EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New Orleans Saints didn't screw up when they traded running back Chris Ivory to the New York Jets this offseason. They had an overcrowded backfield, and they got good value in return.
But letting Ivory run wild on them Sunday for 139 yards in a 26-20 loss to the Jets? That was unforgivable.
No team understands better than the Saints how dangerous Ivory can be when he busts loose into the open field.
Worse yet, the Saints (6-2) preached all week about how they needed to stop the run Sunday and force New York's erratic rookie quarterback, Geno Smith, to beat them. Instead, New Orleans let Ivory break gains of 52, 30 and 27 yards.
"We wanted to come out and shut down the run game and make them one-dimensional," Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "But we kept getting creased, giving up the big play. And we didn't really make the rookie quarterback do anything. Just hand the ball off."
The Saints didn't exactly channel former Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green's infamous, "They are who we thought they were!" speech in the postgame locker room. But they were clearly frustrated, because the Jets did exactly what they expected. And New Orleans simply failed to execute its plan on offense, defense or special teams.
Nothing nagged at the Saints more than the fact that they allowed New York to run for 198 yards -- 126 of them in the first half. In the process, they barely made Smith break a sweat.
Smith has been one of the NFL's most unstable quarterbacks this season, ranking second in the league with 16 turnovers (13 interceptions, three fumbles). Over the previous two weeks, Smith had thrown three interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.
But the Saints forced zero turnovers Sunday, while Smith completed eight of 19 passes for 115 yards.
"That's the frustrating part," said Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who made his 2013 debut after coming off the short-term injured reserve list. "You look at a team and you say, 'This is how they win their games, with a good running game, a quarterback being efficient, a good defense.' You try to make them play left-handed, and today we didn't do that. We didn't do that at all.
"Ivory had a very good game against us. Geno was efficient; he made plays when he needed to. And the [Jets'] defense played lights out."
The Saints' defense settled in during the second half. They allowed only three points and 67 total yards over the final 27 minutes. Saints defenders said they got "back to the basics" after trying some things that didn't work in the first half, such as run blitzes.
But it was too late on a day when the Saints' offense failed to hold up its end of the bargain.
In the first half, quarterback Drew Brees threw touchdown passes of 51 yards and 10 yards to tight end Jimmy Graham -- one of which was set up by a 60-yard pass from Brees to Robert Meachem. But Brees also threw two interceptions on tipped balls in the first half (one thrown behind tight end Benjamin Watson; one dropped by receiver Nick Toon).
Then in the second half, the Saints managed a total of just two field goals and went 1-for-7 on third downs. New York's disruptive defensive front overwhelmed the Saints' line in the second half, sacking Brees twice, forcing two holding penalties and one illegal blocking penalty.
Linebacker Quinton Coples said the Jets had focused all week on trying to get in Brees' face, especially in the B gap, where they know he likes to throw the ball. And they clearly disrupted Brees' timing, especially in the second half.
"That might have been our worst third-down output of the season, which is uncharacteristic of us," said Brees, who went back and forth between crediting the Jets for throwing them out of rhythm and saying the Saints shot themselves in the foot and missed opportunities. "We know there's gonna be more of these [hard-fought games] in the future. We Just need to make sure we right the ship."
New Orleans' most glaring missed opportunity came midway through the fourth quarter, when the Saints reached New York's 36-yard line before turning the ball over on downs, still trailing 26-17. Fullback Jed Collins dropped a pass on third-and-1. Then a trick play failed miserably on fourth-and-1 when tight end Josh Hill lost eight yards on an end-around.
The Saints didn't beat themselves up too much for that play. They thought the play would work, based on film study, but knew it was an "all or nothing" play and credited New York's defense for staying home.
The Saints were more upset about their sloppy play on offense for the second straight week. They had a total of seven offensive penalties for 49 yards, including two false starts and two delay of games. That affected their ability to stay balanced and run the ball.
And that, too, was unforgivable since coach Sean Payton had just ranted the previous week -- after a 35-17 victory -- that those are the kinds of mistakes that could cost the Saints.
"He warned us, and he was right," offensive tackle Zach Strief said. "I think one of the things coach Payton is so good at is identifying going into a week what you need to do to win a game. And you go down the list of things he harped on all week, and we did the opposite of every one of them.
"You can't turn the ball over, gotta have balance, gotta stop the run, gotta protect the quarterback. And we did none of them. And so it gets you beat, and we got what we deserved."