Saints off to worst start under Haslett

Updated: October 6, 2003, 7:01 PM ET

NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans Saints coach Jim Haslett was in new territory on Monday. Yet it seemed depressingly familiar.

New Orleans is 1-4, the worst start since Haslett became the coach in 2000. The last time the Saints started so poorly was 1999, when they finished 3-13 in the final year of the Mike Ditka regime.

After looking at the film of the 19-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers, Haslett saw a familiar list of problems: a defense unable to make a play on third down, an offense unable to score points and mistakes at crucial times.

"These games usually come down to four or five critical plays," he said. "They made them, we didn't."

The Saints' biggest mistake was on special teams. Rod Smart returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown that put Carolina up 10-3. Mitch Berger's kickoff was too low, giving it a three-second hang time. That meant the coverage unit didn't have time to get downfield. When they did get there, Haslett said, too many defenders were blocked to the ground.

"It was a poor kick to start with," Haslett said. "We never had a chance to get down field."

Add to that a turnover and seven penalties for 64 yards, and New Orleans wasted opportunities.

"When you make a few mistakes, a good team will take advantage of it, and that's what you saw out there," linebacker Orlando Ruff said.

The Saints pulled within 19-13 on John Carney's 26-yard field goal with 1:43 left. But an onside kick sailed out of bounds, giving the Panthers possession near midfield and killing the Saints' comeback hopes.

The Saints' defense held Carolina's offense to one touchdown, but could not stop Panthers' running back Stephen Davis, who ran for 159 yards and a 1-yard touchdown.

The Saints forced three punts in eight defensive possessions. In their last three losses, the injury-depleted defense has surrendered 10 touchdowns, six field goals and forced six punts in 29 defensive possessions.

Haslett watched jealously as Carolina substituted four players at a time on their defensive line, something he does not have the personnel left to do.

New Orleans' offense, which averaged 34 points a game last season, had only one touchdown against the Panthers.

Haslett and his players said they are not losing heart.

"A lot of us have not been in this situation," quarterback Aaron Brooks said. "We have to stay together as a team. There are going to be a lot of things going against us. We've got to continue to block out the distractions and the negativity. There's going to come a turning point when we get our breaks."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index