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New Orleans Saints teetering on the brink after brutal 0-4 start

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Drew Brees and backup quarterback Chase Daniel stood inches apart from each other, 20 minutes after another soul-crushing defeat, speechless and wearing lost looks.

The moment said everything about where the New Orleans Saints stand right now. Facing a lot of questions. And running out of answers.

On NFL Replay
NFL Replay
will re-air the Green Bay Packers' 28-27 win over the New Orleans  Saints in Week 4 on Tuesday, October 2 at 9:30 p.m. ET.

The proud franchise, which has been through proverbial earthquake after proverbial earthquake over the last seven months, now sits at 0-4, fresh off a 28-27 loss to the Green Bay Packers. The Saints fell four games out of first place in the NFC South before the calendar even flipped from September to October.

It's hard not to see a snake-bitten team here. The Saints blew a 24-6 lead at home against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3, losing 27-24 in overtime. This time around, they went punch-for-punch with the Packers at Lambeau Field, but a potential game-winning field goal was negated by what the Saints saw as a phantom holding call (Garrett Hartley missed the ensuing 48-yard attempt) and a struggling defense couldn't get the stop it needed to give the offense another shot.

"Things just aren't going our way," said All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, among those struggling to reason the loss away. "You look back -- '09, everything went our way. Even last year, everything went our way for the most part. It's just ... Somehow we have to turn it over. We have to overcome these things and just stay positive."

It has to be getting more difficult. Especially since the team hardly laid an egg on Sunday but still came away with another mark in the "L" column.

For much of the afternoon, Brees was his magnificent self, completing 35 of his 54 throws for 446 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Graham, Marques Colston and Darren Sproles took turns gashing the Green Bay defense. The New Orleans D, considering the stage and opponent, wasn't nearly as bad as it had been. The Saints even won the turnover battle, 2-0.

All of that contributed to a run of 20 unanswered points that turned a 21-7 deficit into a 27-21 lead. The big moment came when New Orleans knocked Aaron Rodgers out of the game for a play, recovered a fumble on Green Bay backup Graham Harrell's only snap and cashed in four plays later with an 80-yard bomb from Brees to Joseph Morgan. Even the quarterback himself said after the game that he thought that sequence could well have been the turning point in New Orleans' season.

It wasn't.

"I can't put my finger on it," safety Roman Harper said, packing his things up. "There is no right answer, there is no magic formula. It's not like we have magic dust we can sprinkle on each other, and make things magically happen. We're fighting, we're getting turnovers defensively, we're playing with high effort. It's all about execution, it's about the little things. And it's how close it is on Sunday between a win or a loss; it's just that miniscule. We understand that. We gotta be better. We're going to be better."

But are they getting better?

"I don't know," Harper said, in a resigned tone. "It's hard to say. I have to look at it on the film. Effort's there. But at the end of the day, we gotta find a way to win the game. ... I'm not sure (if we are getting better). We'll have to see."

Before the Kansas City game two Sundays ago, interim coach Aaron Kromer affixed mirrors to his players' lockers as a reminder of where to look when pointing the finger. Before the trip to Green Bay, Brees delivered a fiery speech to his teammates.

The results haven't changed. Ninth-year defensive end Will Smith identified the most frustrating aspect: "We played a great game across the board, better than the last several weeks, and we knew we were playing a good opponent, and we couldn't pull it off."

The Saints host the San Diego Chargersnext Sunday night, then have their bye before visiting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Suspended interim coach Joe Vitt will return after that. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma could be back in uniform by then, too, depending on his status with the league.

It's not impossible to imagine a spark forming there, with the team somehow catching fire in the second half of the season. But it is impossible not to wonder what kind of toll the bounty scandal -- with the resulting suspensions, litigation and attention -- has taken on the team. No one in the locker room wants to point to that. But it's there. It has to be.

Meanwhile, the Saints try to keep their focus narrow, with their season seemingly circling the drain before their eyes. Some of their current players were part of the club's last 0-4 start, in 2007. Those guys remember how hard it was just to get to 7-9 after digging that hole. And they say the time for motivational ploys and speeches is over.

"At this point? You show them," Colston said in a quiet moment by his locker. "Everyone in here still trusts our processes throughout the week, and we'll continue to do that. It starts tomorrow, grading the film and making corrections, and then getting back on the field on Wednesday."

They know the numbers. To get to 9-7, which probably won't make the playoff cut in this year's loaded NFC, the Saints need to go 9-3 the rest of the way. To notch a fourth straight season of double-digit wins, they'd have to at least go 10-2.

When I asked Brees whether the team needs to be near-perfect from here on out, he shot down the idea, saying instead, "We just have to be us."

Through four weeks, it seems they've been something else. Or worse, what they've become, at least right now, simply isn't good enough.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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