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Saints chalk up season-opening loss as learning experience

METAIRIE, La. -- The defending champion Indianapolis Colts helped New Orleans realize how far it has to go to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Fortunately for the Saints, they have a lot of talent and a long time to figure out how to get better.

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"It's not something where we're going to rush and panic," running back Deuce McAllister said Friday, as he and teammates began to review film of their 41-10 loss at Indianapolis in Thursday night's NFL season opener. "We know what type of talented guys that we have on this team."

Though the Saints weren't expected to beat the Colts to begin with, the game was nonetheless a major disappointment in a couple of areas.

The Saints' league-leading offense from a year ago failed to score a touchdown and new cornerback Jason David, signed away from the Colts last winter with the express purpose of improving the pass defense, gave up three touchdowns.

Head coach Sean Payton was quick to defend David on Friday.

"Believe it or not, there were some encouraging things defensively," Payton said, recalling the first half, in which the Colts were held to 10 points, while David caused and then returned a fumble for a touchdown. "You come out of the first half feeling pretty good about containing that offense.

"But in the second half, when it got away from us, there's some technique things we'll correct, and again, the corner position, all the eyes go to that one player when there's a big completion, but there's a lot more going on than just one individual. I felt like we needed to, in the second half, sustain (offensive drives) a little bit more, give our defense a rest."

Indeed, prior to the game the Saints had discussed the importance of ball control in order to keep Peyton Manning, who many believe may be the best quarterback ever, and pro bowl receivers Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, off of the field as long as possible.

"When you're playing a quarterback of Peyton's caliber and the receivers that they have, the margin for error is smaller," Payton said.

Between Drew Brees, McAllister, Reggie Bush, Marques Colston and Devery Henderson, the Saints did not pull off a single big play. Instead, they executed a number of first- and second-down plays for short gains, many to new tight end Eric Johnson, but struggled to find the consistency needed to convert third downs and sustain drives deep into Colts territory.

The problems began with the Saints offensive line, which had trouble containing a quick Indianapolis defensive front led by end Dwight Freeney.

"They're not big but they move a lot. They have some great athletes across the board, so we kind of played into their game in the second half and we didn't really execute as we'd like to," Saints right tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. "I don't think we played as aggressively as we would have liked. We have a lot of respect for their defense. We got caught up trying to be counter punchers rather than trying to be the first aggressors.

"We had a lot more three-and-outs than we're used to and never really found that groove that you're looking for."

McAllister and Stinchcomb agreed that the offense's inability to score, or at least sustain longer drives, allowed Manning to torch New Orleans' tiring defense.

"We left (the defense) on the field way too long," Stinchcomb said. "As an offense we only scored three points, so Jason David was actually more productive than the other 11 guys we suited up.

"We knew it going in. You can't let Indy hold onto the ball for the whole game. That's exactly what we let happen."

Even as teammates and coaches came to David's defense, the new Saints cornerback was hard on himself. He said Thursday night's loss was the worst game he's ever played, citing his failure to adhere to techniques that Saints defensive coaches have tailored to their scheme, which often leaves defensive backs in man-to-man coverage.

"I was out there just trying to do too much, you know, playing against my old team, trying to make too many plays and just not doing what got me here," David said. "Man coverage, you've got to be eyes on the receiver, and the whole night I had my eyes in the backfield and that's going to kill me every time. I'm really glad that happened early, that's one thing I am happy about, that it happened early in the season, and I learned my lesson and I've just got to build."

Next up is a visit to NFC South Division rival Tampa Bay a week from this Sunday. Brees suggested that an early season beatdown may in the long run prove beneficial to the Saints as they strive to learn how to become champions. It certainly will prevent them from being overconfident in their next game.

Payton said Brees may have a point.

"Nine weeks from now, you're just going to look at the record," Payton said. "I'd tell you the same thing had we won last night, similar to maybe our win last year in Dallas, where we came off that win and the following weekend lost a home game to Washington. So I think it's important that you make your corrections, that you teach and that you look at it as coaches in regards to all the things that took place and things you could have done differently, and then you learn from it and you move on."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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