METAIRIE, La. (AP) - Drew Brees is facing many of the questions he hoped to avoid.
A sputtering start for a normally prolific offense will do that, particularly on the heels of a scandal.
Still, the Saints' star quarterback confidently predicts that he and the rest of his unit will soon resemble the NFL-leading force they've been for most of the past six years - even if Sean Payton's bounty suspension will prevent the head coach from correcting mistakes made in a season-opening upset loss to Washington.
"It's not any coach's fault when you have a holding penalty or when you have a (false start) penalty," Brees said, referring to three holding penalties and three false starts. "That's just execution by the guys that are on the field. There's ways that I can improve that. There's ways that the guys up front can improve that. There's ways that everyone on the offense can improve that. It has nothing to do with coaching and who was or wasn't there.
"Sean brings a lot. So not having him, you can certainly say, 'Hey, you're missing Sean. But you've got so many other great strengths with the guys that you do have, and we're going to manage."
While the Saints are resolved not to let one lousy game define them, they understand the timing, location and nature of Sunday's loss made it ripe for deconstruction in the context of the bounty scandal and the resulting season-long suspension of Payton, who designed the offense.
Brees' completion rate was 46 percent, his lowest since late 2006. It was the Saints' first home loss in more than a year.
Add the fact that the 33-year-old Brees held out during New Orleans' entire offseason program before signing a five-year, $100 million contract in July, and there were all kinds of built-in excuses for why the offense would stumble out of the gate.
"We're not in the business of making excuses," Brees said. "Obviously, that's been something that has been talked about a lot during the offseason, during the preseason. In fact, I think it's maybe made too much of a big deal of. For us, it's the guys in our locker room, it's the coaches that are there. Let's take what we've got, move forward. We've built a foundation here. We know how to prepare. Let's focus on the process and know that's a winning formula for us."
The Saints play next at Carolina on Sunday, with the loser dropping to 0-2.
Carolina coach Ron Rivera isn't about to assume that New Orleans' opening day struggles with penalties, three-and-outs and turnovers will carry over to Week 2. Rivera seemed more concerned by the fact that the Saints still managed to score 32 points and that Brees finished with 339 yards and three TDs.
"Even though he didn't play as well as he typically does, he's still throwing for over 300 yards," Rivera said of Brees. "It's a matter of a guy making a play here and making a play there. They have a couple of drops that these guys typically make catches on. I think they're a little rusty. We'll say they worked themselves into game shape and you're talking about probably one of the most prolific offenses in the league."
Added Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson, "You can ever doubt Drew Brees because he'll bounce back. He's a solid quarterback, probably one of the best of the game. He can make plays any time."
Interim head coach Aaron Kromer's message since the loss has been to point out that the defending champion New York Giants went 9-7, needing to win their last regular season game just to make the playoffs, before making their Super Bowl run.
With that in mind, Kromer has been calling the day after the opening game "overreaction Monday."
"Every team that won was crowned a Super Bowl champion and every team that lost wasn't going to make the playoffs," Kromer said. "We know that is far from the truth."
Tight end David Thomas described Brees' temperament this week as "disappointed," but said the quarterback was focused mostly on Carolina and not letting the bitterness of the opening loss linger.
"It's important to keep everything in perspective," Thomas said. "Every game is important, but at the same time, win or lose, you have to move."
Right tackle Zach Strief, an offensive captain, said his unit has become accustomed to tuning out criticism and praise alike.
"We can't listen to the doom and gloom because, to be perfectly honest, if we put up 50 points, they'd be calling us the greatest offense in history again and it wouldn't matter this week, either," Strief said. "So it works both ways, and as players your job is to have a consistency in your approach, your work ethic and your preparation, and to have faith that what you're doing is the right thing."
Notes: Kromer said LB Jonathan Vilma appears to be in good shape as he continues to rehabilitate his left knee, and that the hope is he'll be ready to play when he comes off of the physically unable to perform list after the sixth game of the season. That, of course, would change if Vilma is facing a new bounty suspension by then. ... The Saints re-signed WR Greg Camarillo and placed WR Adrian Arrington (right knee) on injured reserve. ... DE Turk McBride (left ankle), WR Devery Henderson (concussion), Johnny Patrick (right thigh) did not practice. ... LB Scott Shanle (right knee) and CB Jabari Greer (groin) were limited.
AP Sports Writer Steve Reed in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.
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