Payton pleased with Saints' survival skills

Nov 17, 2009 - 1:26 AM By BRETT MARTEL AP Sports Writer

METAIRIE, La.(AP) -- For Saints offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb, it's all about perspective.

Since he was drafted by New Orleans in 2003, he's been part of only two winning teams. The second of those is this year's edition, which reached the franchise's first-ever 9-0 record at St. Louis on Sunday despite one of its least impressive performances all season.

"I enjoy being able to talk about how we're winning, because I've been around the Saints long enough to appreciate the line of questioning being that we're not winning by the huge margins that we could be," Stinchcomb said. "It's not easy to win in this league."

New Orleans needed to break up a pass in the end zone as time expired to survive their closest game of the season, a 28-23 triumph over a Rams team that has won only once all year.

Yet coach Sean Payton said there were reasons to be proud of his team's performance, despite a couple of troubling trends that have made New Orleans look a little more vulnerable in recent weeks.

Payton noted that three defensive starters - cornerback Jabari Greer (groin), safety Darren Sharper (left knee) and defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (right knee) - missed the game entirely and a fourth was lost when cornerback Tracy injured his left knee.

"I was proud we responded with both corners being out for a good portion of that game. Obviously our defensive tackle, Darren Sharper, our safety - we overcame some things against a team that was coming off a bye and a win," Payton said. "We can play better football, yet I think the team we played is getting better. ... To get that win on the road against a team that was coming off a week rest, and to get that win despite some of our mistakes is encouraging."

Only two of the Saints' nine victories have come by fewer than double digits, the other being a 35-27 win over Atlanta in which the Falcons kicked a late field goal.

In many of their victories, the Saints outscored their opponents not only with prolific offense but also their big-play defense, which has scored seven touchdowns this season on five interception returns and two fumble returns.

Recently, however, the Saints' offense have been turning the ball over - 13 times in their last four games.

Drew Brees was intercepted twice by the Rams, once on a tipped pass. Brees has turned the ball over 10 times in the last four games on seven interceptions and three fumbles.

Payton said he is always concerned about turnovers, but his confidence Brees overall remains unshaken, adding that some of his turnovers have more to do with the receivers not catching balls or linemen not blocking well enough. He also pointed out that Brees is still making clutch throws, such as his 27-yard touchdown pass to Robert Meachem in the back of the Rams' end zone.

"There's a big reason why we're 9-0 and it starts with Drew Brees," Payton said. "He's his own worst critic. If you asked who's hardest on Drew Brees, it would be Drew Brees. And yet, he has made a ton of plays for us. The throw to Meachem was unbelievable."

In the end, Brees was 18 of 26 for 223 yards and two touchdowns against the Rams, but for the interceptions a solid day for an NFL quarterback. Kickoff returner Courtney Roby and running back Reggie Bush also provided big plays to put New Orleans over the top. Bush had 83 yards and two touchdowns on only six carries, including a 55-yard run.

Roby's 97-yard kickoff return marked the Saints first TD on a kickoff since 2004.

On the injury front, a couple defensive starters could return on Sunday when the Saints travel to Tampa Bay to play another one-win team. Greer said he was optimistic he could return. Sharper already has practiced since hurting his knee but decided to rest in St. Louis. Ellis has missed three games and Payton said recently that he should return soon, though he did not specify whether he'd be back this week.

The Saints even got some good news on Porter, who initially thought he might have a season-ending knee injury but wound up with only a sprained medial collateral ligament that Payton said would not require surgery. There's not timetable yet on his return.

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