METAIRIE — The silence in the locker room and on the plane back to New Orleans told Drew Brees all he needed to know about how dissatisfied the Saints were with their latest performance.

“It was very quiet,” Brees said Monday while describing the trip home from a stunning, and humbling, 31-21 loss to previously winless St. Louis. “That’s because we have a lot of guys who really care.”

Halfway through the season, the Saints (5-3) are in first place in the NFC South. They see themselves as a Super Bowl contender and would like the rest of the football world to see them as such.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think those two things are matching up right now,” Brees said.

“The truth hurts. We’ve lost two out of three and we’ve lost them in similar ways,” Brees added. “We’ve turned the ball over, which will get you beat. We haven’t been as balanced as we should be on offense, so that’s a matter of execution.”

Although Brees was brilliant in a 62-7 victory over hapless Indianapolis on Oct. 23, throwing more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four), that performance came between two losses in which he was intercepted a combined five times. The Saints also lost a fumble by Pierre Thomas against Tampa Bay and had a punt blocked in St. Louis.

Brees blamed himself for the interceptions against the Rams, saying he forced those throws. Then again, he might not have played so desperately if not for six drive-stalling sacks and a running game that managed only 56 yards.

Left tackle Jermon Bushrod said he was “in shock” after the game and described it as the worst loss the Saints have had since he joined the club as a rookie in 2007.

“It kind of felt like a nightmare,” he said. “We’ve got to refocus and put this tough one behind us ... because the more we harp on yesterday, the more it’s going to eat us up.”

Saints defensive players, meanwhile, berated themselves for giving up touchdowns instead of field goals when the Rams converted a blocked punt and interception into 14 points in the last two minutes of the second quarter to take a 17-0 halftime lead. Steven Jackson’s 159 yards rushing was another sore spot.

“We didn’t match their intensity,” Saints safety Roman Harper said. “We’ve got to respond better to adversity. At the end of the day, we’ve got to find a way to win that game, no matter how ugly it is or anything like that. We’re not supposed to lose yesterday like we did.”

Coach Sean Payton was up in the coaches’ booth for the second straight game since breaking his left leg.

While it did not seem to matter much against the Colts a week earlier, Payton acknowledged it was a little frustrating for him in St. Louis.

“You want to get the attention of a player, stress the emphasis of a situation or where you’re at in a game,” Payton said.

However, he also praised his staff’s handling of the team on the sideline and said his absence from field level had very little to do with the loss.

“That’s just a small piece to really what happens Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,” Payton said. “What we do for a living is really no different than a teacher. ... We work each week on a lesson plan, and our job is to motivate, our job is to improve and teach a subject, and then the test comes every Sunday.

“If you’re going to collect these grades, and the grades are more Cs and Ds ... then you feel to some degree as a teacher, you failed.”

Players also dismissed the notion that they were hindered by Payton coaching from upstairs.

“We shouldn’t need somebody to be in our faces all the time,” Bushrod said. “We just want to go out there and get the job done to the best of our ability, and that just didn’t happen."

Brees asserted that the Saints have already proved “in flashes” how good they can be.

“But we need to show consistency, so that’s pressure on ourselves,” Brees said. “This is facing a little adversity here.

“We know that we are not playing up to our potential on a consistent basis,” Brees added. “We know we’re a better team than what we showed on Sunday, and I think the good thing is the opportunity we have this week with Tampa coming here after we played them not too long ago (in) a tough loss. That still resonates with us. It’s a bad taste in our mouths. The only way to get it out is to go out and get a big win.”