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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans safety Kenny Vaccaro shows no interest in defending the Saints' performances in their first two games by pointing out how close they came to winning.
That fact that New Orleans led both games in the final 10 seconds of regulation, and lost each by a field goal or less, is of little solace.
"Honestly, a loss is a loss. I don't care what the points are," Vaccaro said Monday, a day after the Saints' 26-24 loss in Cleveland. "As a secondary I feel like we played terribly these last two weeks and it doesn't feel like (the losses) have been by a combined five points, I'll tell you that."
The Saints will try to capture their first victory this Sunday, when they play the Minnesota Vikings in the Superdome, where New Orleans went undefeated a season ago. But while the comforts of home should help, the Saints may be without running back Mark Ingram, who gained 104 yards from scrimmage in Cleveland and scored his third touchdown of the season.
A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that Ingram has a broken hand, and the timeline for his return is unclear. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Saints have not disclosed the injury.
Coach Sean Payton declined to discuss Ingram's health on Monday, saying he'd follow his usual policy of not releasing any injury information until the next NFL-required injury report, which this week is Wednesday for New Orleans.
"He ran really well yesterday. I thought he played hard," Payton said when asked about Ingram. "We will evaluate where he is at, but nothing today with specifics in regards to any of these guys with injury."
In the meantime, there are myriad matters bothering Payton beyond Ingram's playing status.
Payton said he and his staff are working this week to address an apparent lack of situational awareness that led to avoidable breakdowns on offense, defense and special teams.
He called it "the one thing that is most disappointing."
As examples, he cited not only blown pass coverage assignments by the defense. On offense, mistakes included running back Pierre Thomas' failure to recognize linebacker Karlos Dansby's blitz on a third-down play in the fourth quarter. Dansby sacked Brees, taking New Orleans out of field goal range.
On special teams, Patrick Robinson was offside on a missed field goal. Cleveland got a second chance from closer in and converted.
The Saints made similar mistakes in their Week 1 overtime loss at Atlanta as well, Payton said.
"We've got to look closely at being prepared for those things and being smarter in those situations," Payton said. "That is the one thing that has stood out now — two weeks in a row."
Payton was also bothered by the fact that many of the mental errors occurred before the snap.
"It's critical that guys know where to be and what to do," Payton said. "Those are things that we need to clean up in a hurry."
Robinson had difficulties beyond his offside penalty. He was beaten on several key Cleveland completions, including Miles Austin's touchdown in the first quarter. Late in the first quarter, Robinson was moved to the nickel back position and replaced at cornerback by Corey White, but fellow cornerback Keenan Lewis insisted that it wasn't fair to single out Robinson when other cornerbacks are routinely beaten by top receivers for more yardage and more touchdowns in a given game.
"As a teammate I think he's one of the best, so we'll keep rooting for him and keep pushing him and helping him and hope he can play well," Lewis said.
For Vaccaro, frustration stems from his belief that the Saints' secondary is an exceptional one — too good to blow assignments with games on the line, as they did in the final seconds at Cleveland.
The Browns were on the Saints' 39-yard line with 13 seconds left when quarterback Brian Hoyer found receiver Andrew Hawkins uncovered at the 11, setting up the winning kick. The Saints were blitzing when Hawkins caught the ball on the side of the field where Lewis and White were in coverage.
"We busted a play. We lost the game. It's that simple," Vaccaro said. "It would have been different if the guy had made a great catch and we were all there and everything was perfect, but we didn't execute and we lost."
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