NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Saints and their fans waited 21 months for this 70,000-person reunion in the Superdome. And it was going pretty well with the home team leading 21-10 with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter.
“I’m just sorry to all the fans. Y’all came out, and y’all were electric,” Winston said. “We’re gonna get better -- I’m gonna get better -- to put on a better show for y’all.”
So what went wrong? Well that’s obvious. To blow an 11-point lead in seven minutes, you need everything to go wrong.
But what does this collapse mean for the Saints (2-2) as they head back on the road to play at the Washington Football Team in Week 5?
The defense didn’t shy away from any blame.
“We take a lot of pride in what we do for this team, so I think this was on the defense. I know this was on the defense,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said.
But I’m not going to dwell here too long, because the defense had been extremely reliable for the first 3 3/4 games of the season, not to mention the past four years.
I won't sugarcoat the mistakes. They gave up two one-play touchdown drives: a 52-yard pass from Daniel Jones to receiver John Ross in the second quarter and a 54-yard pass from Jones to running back Saquon Barkley with 6:52 remaining, when Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore allowed Barkley to break wide open behind him.
Rookie cornerback Paulson Adebo also struggled for the first time with breakdowns in coverage, which could make them consider a switch to veteran Bradley Roby.
In all, they missed too many tackles and gave up too many yards after catch, including Jenkins letting Kenny Golladay squirt loose for 28 yards on third-and-7 during the game-tying field goal drive in the fourth quarter.
They never sacked Jones, who threw for 402 yards, while getting rid of the ball quickly whenever he wasn’t in max protect.
So blame them all you want for this loss, and they deserve it. But feel confident in this unit going forward – especially when they get defensive tackle David Onyemata, defensive end Marcus Davenport and linebacker Kwon Alexander back from suspension/injuries in the coming weeks.
You could argue Winston and this unit played better Sunday, but they remain the much bigger question mark going forward.
Although Winston threw for a season-high 226 yards, including a season-long 58-yard pass to wide receiver Marquez Callaway (and a 46-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills that was nullified by a holding penalty in the third quarter), it’s fair to ask whether Sean Payton trusts Winston enough to fully open up the passing offense.
Once again, the Saints went for a run-heavy, control-the-clock approach with 39 rushing attempts and 26 pass attempts. Funny enough, their only turnover came when Taysom Hill took a turn at quarterback and threw a deep up-for-grabs interception in the third quarter.
Winston got hot for a stretch in the middle of the game, completing 12 straight passes (13 if you include the nullified touchdown). But the offense was too stagnant with zero points for the first 29 minutes or last 12 minutes of regulation.
“I thought [the passing offense] was pretty effective today,” Payton said. “We were able to get the ball down the field. We had one called back for a holding (penalty) that was a real good throw and catch. … I thought our third-down numbers were good. Our ball security overall was pretty good. Time of possession, running game. You know, if you looked at some of these numbers, you would say there are a number of positive things. But again, there weren’t enough.”
Payton took offense to the suggestion he got too conservative in the final nine minutes – and I agree with him. On one drive, the Saints called two run plays -- on second-and-3 and third-and-2 -- and got stuffed. But those calls made sense. On the next drive, they attempted three passes but got tripped up by a delay of game penalty.
It’s fair, however, to question whether this team is too conservative on offense in general since it ranked 31st in total yards and passing yards even before Sunday. That’s great when you’re winning – and they were a hair away from 3-1. But now that they’re 2-2, it feels like they’re walking a tightrope.
Yet another player who will eventually return from injury is kicker Wil Lutz – which is awfully important, considering replacement Aldrick Rosas has now missed three straight field goals, including a 58-yarder in the second quarter Sunday that Payton should’ve never attempted.
“At some point we gotta be able to kick a field goal,” Payton said. “But, look, hindsight, I would’ve punted.”
Payton let Rosas off the hook last week, taking the blame for attempting a 52-yard field goal in windy conditions at New England. This week it sounds like Payton might consider a change.
The Giants recovered two of their own fumbles – Ross in the end zone on his touchdown and Barkley on a run in overtime. Not to mention winning the coin toss in overtime.
Like I said, everything has to go wrong.
“This game can be frustrating, challenging, all of those emotions,” Payton said. “One of the things I said to these guys in the locker room: ‘Look, we can’t get that game back. It is what it is. We’re 2-2. Let’s make sure we get something from that game. In this league, I don’t care who you’re playing, if any team hangs around, they’re good enough to score points. Eleven points, that went away quickly didn’t it?’”