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It’s already must-win time for Chiefs, Saints today

September 23, 2012

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— It’s only Week 3, and desperation time is already at hand for the Kansas City Chiefs and the New Orleans Saints.

The loser of their meeting today in the Superdome will drop to 0-3 and become a playoff long shot before NFL teams have hit the one-quarter mark on their regular-season schedule.

“You just don’t want to keep digging that hole because in the NFL, every team is great each and every week,” Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel said. “Is there a sense of urgency about it? Absolutely. We want to get a win, and everybody in this room is working extremely hard to get that done.”

The Chiefs are in familiar territory, having started 0-3 last season before finishing 7-9 and out of the playoffs.

The Saints, by contrast, only lost a total of three games during the 2011 season and expected to be in contention for a fourth straight playoff berth this season, even after the NFL’s bounty investigation resulted in the suspension of head coach Sean Payton.

“I would have never expected to be 0-2,” Saints interim head coach Aaron Kromer said. “We are not used to being 0-and-anything. This is a winning organization. It has been a winning organization and we are going to take it back to that.

“All we can do is worry about this one week,” Kromer continued, adding that his instructions to his players after last Sunday’s 35-27 loss to Carolina were to “look in the mirror, don’t point fingers, and move on.”

In case they didn’t get the message, small round mirrors were affixed to players’ lockers at Saints headquarters this week.

“It’s the only answer,” said Saints right tackle Zach Strief, an offensive captain. “There’s literally a danger in guys pointing fingers and becoming cancers and complaining. I think it can be human nature to say, ‘Whose fault is it?’ ... and that’s poison in a locker room, so the only thing that you can do is look at yourself.”

When the Chiefs and Saints look at themselves, they see a mixed bag that gives them cause for hope as well as concern.

Both teams are among the league leaders in offense. The Drew Brees-led Saints rank third, while Cassel’s Chiefs rank fifth.

Defense is where the problems lie for both clubs right now.

The Saints are last in yards allowed and tied with the Chiefs for last in points allowed, 75.

Certainly, the oddsmakers see a matchup ripe for a shootout, setting the over/under at 53, higher than any other game this week.

Yet members of both teams would argue that after only two games, the sample size is too small to place so much emphasis on statistics.

In such a short span, a few big plays can skew the numbers for a unit that, if not for a handful of blown assignments or correctable mistakes, could have performed much better, they say.

First-year Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo knows that from his experience as coordinator of the 2007 New York Giants. That team gave up 80 points in its first two games, but wound up winning the Super Bowl against previously unbeaten New England while largely stifling Tom Brady and an offense that set NFL scoring records that season.

Spagnuolo said he blamed himself for much of the poor early-season performance of New Orleans’ defense, citing overly aggressive calls he made against two quarterbacks — Washington’s Robert Griffin II and Carolina’s Cam Newton — whose running ability can make blitzes backfire.

But Saints middle linebacker Curtis Lofton said Spagnuolo cannot be blamed entirely for blown assignments or missed tackles on the field.

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