Los Angeles – The New Orleans Saints lost their starting quarterback.
Then, they lost a critical, defensive touchdown.
Then, they lost the game, 27-9 to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday at L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
They'll soon learn for how long they will be without quarterback Drew Brees, the NFL's all-time leading passer, who banged his right (throwing) hand against Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and damaged his thumb to the point where he couldn't comfortably grip the football.
Brees said he will see a specialist in Los Angeles to help determine the extent of the damage. But as debilitating as was his absence, the Saints (1-1) had opportunities that they didn't take advantage of. And those are the areas on which the team will focus as they prepare to play Seattle next Sunday.
OFFENSE: Some stagnancy could be expected, given the transition from Brees to backup Teddy Bridgewater. But, as Coach Sean Payton succinctly summarized, Bridgewater didn't get a lot of help. The Saints lost the physical battle against the Rams' defensive line, and that showed in numbers (244 yards, 2.9 yards per carry on 20 rushing attempts, two sacks allowed, 4-for-13 on third down) that were less than kind. Losing one receiver before the game (Keith Kirkwood) and one during it (Tre'Quan Smith) obviously didn't help, but there also were several critical drops by receivers, which contributed to the Saints making just one trip inside the red zone. New Orleans was a credited with 11 penalties, and too many were attributed to the offensive line. Payton said the film would not be pleasant to watch, and no lies were told. The Saints had more yards in the second half (329) of the season opener than they totaled against the Rams and they had one play longer than 20 yards. If Bridgewater is in against Seattle, there's plenty to improve upon. If Bridgewater isn't in against Seattle, there's still plenty to improve upon.
DEFENSE: The unit held on for a good, long while before succumbing in the second half. The Rams were held to two field goals in the first half, and the Saints forced a red-zone turnover. But in the second half the defense simply broke down. There was acknowledgement, but not blame, attributed to the lost scoop-and-score by defensive end Cam Jordan (Trey Hendrickson had the sack and forced fumble on the play). But let's be honest; that's a spirit-sapper. Instead of a 10-3 lead and momentum, New Orleans settled for possession of the ball and wound up turning over the ball on downs. That was a 10-point swing (the Rams took possession after their defensive stop and kicked a field goal). The Rams broke it open late, in part because the Saints appeared to gamble a bit more, knowing they might need a defensive score to help out the offense. Three-hundred eighty yards allowed and three sacks isn't a bad day against that offense, but 21 second-half points allowed is totally unacceptable.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Allowing a 32-yard punt return can't happen in a game where a lot of things need to go right. But it happened in the second half, and the Rams took advantage by cashing in a 26-yard touchdown drive. Rookie Deonte Harris had a 19-yard return to give the Saints positive field position, but no touchdown came of it. Kicker Wil Lutz was in fine form – 3 for 3 on field goals, including a long of 52 – but, obviously, the Saints needed more.