had opened 5-0.
“It’s good to go on this win streak right now, but we’re far from satisfied,” Armstead said. “It’s tough in this league to get wins. It doesn’t matter who’s on the field. We’re taking each win and claiming it as ours and trying to stack them up.”
The Saints went 7-9 each of the previous three seasons, meaning third-year defensive lineman Tyeler Davison has yet to experience a winning NFL campaign.
He said understanding how tough it can be to win consistently in the NFL makes him optimistic about New Orleans’ recent streak.
“Regardless of if the Packers didn’t have Aaron Rodgers or the Bears have a rookie quarterback, it’s still NFL football,” Davison said. “I’m pretty sure the Bears had just come off winning a couple games themselves.”
Indeed, the Bears arrived in New Orleans having won two straight, but trailed by two scores for most of Sunday’s 20-12 loss to the Saints.
“We know that we’ve done a lot of good things these last five games. We also know there are still things we can get better at,” Davison said, noting that the Saints are “not getting big-headed.”
“As long as we keep being objective about what we see, I feel like we’ll be good,” Davison said.