New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws a pass as he is pressured by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Jacquies Smith (56) during the first quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) turns up field away from New Orleans Saints middle linebacker Curtis Lofton (50) after a reception in the first quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
METAIRIE, Louisiana — New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton is promising change in the coming months, stressing that he hates losing and will look at "every element of the program" in an effort to avoid another sub-.500, non-playoff season.
"What is important is we are looking closely at ways to fix the things that kept us from winning games, and making sure that we are not fixing something that wasn't a part of the problem," Payton said. "We have to look closely at the teaching, the coaching. We have to look closely at the players."
The last time Payton failed to coach the Saints into the playoffs was 2008, the season before the franchise won its only Super Bowl. Since then, the only other time New Orleans missed the playoffs was 2012, when Payton was suspended the entire season in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation.
This season, New Orleans expected to be a contender, but wound up needing a second-half comeback at lowly Tampa Bay last Sunday to avoid the first 10-loss campaign since Payton arrived in 2006.
Payton stressed it was too early to specify any anticipated changes to the roster or coaching staff. He bristled at a question about second-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's ability to turn around a unit that ranked second-to-last in the NFL.
"Now is not the time for us to discuss a player or a coach or his future," Payton said.
Veteran players, including quarterback Drew Brees and right tackle Zach Strief, expressed confidence that their coach and general manager Mickey Loomis would take a methodical approach to the offseason.
"I don't expect a lot" of change, Brees said. "We've always been on the lower end of those. I think we have our core group here and we just kind of build in pieces around it."
Strief, a fellow offensive captain, said he was disappointed to miss the playoffs but doesn't see the Saints as an organization sliding into dysfunction.
"It's not like the world has ended and Sean doesn't know how to coach and Mickey doesn't know how to pick players," Strief said. "People want to hear the coaching is terrible, the players are terrible, the front office, because it gives them comfort in understanding why the season was so disappointing."
Some things to know about the Saints heading into the 2015 offseason:
OFFENSIVE ACUMEN: Payton still managed to field a league-leading offense. The Saints averaged an NFL-high 411.4 yards per game. The passing offense led by Brees, who'll be 36 next season, averaged 297.8 yards, ranking third in the league.
"The total offensive numbers were good. The turnovers were poor," Payton said, citing New Orleans' 30 giveaways. "It has not been about stats for us. It has been about wins and losses. ... There are some muddy hands in this (locker) room and they probably go across the board, not just on one side of the ball."
DEFENDING RYAN: Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, a defensive captain, was among a chorus of players expressing hope that Ryan, whose defense ranked fourth in 2013, would not become a victim of offseason changes after his 2014 unit slid to 31st.
"I don't want to play for another defensive coordinator. I think Rob's done a great job," Lofton said. "As a defensive coordinator, you can call the perfect call day in and day out; if the players don't execute it looks bad on you and that's what it was this year. So it's not Rob's fault."
ROOKIE REVIEWS: Before receiver Brandin Cooks went out with a forearm injury, the Saints got a lot of production out of last spring's first-round pick. He had 53 catches for 550 yards and three TDs. However, second-round pick Stanley Jean-Baptiste, a cornerback, was routinely scratched from the game-day lineup and hardly played.
CLOSE CALLS: Four Saints losses came by three or fewer points. Brees cited those games to back his conclusion that New Orleans, which finished a half-game behind Carolina (7-8-1) for first place in the NFC South, doesn't need a major overhaul.
Payton, however, had a more sobering outlook.
"Let's not kid ourselves. Yes, we were a play or two away from winning those games, and yet that repeated itself a handful of times," Payton said. "We're not just going to patch a few holes here."
TREND REVERSAL: The Saints started 3-0 at home and 0-4 on the road, only to lose their last five at home and win their last four outside the Superdome.
"The home and road thing really was more of a reflection of just the up-and-down inconsistencies of this team," Payton said.