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Saints’ 2014 Analysis: Payton promises changes

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METAIRIE, La. — For one of the few times in nine years with the New Orleans Saints, head coach Sean Payton was picking up the pieces the day after the team’s regular-season finale.

Naturally, Payton, whose team finished 7-9, didn’t like it one bit when he held his final news conference of the season at the same time his counterpart from 12 teams were busy planning and scheming for their first playoff games.

Not counting the year he was suspended from coaching in 2012, it was only the third time Payton, hired in 2006, was not preparing for a playoff game. The Saints also failed to make the playoffs in 2007 and ’08 before joining the postseason field in the next four seasons he was on the sideline (2009-11, 2013).

“It stinks losing,” Payton said Monday. “Honestly there’s a pit in your stomach. I hate it. It’s because so much time and energy is put into that upcoming season and the process.

“Really, it’s one thing to be removed from the process for a year without any control,” he said of his bounty suspension. “To be in this position and having this meeting on the eve of the week of the first round of the playoffs, it’s been awhile. It is not something that you want to experience again.”

At the same time, Payton said the bad feeling that comes with it will drive him and “fuel the fire” to get back to the playoffs. He hopes it does the same to a team that will experience a lot of changeover after a season that was loaded with expectations came crashing down almost from the start.

An offense that led the NFL in total yards and third-down efficiency and was among the league leaders in red-zone success was sabotaged by 30 turnovers. On the other side of the ball, a defense that ranked fourth in fewest yards allowed in 2013 regressed to 31st this year and had only 17 takeaways.

Payton previously identified the minus-13 turnover differential as the toughest thing he had to swallow this season. That, he said, in all likelihood kept his team from the postseason party when one more win would have given the Saints the NFC South title over the Carolina Panthers (7-8-1).

While there will be some personnel changes, Payton believes he has some pieces in place to get back into the playoff picture without a major overhaul of the roster or in the way they do things. Yet, he realizes that one or two changes won’t get it done.

“We have to look closely at the teaching, the coaching, we have to look closely at the players, we have to look closely at the talent … and it is probably somewhere in the middle,” he said.

“That term ‘overhaul’ represents a whole new rebuild,” Payton added. “Yet, the idea that we are just going to make one or two changes and things are going to be better, it isn’t that easy, either.”

Maturity was a big topic of discussion in the locker room, especially when the Saints dropped their final five home games — including three games in as many weeks in a crushing November stretch that could have put them in good position for a decisive December run in a weak division.

Making the job even tougher is a salary-cap situation that has them way over the anticipated cap — perhaps as much as $20 million — even though the Saints have worked their way out of tight financial spots in the past.

“That would not be uncommon two years ago. … There’s going to be change though,” Payton said. “We’re not just going to patch a few holes and throw the ball out there next year. There are going to be some things that we look closely at … and that’s part of the deal.”

–By winning their season finale at Tampa Bay on Sunday, 23-20, the Saints cost themselves four spots in the NFL draft next spring.

By virtue of their 7-9 record, the Saints will choose 13th in the first round of the April 30-May 2 draft despite finishing with the same record as the Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns. The Vikings pick 11th, the Browns 12th.

The Vikings get the higher pick because they had the easier schedule this season with their opponents posting a winning percentage of .475 when compared to the Browns (.479) and Saints (.486).

The three teams, however, will alternate between the 11th, 12th and 13th picks in each of the following six rounds.

If the Saints had finished 6-10, they would have held the ninth pick in the first round.

–Saints right tackle Zach Strief was honored Tuesday with the Jim Finks Good Guy Award that goes annually to the player for cooperation with the media over the course of the season.

Strief won the award in a vote of media that regularly cover the team after being unfailingly available to reporters during the team’s 7-9 season.

A nine-year veteran, Strief was honored for going above and beyond when it comes to satisfying the league’s mandate to cooperate with media, giving insightful remarks that educate both reporters and their audience.

The award is named for Jim Finks, who was both accessible and candid during his tenure as the Saints’ general manager from 1986-92 before succumbing to lung cancer.

Payton recorded his 80th regular-season victory Sunday when his team defeated the Bucs and now has an overall record of 86-52 — counting a 6-4 postseason mark.

That leaves him just seven wins shy of Jim Mora’s club record of 93 victories that he set from 1986 to 1996. Mora was 93-78 overall with an 0-4 playoff record.


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