PHILADELPHIA – The New Orleans Saints are spiraling in the wrong direction at the wrong time.
They have now lost three straight for the first time since 2016, with their offense and defense both having their worst stretches of the season. And Sunday’s 40-29 flop at the Philadelphia Eagles was the ugliest of the three, since they trailed 33-7 heading into the fourth quarter.
Technically, the Saints (5-5) are still in line for the NFC’s seventh playoff seed because of tiebreakers. And they should get crucial players like running back Alvin Kamara and offensive tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk back from injuries soon.
But they have allowed themselves to get stuck in holiday traffic with a logjam of mediocre NFC wild-card contenders. There are now eight teams with five or six losses battling for the final two spots.
And now the Saints have to turn things around at a time when the schedule isn’t doing them any favors. They host the Buffalo Bills (6-4) on a short week on Thanksgiving night before hosting the Dallas Cowboys (7-3) the following Thursday.
“The urgency’s at an all-time high right now – as it was before [Sunday’s loss]. But it’s high for sure,” Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian said after he threw his first two interceptions of the season at Philadelphia, including a pick-six in the final minute before halftime.
“I think one [positive about our mindset] is no one is saying, ‘Hey, we’re dinged up.’ You know, it’s the NFL. The train’s moving. We’ll be ready to play Thursday,” Siemian said. “[Unlike most short weeks], I think a lot of us are looking forward to playing again quickly.”
The good news for the Saints is there's ample evidence that a better version of this team exists. They trounced the Green Bay Packers on a neutral field in Week 1, beat the New England Patriots convincingly on the road in Week 3 and outlasted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home in Week 8 – even after they lost quarterback Jameis Winston to a season-ending ACL tear in the second quarter.
And the Saints will be healthier soon. Kamara (knee), Armstead (knee/shoulder) and Ramczyk (knee) could all potentially be back as soon as Thursday. And QB/RB/WR/TE Taysom Hill should be able to provide more of his usual spark on offense after a foot injury limited his role Sunday.
But New Orleans’ offense has struggled even with all four of those guys on the field – including a nasty 27-25 loss at home to the hapless Atlanta Falcons just two weeks ago. (The Falcons have been outscored 68-3 since).
And as coach Sean Payton stressed, injuries weren’t his team’s only excuse in Philly.
“I don’t really want to talk about the injuries,” Payton said when asked how challenging the past two weeks have been. “I understand the question, it’s a good question. But there were a lot of things we did today that weren’t injury related.
“Obviously we didn’t do the things necessary to win in our league – pretty much in every phase.”
The defense’s performance in Philly was just as disturbing as the offense’s, considering they are mostly healthy on that side of the ball.
New Orleans’ defense has been downright dominant at times this year – and needs to carry this team if it plans to have any chance in December and January. But the Saints have now allowed opponents to average 29.25 points over the past four weeks (27.5 if you take away Sunday’s pick-six).
And for the second year in a row, New Orleans’ No. 1-ranked run defense had no answer for Philly’s dynamic rushing offense, led by quaterback Jalen Hurts' three rushing touchdowns. The Eagles ran for 242 yards after running for 246 against the Saints last December -- by far the two highest totals New Orleans has allowed in the past five years.
Buffalo’s Josh Allen doesn’t run quite like Hurts, but he is one of the league’s most mobile quarterbacks. And the Saints will have a pivotal showdown against the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton later this season.
Safety Marcus Williams, who made two outstanding hustle plays while the Saints tried to rally against Philadelphia, said the team has stayed positive throughout the losses.
“We never get our heads down too much thinking about losing, we just think we’re gonna come back and win,” Williams said.
And running back Mark Ingram II insisted that won’t change heading into Thursday night.
“We know that if we play a game like we’re supposed to play, it’s hard for us to be beat,” Ingram said. “We believe in each other. We know we have the guys that are capable of going out there and making plays.
“But you can’t take turns making mistakes. You can’t keep taking turns -- offense making a mistake, defense making a mistake, penalty, one individual makes a mistake. You have to be collectively all-in together, and that’s what helps you turn this thing around.”