LONDON — Get to London early in the week, bond as a team, then try to snap a losing streak.
New Orleans Saints coach Dennis Allen has been here before, in 2014 when his then-Oakland Raiders lost 38-14 to the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium.
They slipped to 0-4 and it was their 10th straight loss overall. Allen was fired the next day.
The Saints (1-2) arrived on Monday to the British capital and brought with them a banged-up quarterback and a two-game losing streak as they prepare to play the Minnesota Vikings (2-1) on Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the NFL’s first international game this season.
Allen — in a far less dire predicament this time — says he’s right where he wants to be.
“I enjoy being in this environment. I enjoy getting away with the football team and really getting a chance to just spend a week, 24 hours a day really focusing on football,” he said. “That’s good for all of us.”
A sluggish start wasn’t in the playbook — in coach-speak Allen is “off schedule” — for a team that reached the playoffs in four of the past five seasons under his former boss, Sean Payton.
“Winning cures a lot of things,” said Allen, whose head coaching record is 9-30.
The Vikings — like the Dolphins eight years ago — scheduled a Friday arrival.
SAINTS QB CONCERNS
Jameis Winston was held out of practice all three days and listed as doubtful to play because of a back injury that has plagued him all season. If he can’t play Sunday, backup Andy Dalton is the likely choice and has been taking first-team reps in practice. Tight end/quarterback Taysom Hill is another possibility.
Winston has said he’s preparing to start, and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael said the eighth-year QB has been at least getting “the mental reps” by watching film and being in meetings.
“It was a little similar last week except he was able to get out (to practice),” Carmichael said Thursday.
Dalton, a former starter in Cincinnati, was signed in the offseason and is now with his fourth team in four years.
“Our whole quarterback room, we’re very confident in,” tight end Adam Trautman said. “(Dalton) is a guy who’s done it for a very long time and has done it at a very, very high level.”
FIGHTING JET LAG
While the Saints left early, the Vikings wanted to stick to their regular schedule and time zone as much as possible this week so they decided to fly overseas on Thursday evening after practicing at their own facility. Their plan was to prepare the players to sleep as much as possible on the plane, offering melatonin and eye masks and dimming the lights right after takeoff, with the goal of keeping everyone awake upon arrival on Friday morning and getting a full night of sleep in London on Friday night.
“The longer you’re over there, the more you have to put out fires, right?” executive director of player health and performance Tyler Williams said.
Saints kicker Will Lutz votes for an early arrival, saying Wednesday: “I can’t imagine playing a game in three days right now.”
In 2017, the Saints spent the week in London before beating Miami 20-0 after the Dolphins arrived on Friday.
In addition to dealing with his injury ,Winston reported Wednesday that he’s trying to adjust to the time change by using meditation and “hopping in a hyperbaric chamber.”
CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF
Vikings safety Harrison Smith passed his post-concussion tests and returned to practice this week after missing last week’s game. His return will be a big boost to an otherwise-young secondary, facing a Saints team that’s eighth in the NFL in passing with an average of 261.3 yards per game.
Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith was questionable to play with a knee injury.
Running back Dalvin Cook has a shoulder injury, but fully practiced Thursday and Friday. Alexander Mattison is at the ready to be the main ball carrier if Cook can’t play or is limited.
“It helps our offense to know that Alex is in there and can handle not only the run game, but protections and can do so much for us, and we don’t have to skip a beat,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “So it’s a big asset.”
The Saints are trying to start games with a heightened sense of urgency after struggling to score in the first three quarters in each of their first three games.
Of the 51 points New Orleans has scored this season, 38 have come during fourth quarters. The Saints have yet to score a second-quarter point and have a grand total of three third-quarter points.
Left tackle James Hurst said getting early leads can have some advantages that the Saints have yet to enjoy this season.
“It affects your confidence, your mindset. I’m sure it affects play-calling,” Hurst said. “The first three games of the season, in the fourth quarter we’ve been throwing the ball, trying to catch up. No offense wants to be like that, even the best passing offense.”
The Saints could be without starting wide receiver Michael Thomas (foot) against Minnesota. He wasn’t ready to return to practice by Thursday.