The Saints and quarterback Drew Brees were the main performers and the Dolphins the obvious understudies. The stage was the rowdy Mercedes Benz Superdome, and the result was a 38-17 loss for the Dolphins that can only be classified as a disaster on ESPN's "Monday Night Football."
Miami entered the game with a perfect record, but the Dolphins learned they are far from perfect.
There was not much the Dolphins did right in this game. And with each passing quarter, the gap between Miami and an elite title contender like New Orleans got wider and wider.
This loss was not a fluke -- it was an old-fashion beatdown. Miami's coaches and players know where they stand after this game and realize there is still plenty of work to do.
"You watched the game like everybody did -- and we played it," Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes said. "We saw that they were the better team. They were a better team today."
The Dolphins thought they were ready for prime time after their 3-0 start. Miami has not played on Monday night since its 38-24 loss to the New England Patriots more than two years ago. This loss to New Orleans was worse. It was, by far, Miami's sloppiest performance of the season. They played careless football for four quarters with little attention to detail. Miami turned the football over four times.
The Dolphins did not look like the same efficient and effective football team that we saw during the first three weeks. Neither did Ryan Tannehill. Miami's second-year quarterback threw for 249 yards and one touchdown but had the third three-interception game of his career. Tannehill also had a big fumble in the first half that started Miami's downhill slide.
Tannehill's protection also was not very good. Once the Saints got the lead, they unleashed the pass rush on Miami's one-dimensional offense and recorded four sacks. Tannehill has been sacked 18 times, which is tied for the most of any NFL quarterback after four games this season. About the only thing Miami did well offensively was run the football. But that was rendered obsolete after the Dolphins fell behind big in the second half.
The Dolphins will only go as far as Tannehill's arm takes them. This was a good lesson for Miami's starting quarterback, who fell to 10-10 in his young career as a starter.
"It doesn't matter if we lose by one or we lose by whatever we lost by, it's still counts as a loss and nothing more," Tannehill said. "We're not happy with it. We need to correct the mistakes."
Miami's ability was tested on Monday. But next week is when we truly learn about the Dolphins' character.
Coming off a short week of preparation, Miami will host the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens (2-2) at Sun Life Stadium. Not only are the Dolphins coming off their first loss, but they will be trying to recover from a three-touchdown pounding that could potentially shake their confidence. Miami has a much-needed bye the following week.
The Dolphins have a chance to go into the bye with a 4-1 record if they are able to quickly rebound from this embarrassing loss.
"I feel like we're going to learn and see about our character and what kind of guys we have in our locker room," Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace said. "I haven't been here long, but I feel like we have guys who are going to fight, we have guys who are going to compete and go back to work.
"I know tomorrow [Tuesday] when we get back to work, we're still going to compete like we're 4-0."
The Dolphins looked far from a 4-0 team Monday in New Orleans. But a 3-1 start in the first month of the season is pretty good for this young group, especially considering Miami's tough schedule.
Will the Dolphins bounce back?
"Honestly, I'm not [worried]," Grimes said. "It sucks. Nobody wants to lose like that. But I have full confidence in this locker room and this organization that can come back to the next game.
"We got a home [game], and just come back to playing Miami Dolphins-style football against the Ravens. That's what we're all thinking about right now."
Questions about the Dolphins might not linger if they had played a more competitive game. But being throttled by the Saints on national television shows there are a lot of flaws that need to be addressed.
"How you respond to the loss is more important than the loss," Dolphins right tackle Tyson Clabo said. "I think nobody is going to sit around feeling sorry for ourselves. We obviously have a lot of work to do."