After ripping through the Baltimore Ravens defense on Monday night, the New Orleans Saints still saw plenty of offensive shortcomings they will need to fix as they try to pull out of a stunning free fall.
New Orleans (4-7) gained 525 yards, the most Baltimore has allowed in any game since 1998, but the yardage did not translate into enough points. The Saints had 20 before scoring a meaningless touchdown with 40 seconds left in the 34-27 loss, their third in three weeks at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after winning 20 in a row there with coach Sean Payton on the sideline.
“I don’t think we necessarily played poorly,” offensive tackle Zach Strief said. “We’re just not finding ways to win. We’re finding ways to lose. It’s on us. There’s no excuses. We had two good games there where he could use the momentum and get rolling and we have done the exact opposite. To lose three at home is disappointing.”
Although Drew Brees finished 35 of 45 for 420 yards and three touchdowns against Baltimore, a few protection breakdowns proved pivotal. He was sacked four times — tying a season high set against Carolina — after being sacked just 12 times in the first 10 games. The Ravens forced a punt in the second quarter by getting to Brees twice in three snaps, including a third-and-long when outside linebacker Elvis Dumerville went in virtually untouched.
The Saints punted only once in the second half — after the Ravens registered sacks on back-to-back plays.
Brees’ lone interception, which safety Will Hill returned 44 yards for a touchdown to give the Ravens the lead for good in the third quarter, came when linebacker Terrell Suggs pressured him into a poor throw.
“That’s the play I was really mad about,” guard Jahri Evans said. “I gave up pressure on Suggs, and it resulted in a pick-six.”
The pressure on Brees was not the only cause for concern despite the Saints’ gaudy numbers. New Orleans pulled within two-tenths of a yard of Indianapolis for the NFL lead in yards per game (433.6). The Saints lead the league in first downs and third-down-conversion percentage.
Yet, the running game went next to nowhere against Baltimore for the second consecutive week. After managing 75 yards on 26 carries in a 27-10 loss to Cincinnati, the Saints had a misleading total of 126 yards on 21 rush attempts thanks to wide receiver Joe Morgan’s 67-yard gain on an end around.
Running backs Mark Ingram (11 carries, 27 yards) and Pierre Thomas (five carries, 19 yards) averaged 2.9 yards a pop against the NFL’s No. 5 run defense. When Ingram tried to leap over the top on fourth-and-goal from the 1 on New Orleans’ opening possession, he was stuffed for a 2-yard loss.
The recent struggles followed a stretch when Ingram surpassed 100 yards for three consecutive games.
“We just have to keep improving,” he said. “We can’t point fingers. We have to stay together and continue to get better. We are all confident in each other and trust each other.”
That confidence has not been evident in critical moments. For the second straight week, the Saints failed to score on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the first quarter. They settled for a field goal in the second quarter after getting a first-and-goal at the 5.
“There’s no magic answer to what’s happened,” Strief said. “We have to get this team into position where we believe in ourselves to make plays so that we can come out on top. When you have to throw the ball to come back, you are going to give up some pressures. That’s on us for coming away with three points on two drives inside the 5. You have an opportunity there to change the way that game was played at the end. It’s disappointing.”
The Saints appeared to catch a couple of tough breaks, too. Two plays before Brees’ fatal interception, Evans was flagged for holding, wiping out an 11-yard gain by Thomas to the Ravens 46. Evans said he had his hands on the defender’s chest and pushed him to the ground without holding, and Payton labeled it a “critical call.”
Justin Tucker drilled a 55-yard field goal to give Baltimore a 27-17 lead in the fourth quarter, making opposing kickers 21 for 21 against New Orleans.
Strief, though, was not buying the bad-luck argument.
“You make your own breaks,” he said. “We need to make the breaks happen for us, not expect them to happen.”