PHILADELPHIA — Sometimes things deteriorate with such speed and force that it’s difficult to put into words exactly what happened.
Sometimes you just have to throw up your hands, gawk at the wreckage and move on.
As an observer, that might have been the only thing to do when walking out of Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.
This was a game the New Orleans Saints feasibly could have won. Coming into the game, it could be argued that they should have won. But by the time the 39-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was over, it instead felt like all hope for the season was balled up and tossed in the parking lot among the beer cans, litter and other remnants from pregame tailgates.
If you want to get specific, you could point at the four turnovers and lack of protection for quarterback Drew Brees. You also could gesture toward the 519 yards Philadelphia gained, its eight-minute edge in time of possession or its 5.5 average yards per carry. It probably also would be worth noting that the Eagles struggled in all of those categories in the first four weeks of the season.
But maybe it’s better to just point to the fact that even the Saints punter duffed two punts, illustrating the depths to which everything went wrong, and move on from there. What else is there to say? The Saints are 1-4 and play the Atlanta Falcons (5-0) on Thursday night. A realist looks at that game and realizes that things could quickly become worse.
And if things don’t turn around quickly, that “worse” could transform into a similar word to describe different aspects of the Saints: “The worst this, the worst that.” A pessimist might argue some things are already there.
But the funny thing is that the Saints don’t feel that way. They’re well aware of where the season stands.
“If we stop fighting, we’re going to have the No. 1 pick,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said.
Yet they still believe they have the right pieces and players to find a way out of this.
Maybe they have to feel that way. Maybe, if they don’t, there’s no other way to cope. But it seems genuine.
“That’s what I see about a lot of these guys here, man,” cornerback Delvin Breaux said. “They don’t give up.”
The issue Sunday wasn’t a lack of effort or a lack of fight. If there’s one thread to follow to the root of why things fell apart Sunday, it’s that New Orleans did not play complementary football.
Despite spending the week preparing for the pace at which the Philadelphia offense operates and preaching the importance of protecting the football and burning clock, the New Orleans offense didn’t its job to protect the defense.
The defense actually played well during the first half. Breaux and cornerback Brandon Browner intercepted Sam Bradford in the end zone twice — the first picks of the season for this defense — and New Orleans rode into halftime down a manageable 10-7.
But the unraveling began before halftime. Philadelphia was able to rack up 300 yards in the first half and possessed the ball longer than the Saints. Trying to keep up with the Eagles, who ran 45 plays during the first half to New Orleans’ 30, taxed the defense.
“They try to get you mentally weak, (take advantage of you) when you’re tired,” Vaccaro said. “They run the same plays, but you’re tired, so you don’t recognize them. They run the same thing out of a different formation. (Eagles coach) Chip Kelly is all about the mind and tricking you.”
When things began to unravel during the second half, the defense couldn’t figure out how to dig out of the hole. Communication fell apart. Players began pressing and were looking to turn things around in one play. All that did was toss more dirt on top of the defense.
By the time the Saints looked up, it was completely out of control — and it didn’t help that the offense continued on the same trajectory, turning the ball over three times in the second half.
“It was like less communication and stuff like that,” Breaux said. “Once we get in those tough situations, we got to keep doing the simple things like communicate, staying on the same page. That’s what I mean by lack of focus.”
While the Saints remain optimistic about their situation and believe things could turn around, they’re realistic about where they stand. Coach Sean Payton put it right in their faces after the game when he stood before the team and challenged the leaders to help them find a way out of this mess. He included the coaching staff and himself in the message.
The problem is the players are not sure what they can do differently. The players believe they’re putting in work, have good character and possess the talent to win.
It’s just not happening.
“We have great guys,” Brees said. “We have great leaders, and guys want to do the right thing; guys want to be great. So it’s frustrating when you’re sitting here at 1-4 saying we’re not getting the production out of that. We feel like we have the right pieces in place and it hasn’t come together yet, but it will.”
That’s similar to the message that has been coming out of the New Orleans locker room after each of the first four losses. This isn’t the same team that fell apart last year and rotted from the inside out. The players have character and are still together. That wasn’t the case last season.
And while they believe, they don’t expect everyone else to feel the same way. Words are words, and sometimes it’s hard to hear or believe messages of hope when the destruction sucks the air out of the room, as it did here Sunday.
This is a results league. It’s going to take results before fans and observers can buy in.
“Nobody cares about the feeling,” Vaccaro said. “There’s no moral victories in this league. Doesn’t matter what we say. It’s on the tape.”
The tape has to start looking better. There are moments in there. There were moments through the first four weeks, and there likely will be some positives to come out of this game.
But moments no longer matter. It’s about games, results and, ultimately, victories. Those have to start coming. If it’s not already too late, it soon will be.
And that, really, is the main thing to know about this loss. Nothing else matters except what happens next — unless, of course, things remain the same.