Photos: New Orleans Saints make comeback effort, but fall to 0-2 in 26-19 loss to Tampa Bay Buccaneers _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Henry Melton (90) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers middle linebacker Kwon Alexander (58) celebrate the recovery of fumble by New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) as New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) and New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson (82) stare in disbelief in the fourth quarter in the Superdome in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015.

If you’re a Saints fan, it may be time to reach into the top of your closet, push aside the unused ThighMaster and your old 8-track tapes and pull out that brown paper baggie you used to wear to the Superdome in the bad old days.

After Sunday’s 26-19 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you may need it when the Dallas Cowboys come riding into town in two weeks.

New Orleans is 0-2 for the second straight season, so this isn’t uncharted territory. But last year there was so much preseason hype and hope for the Saints, optimism’s momentum kept it rolling until New Orleans was eliminated from playoff contention.

This year in the Big Queasy, the sense of foreboding is so palpable that it’s sitting in the front row of the Plaza level wearing a Guido Merkens jersey.

“At this point, you’re 0-2, so the sky is falling,” said defensive end Cam Jordan, one of the few points of light in this total eclipse start to the Saints’ 2015 campaign. “If that doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what will.”

Linebacker David Hawthorne sounded a more hopeful note in the silent as the grave Saints’ locker room.

“It’s early,” he said. “Every year you have a stretch when you don’t do well. Ours has come early. We’re a good team. We have to find our niche.”

Unfortunately for the Saints, their niche is at the bottom of the NFC South, likely the weakest division in the NFL. From their sleeping-with-the-fishes perspective, there is a view that the Saints are already beyond repair, that this season is already over.

Yes, the road is long. And the ghost of George Halas may come and sprinkle pixie dust on Jairus Byrd and Keenan Lewis and make them healthy contributors at some point to help right what has started off so wrong. At least they finally got running back C.J. Spiller up and running.

But there’s no escaping some ugly facts about Sunday’s loss:

1. Tampa Bay is the team that got filleted at home last week 42-14 by the Tennessee Titans, led by a rookie quarterback, Jameis Winston, whose first pass last week was a pick six. Tennessee was so inspired it lost by two touchdowns Sunday to Cleveland.

2. Winston, who was 14-of-21 for 207 yards, wasn’t so much the engine of the Saints’ demise as was the Saints offense. New Orleans had five fumbles, losing two, and Drew Brees was intercepted once and sacked four times. There also were 10 penalties and a blocked extra point.

3. The Saints don’t have enough offensive playmakers. The immediate decision to call into question is the offseason trade of tight end Jimmy Graham to Seattle. I contend that Graham had become sullen after the team went to arbitration to deny his claim he should be paid like a wide receiver, but the fact remains the Saints are struggling to make the big downfield plays that for so long have been the heart of their offensive repertoire.

4. Speaking of Brees, his physical well-being may be the biggest worry. He came up shaking out his arm after being sacked early in the second quarter. Afterward his deep passes clearly lacked power, leading directly to an interception on an underthrown deep pass for Brandin Cooks.

Brees admitted, grudgingly, that his shoulder was the issue, then even more grudgingly admitted that his shoulder has bothered him dating to last season. It was telling that the Saints ran the ball so much as they tried to rally from their frightful 23-7 deficit entering the fourth quarter.

“Everyone’s dealing with something,” Brees said.

But everyone isn’t Brees, at least not in terms of what he means to this team.

If Brees is hurt to any degree, for all intents and purposes the Saints’ Titanic will have hit the iceberg. There is no serviceable Plan B if No. 9 can’t ably drive this offense forward. There aren’t enough good players around him to make up the difference to a winning degree.

Even if Brees is healthy, what kind of team are the Saints? They’re getting older and have had many of their recent draft picks and acquisitions turn to clay or simply fail to launch.

It’s a lot for a Saints fan to bear. Perhaps it would look better inside a paper bag.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.