When New Orleans converted three consecutive third downs to move to the Cincinnati 19 on its opening possession Sunday, no one in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome knew what was coming.
As it turned out, almost nothing was coming from the Saints offense in an embarrassing 27-10 loss that tied for the most lopsided home defeat under coach Sean Payton, matching a 31-14 loss to Tennessee in 2007.
The opening drive ended in a 31-yard field goal, and they did not score again until the fourth quarter, approaching lows for the nine-year Sean Payton era.
The three first-half points were their fewest since scoring three against Pittsburgh in a 20-10 victory on Halloween in 2010.
The Saints have scored three or fewer points entering the fourth quarter only six times in the Payton era, losing all of them.
The Saints’ 10 points were tied for the third fewest in Payton’s tenure, beating the seven the Saints managed against Carolina in 2008 and Seattle in 2013.
“We felt the importance of playing well early in the game was going to be significant,” Payton said. “We were able to get the first field goal but after that we really struggled getting off the field.”
With Cincinnati converting 9 of 13 third downs, New Orleans had the ball five times through three quarters.
For the second straight week, the Saints were booed as they left the field at halftime.
A Drew Brees interception into triple coverage at the goal line drew the fans’ ire against San Francisco. This time, the defense allowed a 62-yard run to Jeremy Hill when Cincinnati was trying to run out the clock. The Bengals called a timeout with one second left right after he was tackled at the 24, and Mike Nugent kicked a 42-yard field for a 13-3 lead.
The boos serenaded the Saints to the locker room.
“It’s poor football,” Payton said. “It’s situational football. It’s like stealing three points.”
Wide receiver Joe Morgan played for the first time since the season opener and caught his first pass, a 7-yarder for a first down on the Saints’ lone touchdown drive.
The Saints suspended him for two weeks for an unspecified reason before re-activating him this week.
In 2012, Morgan had 10 catches for 379 yards. He missed all of 2013 with a knee injury.
“It was exciting (to play) at the beginning, but the loss overshadows everything that happened,” he said. “At the end of the day it doesn’t mean anything at all.”
The NFL contradicted an ESPN report on Sunday that New Orleans could be in trouble for how it handled a roster move with backup linebacker Todd Davis.
New Orleans cut Davis from its 53-man roster Wednesday and hoped to place him on the practice squad, but he was claimed off the waiver wire by Denver on Thursday.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported early Sunday the NFL was gauging whether the team had “illegally stashed” Davis at the practice facility after waiving him. The Broncos were unable to reach him after claiming him off waivers, pushing back his arrival by a day.
“The Saints have been in compliance with league rules regarding (the waiver of) Todd Davis,” NFL spokesman Michael Signora said in an email to The Advocate.
Pro Bowl punter Thomas Morstead was not immune to New Orleans’ rough day.
With the Saints trailing 13-3 in the third quarter, he kicked a 25-yarder that went out of bounds at midfield and landed about 20 yards out of play. The Bengals then drove for a touchdown to go up 20-3.
“We always directional punt, but obviously that ball went significantly further left than I would like,” Morstead said. “It was obviously not what we were looking for, especially when the game was in the balance.”
The inactives for the Saints included wide receiver Robert Meachem, running back Pierre Thomas, running back Edwin Baker and running back Khiry Robinson, all with injuries.
Healthy scratches were guard Senio Kelemete, tackle Nick Becton and wide receiver Nick Toon.
The Saints have lost two in a row at home with Payton on the sideline for the first time since December of 2009, when they fell to Dallas and Tampa Bay after starting 13-0. They also dropped their first two home games in 2012 during Payton’s suspension. … Brees extended his streak of throwing a TD pass to 30 games. … Strange but true: New Orleans converted 8 of 13 third downs and did not have a turnover until Travaris Cadet fumbled with 1:54 left.