BALTIMORE — Ten thoughts plus one from a night when the Saints were definitely less than a perfect 10:
1. The defense is hurting.
And we’re not just talking about Dannel Ellerbe, Brandon Browner and Delvin Breaux all leaving the field in the first half with injuries that hopefully are not as bad as they looked.
Breaux, for one, said he was fine after the Ravens’ 30-27 win on Thursday night.
But the starters getting pushed down the field for 80 yards on a drive, when longest play is Joe Flacco’s 17-yard scramble, is not the way to start the preseason.
Saints coach Sean Payton said it put a sour mood on the whole night, one that it took the reserves rallying to shake, although Payton was also miffed that the Ravens came back to win at the end.
Cornerback Keenan Lewis agreed about the poor start.
“Definitely,” he said. “You can’t give up 80 yards on the opening drive like that. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and fix it. But it’s training camp and things happen. We’ll be all right.”
2. Poor attention to detail
Mental mistake and otherwise avoidable penalties get Sean Payton’s goat as much almost as much as being asked about injuries.
That’s why Anthony Spencer lining up offsides on 3rd-and-5, giving the Ravens a free first down, a false start by Jahri Evans after the Saints had just called timeout, and a defensive holding call against Brian Dixon on the Ravens’ second TD are going to be brought up in film study. Spencer, who was flagged again in the third quarter, and Evans have 19 years of experience between then. Inexcusable.
Even more inexcusable — 16 penalties for 143 yards, which more than offset the Saints 2-0 turnover margin.
Lots of stuff to fix there.
3. Khiry Robinson rocks!
Lost in the talk about the 1-2 punch Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller bring is the fact that Robinson does everything well — runs for tough yardage and catches passes.
His 29-yard run and 24-yard TD pass reception in the TD drive just before halftime were reminders of what we saw last year before he suffered a midseason arm injury.
His five touches averaged 14.4 yards. Put the ball in that man’s hands some more!
4. Missing Jimmy Graham much?
It’s not fair to compare, but starter Ben Watson was not targeted during his two series. However, Josh Hill who had been invisible during training camp, did what he did best late in the half — getting downfield for a deep middle reception that gained 25 yards.
The Saints are not going to get the 1,099 yards and 11.5 TDs Graham averaged over the past four years, but they need at least half that much.
5. Brandin Cooks!
We only got to see him for 10 games last year, but what was obvious then still stands — the 2014 first-round draft pick can fly.
On the TD catch called back because he stepped out of bounds, Cooks accelerated past the Ravens defender who looked mesmerized by his speed.
More importantly, his 28-yard TD catch came on a screen pass. Cooks did not do well with yards after catch as a rookie. But he was impressive weaving his way through the Baltimore defenders on that one.
6. The kicking wars
No leader in the clubhouse yet.
Zach Hocker did miss a 50-yarder on his first try, but he came back to connect from 47 and 50 make his extra point from the new distance and put his three of kickoffs in the end zone.
Dustin Hopkins didn’t get a chance for a field goal, but he also had touchbacks on his three kickoffs and hit both of his PATs.
7. Who’s No. 2?
Luke McCown is still the eventual likely winner of the backup battle, but Ryan Griffin is going to make it close.
Maybe it’s because the former Tulane player knows there’s no roster spot for him as the No. 3 man this time because of the drafting of Garrett Grayson, but impressed in the two-minute drill before halftime and managed things well in the third quarter.
At the least Griffin is going to put himself in position for someone else to sign.
8. Did you notice?
Rookie free agent Travaris Barnes was in on goal-line situations. That’s the way to fight for a roster spot. Kenny Phillips, fighting to come back from an injury that has kept him off the field since 2012, had four tackles including one for a loss.
It’s hard to pay attention in the second half, but rookie CB Damian Swann impressed by jumping the route for an interception. Creating turnovers a much-needed commodity for this team.
“We talk a lot about confidence,” Payton said of the two interceptions. “But until you demonstrate on the field in the moment you do something, you just hope you can and you think you can.
“It was important to those guys.”
10. Unless they meet in the Ravens in the Super Bowl (hey, anything’s possible), Thursday was the final time the Saints had to play against Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith, who announced his retirement at the end of season earlier this week.
In 24 regular-season games against the Saints dating to 2001, 23 of the when he was at Carolina, Smith had 103 receptions for 1,582 yards and 11 touchdowns, second only to Jerry Rice’s 147-2025-14.
Smith had one catch for 3 yards Thursday.
11. The Saints lost.
Repeat after me again: It’s only preseason.