When the New Orleans Saints walked off the field Sunday, there was still a flicker of playoff hope left for them since the Carolina-Cleveland game wasn’t over.

But even though Saints coach Sean Payton said he found out about the Panthers’ prevailing 17-13 to end his team’s playoff hopes, the players did not seem to know until told by the media.

None admitted to scoreboard watching during the game, although the score was included in the ones being displayed on the scoreboard.

“(Carolina) won?” outside linebacker Junior Galette said. “Well, we can’t do anything about that, I guess.

“I can’t even think about that now. Losing just sucks overall.”

Cornerback Keenan Lewis said: “I didn’t even know. That’s news to me.

“We weren’t paying any attention.”

Quarterback Drew Brees, who always addresses the media last, said he was told as he entered the interview room.

“It’s disappointing to know that with two games left we controlled our destiny,” he said. “Now we’re not able to do that.

“It’s very disappointing.”

First-down woes

A big part of the Saints offensive problems through the first three quarters was the team’s inability to generate much positive yardage on first down.

In the team’s 18 first-down situations, Mark Ingram got the call eight times but totaled only 23 yards, a 3.8 average, part of his 13 carries for 38 yards.

But the Saints were even worse using others. The other 10 first-down plays netted only 18 yards with four incompletions.

“We found ourselves in a lot of third and mediums or longs,” Payton said. “We had a few runs, but not the consistency.”

Third-down silence

For the first time this season, the siren that has been heard whenever the opposing team faced third down was not used.

Team spokesman Doug Miller said the decision was made to try to change things up a bit since the team ranked 24th in the league in third-down defense at 45.4 percent.

The change worked at first with the Falcons failing to convert on their first four third-down situations. But they edfinish 7-15, 47 percent, slightly better than teams had been faring when the siren was in use.

Moving on up

After being shut out in the first half, Saints receiver Marques Colston caught six passes for 80 yards in the second. Colston has 664 career receptions, moving him past Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome for 50th place in league history. Colston’s 9,188 yards ranks 52nd on the NFL career list.

Playing keep away

With Devin Hester returning kicks for Atlanta, the Saints were determined not to let him do much damage to them, and they succeeded.

Thomas Morstead’s first punt was a 63-yarder, downed at the Falcons 6. His next was returned by Hester for 10 yards but was negated by a holding penalty.

Morstead’s final two punts resulted in a fair catch and Hester being pushed out of bounds for no gain.

Morstead’s 50-yard average on punts was his best since the opener at Atlanta.

Hester did have returns of 25 and 24 yards on Morstead first two kickoffs, but the third one went out of the end zone for a touchback.

Worth repeating

“Without a doubt, it’s the worst feeling you can get as a quarterback,” — Brees on his emotions after the interception and return to the Saints 13 by Robert McClain with 2:28 left that basically secured the victory for the Falcons.

Lagniappe

Jalen Saunders’ 99-yard kickoff return to open the game was the first of his NFL career. Saunders had his first pass reception, good for a 7-yard gain in the second quarter. Offensive tackle Terron Armstead missed the game with a neck injury he suffered in the Chicago game and was replaced by Bryce Harris. It was the third career start for Harris, but his first this season. It was the first game missed this season by Armstead. … The Saints healthy inactives were wide receiver Sentavius Jones, cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, running back Travaris Cadet, linebacker Moises Fokou and nose tackle Lawrence Virgil. It was the first time this season Cadet was inactive. … Brees’ touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham extended Brees’ streak of games with at least one to 35. … The loss to the Falcons marked the first time the Saints have been swept by Atlanta in the Payton era. The Saints are 13-5 against the Falcons under Payton. … The Saints trail the series 43-48.