NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints didn’t lose their season opener because they are without suspended coach Sean Payton.
Same for suspended assistant head coach Joe Vitt.
It's well known that when Payton was leaving the team's facility to begin his suspension he had a parting message for his players: "Do your job."
The Saints didn’t even come close to doing their jobs against the Redskins. Payton's system and the rest of his assistant coaches remain intact, but the players failed to follow a proven formula for success.
The Saints had three turnovers, were penalized 12 times for 107 yards and let the Redskins dominate time of possession. The Redskins had the ball for 39 minutes, 10 seconds. The Saints had it for 20:50.
"That's not us," quarterback Drew Brees said. "That’s not how we play."
Not even close. The Saints had every reason to come out and start quickly as they try to use their turbulent offseason as motivation. Instead, they started slowly and ended up losing in a building where they went undefeated last season.
They looked out of sorts on offense. Brees was 24-of-52 for 339 yards and three touchdowns, but was intercepted twice, sacked twice and pressured many other times as the offensive line turned in one of its worst games in recent years.
False starts were common on a day when penalties really cost the Saints. New Orleans was 2-for-11 on third-down conversions.
"That's about as bad as you can be," Brees said. "It was because of the third-and-longs."
In large part because they often were pushed back by penalties, the Saints pretty much abandoned the ground game. They rushed only 10 times for 32 yards, and Darren Sproles, who set a league record for all-purpose yardage last season, didn't even get a carry.
"You're not going to run the ball when you get 12 penalties," interim head coach Aaron Kromer said.
In the past, Payton always has preached the importance of being smart and precise. The Saints were neither. In fact, one moment summed up the day for the Saints. It came with 6:22 remaining in the third quarter.
Guard Ben Grubbs had his shoe knocked off. He tried desperately to get it back on and tie it. But the play clock was running down, and Brees was forced to call a timeout that could have come in very handy as the Saints tried to rally in the final minutes.
Still, despite all the sloppiness on offense, the Saints scored 32 points. That's enough to win a fair amount of the time.
"Today was frustrating because our fans deserved more," Kromer said.
The fans and the Saints got even less from their defense. Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III played like a veteran, completing 19-of-26 passes for 320 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Griffin also finished with a 139.9 passer rating.
It's tempting to blame the loss on Payton’s suspension. But think about this: Payton wouldn’t have been able to slow Griffin. Payton is an offensive-minded coach who went out and made a significant move to try to improve his defense long before he got suspended.
Defense was a problem in last season’s playoff loss to San Francisco, and Payton immediately let defensive coordinator Gregg Williams leave. Payton then hired Steve Spagnuolo, who comes with a reputation for building stout defenses.
What Spagnuolo and the Saints put on the field Sunday was anything but stout. Even though the Saints caught a break Friday when defensive end Will Smith's four-game suspension was overturned (at least temporarily), the Saints weren’t able to put much pressure on Griffin. The secondary, playing without injured cornerback Jabari Greer, also struggled.
"Whenever you lose the turnover battle and have over 10 penalties, it’s hard to win a game," safety Malcolm Jenkins said.
The run defense was just as bad. Washington ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns.
"They did the things we expected," Kromer said. "That’s the hard part."
The Saints knew what they had to do and what to expect, but they simply didn’t do their jobs.
Although Payton will be gone for the rest of the season, the Saints better start listening to his words. Otherwise, they could be in for a long season.
"In no way are we feeling defeated," Jenkins said.
Numerous Saints pointed to last season’s opener. The Saints went up to Green Bay and lost. They still ended up winning 13 games.
They can do it again. The talent is there, and the system is in place. The Saints simply need to get back to playing Payton’s way.
"We have to be better than that," Brees said. "And we’re going to be better than that."