Saints' defensive woes reach historic levels in loss to Patriots

NEW ORLEANS -- After making Sam Bradford look like Tom Brady in Week 1, you can only imagine how the real Brady fared against the woeful New Orleans Saints defense in Week 2.

In fact, Brady actually made some personal history in the New England Patriots' 36-20 blowout, setting career highs with 177 yards and three touchdown passes in the first quarter. Brady finished with 447 yards and three TDs as the Saints plummeted to 0-2 for the fourth straight year.

The Saints’ defense is making some ugly history of its own, too. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 777 passing yards allowed are the most allowed in franchise history through two games -- and the sixth most of any team since the NFL-AFL merger.

What it means: We knew the Saints were probably going to get torched by New England’s potent offense in this matchup -- even when the schedule came out in April.

But, man, things have been even uglier than expected for the Saints’ embattled defense so far this season -- especially considering how much optimism surrounded that unit after a strong preseason performance.

And to make matters worse, the Saints benched the guy who is supposed to be the veteran leader of their secondary, safety Kenny Vaccaro, who has struggled along with all the young players on a defense that is starting three rookies this year (CB Marshon Lattimore, S Marcus Williams and LB Alex Anzalone).

"Listen, we need to get more consistent play, and that dates back to last weekend," coach Sean Payton said of Vaccaro, whose status seems even more uncertain after he was the subject of reported trade rumors this week.

The Saints started out Sunday by allowing five straight third-and-long conversions (including a 53-yard touchdown to Rob Gronkowski and a 13-yard touchdown to a wide-open Chris Hogan). To make matters worse in the second half, they had two potential interceptions nullified by penalties, including 12 men on the field.

Add that to the Saints' starting last week’s game with only 10 men on the field, and their defense is a total mess right now.

The Saints have allowed more touchdowns (3) than incompletions (2) so far this year on pass plays of 15-plus yards, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

"It's two weeks in a row now where there have been too many quick-strike plays that make it difficult to play consistently," Payton said.

Lattimore leaves early: Lattimore, who was one of the few bright spots for the Saints’ defense Sunday, left early in the second half to be evaluated for a concussion. Obviously the Saints would like him to return as soon as possible, especially with veteran starter Delvin Breaux on injured reserve with a broken fibula for the first eight weeks of the season.

Lattimore, the Saints’ top draft pick, was off to a very good start Sunday, with at least two pass breakups while shadowing former Saints receiver Brandin Cooks. He appears to be a nice building block as the Saints begin trying to overhaul this defense for the umpteenth time in the Payton-Mickey Loomis era.

What I liked: Besides Lattimore, the Saints continued to show potency in their passing game -- which may serve them well against lesser opponents. Drew Brees threw for 356 yards and two touchdowns, though it was far from a perfect performance (see next item).

What I didn’t like: The defense is an obvious concern. So was the lack of a run game for the second straight week. But I’ll add in one more disturbing trend: There were times when it appeared that Brees wasn’t on the same page with second-year receiver Tommylee Lewis, rookie running back Alvin Kamara and newly signed veteran receiver Ted Ginn Jr. Some of that was because of pressure against the Saints’ banged-up offensive line. But it also shows that it’s not that easy for Brees to simply replace all of his veteran targets in the passing game (with Cooks now in New England and Willie Snead serving a three-game suspension).

"I wouldn't say we're out of sync. I would say that we've had some missed opportunities," Brees said. "And listen, I'll miss one every now and then. So unfortunately it's just been a little bit of everything at this point that has caused us to miss some opportunities."

Fantasy fallout: The Saints’ backfield time-share is still muddled. Mark Ingram had eight carries for 52 yards (aided by a late 28-yard gain) and four catches for 24 yards. Adrian Peterson had eight carries for 26 yards and no catches. And Kamara had one carry for 3 yards and three catches for 51 yards.

Ingram and Peterson should have better days if the Saints can get their run game going and stop playing from behind so much. But there is no doubt that Kamara will remain a big part of this offense and cut into their snaps. Kamara’s 38-yard catch down the field in the first half showed what kind of a dynamic difference-maker he can be.

What’s next: It doesn’t get much easier for the 0-2 Saints, with a trip to the rival Carolina Panthers in Week 3 -- followed immediately by a longer trip east to London to face the Miami Dolphins. New Orleans desperately needs at least one win of those two games to have any chance of turning the season around when the schedule lightens up after a Week 5 bye.