Ladies and gentlemen, your first-place New Orleans Saints.
That’s about the only good thing left that can be said about this team after Sunday’s 27-10 loss to Cincinnati on Hall of Fame Day in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a performance that ranks among the most uninspired, home or away, of the Sean Payton era.
Some of the old-timers from the really bad Saints teams of yore who were present probably joined the majority of fans and left early, wishing they could have done so back in the day.
I’m guessing even Hall of Fame inductee Aaron Brooks booed ’em — and then grinned about it.
“I’m not able to say anything
about this right now,” one fan said as he exited the building. “And when I am, you can’t print it.”
Even that shared spot with Atlanta atop the NFC South comes with the qualification that, if the playoffs began next week, the Dirty Birds would represent this wretched representation of teams.
Playoffs? Playoffs? Are you kidding me?
The team many picked to win the Super Bowl is 4-6 — and not just trending downward but skidding toward oblivion.
A team that was asking itself “What happened?” after four losses when one play going the other way at the end would have changed the result is now wondering “What’s happening?” with no answers in sight.
“We prepared really, really hard,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “There’s no solution after that. That’s the worst — when you don’t know what to do.”
Vaccaro’s just a second-year guy and is prone to hyperbole. But guard Jahri Evans is a five-time Pro Bowler and one of the voices of calm and reason on the team. He didn’t like what he saw Sunday, either.
“Maybe I’ve had too many shots to the head, but I can’t really remember one like this,” he said. “We practice on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday to come out here and win the game. We don’t put in that kind of work and then think that no matter what happens we’ll still win the division because it’ll all work out at the end. But today, not one phase picked up the other phase.”
How bad was it Sunday?
- Drew Brees completed 33 of 41 passes, regaining his spot as the most accurate quarterback in NFL history. But those 33 completions netted just 255 yards, 7.7 per completion compared with the 11 he had going in. You get first downs with 11. You don’t with 7.7.
In fact, Brees’ longest completion — 17 yards to Marques Colston in the fourth quarter, when things had been decided — was the “shortest” long pass of his 137 games as a Saint.
- Cincinnati was 9 of 13 on third-down conversions, and two of those failures came in the closing minutes.
Three times in their opening possession, the Bengals converted on third-and-8. In the second half, they moved the chains with 11 and 18 yards to go.
Coming into Sunday, Cincy was 28th in third-down conversions at 35 percent, including going 3 of 17 in last week’s loss to Cleveland.
- After the loss to San Francisco, Brees vowed to eliminate the turnovers that killed the team in its earlier losses.
The Saints managed to do that, at least until their final snap, but with a game plan so conservative that Red Staters around the country stood up and cheered.
Of the team’s 29 first down situations, it was a Mark Ingram run 14 times (including 13 in the first three quarters), five passes for Ingram and 10 passes to others.
Those 14 first-down carries by Ingram netted 46 yards — 3.3 per carry. Only two picked up more than 4 yards. That’s not the way to start a series.
- Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who had a QB rating of 2 against the Browns — they give you 1 for putting on your helmet — when he went 10 of 33 for 86 yards, was 16 of 22 for 220 yards, three touchdowns and a career-best 143.9 QB ranking.
He didn’t throw an interception, was sacked only once (the Bengals scored anyway) and twice ran for first downs.
“We should have contained him better,” Saints defensive end Cam Jordan said.
- The Saints got one Brandin Cooks punt return for 4 yards. Cooks is now averaging 3.5 yards on 10 returns with 15 fair catches.
Adam Jones, of the Bengals — who knew he was still in the league? — had one punt return for 9 yards and averaged 37 on two kickoff returns, while Cincinnati’s Mike Nugent didn’t allow a return off his five kickoffs.
Those are just the numbers. They can’t reflect the malaise that somehow has overtaken a team that seemed so talented and so motivated to win it all.
They haven’t had a dominating performance other than the second half against Green Bay, which more and more seems like an outlier.
With a rested Baltimore team coming in for next Monday night’s game and a trip to Pittsburgh before the supposedly “easy” December part of the schedule finally arrives, there’s little reason to see change coming.
Even Brees seemed befuddled.
After praising the Bengals’ effort, he laughed and said, “What’s funny or not so funny, is that that’s the way we beat people — with that kind of efficiency, with that kind of tempo, with those big plays, with that balance, with that momentum, with that stay on the field and convert third downs. All of a sudden, the roles are reversed.”
But cornerback Keenan Lewis, who did his best to stay on the field with a bad leg but realized he couldn’t, put it best.
“We’re not where we need to be,” he said. “But it is what it is, I guess.”