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John DeShazier: Bengals best Saints in just about every way

Cincinnati was 9 of 13 on third down

No sifting was required.

The New Orleans Saints' 27-10 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome rocketed to the top of the list of frustrating performances for New Orleans this season, and it was one for which words weren't minced, parceled or coated.

"It's obvious it was a poor loss," Coach Sean Payton said. "Without having seen the tape, there weren't a lot of things we did well. We struggled with consistency offensively, couldn't get off the field defensively – especially third downs – and we lost the battle on special teams. We've got to do a better job. It starts with me coaching, preparation.

"We've got to look closely at everything we're doing, or else we'll just find ourselves in this up and down kind of swing that we seem to be in. Credit Cincinnati, but we didn't do much of anything well today."

The Saints (4-6) were bested in just about every way, so much so that finishing minus-1 in turnover ratio wasn't a glaring shortfall. By the time Travaris Cadet fumbled and the Bengals recovered with 1:54 left, Cincinnati (6-3-1) had its commanding lead and no reason to do more than kneel to run out the clock.

The Bengals were 9 for 13 on third-down conversions (9 for 12 prior to their final kneel, including a 38-yard pass on third-and-18), 2 for 3 in the red zone, ran for 186 yards and 5.2 yards per carry, passed for 220 yards (on 22 attempts) and three touchdowns, scored 20 consecutive points after the Saints opened with a field goal and stopped the Saints on third- and fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the second quarter.

On that series, Mark Ingram (23 carries for 67 yards) was stopped for no gain on a run on third down and on fourth down, fullback Erik Lorig was tackled for a 1-yard loss after catching a pass from Drew Brees (33 for 41 for 255 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions).

That 17-play drive, with the Saints starting at their 20-yard line with 3:14 left in the first and concluding at the Bengals' 2-yard line with 10:17 left in the second, was one of two times  the Saints failed to score in the red zone.

Cincinnati paired its goal line stand with a 15-play, 94-yard drive that resulted in a field goal and 10-3 lead with 2:52 left in the first half.

"There's two things that go through your mind there: You're going to have a chance to get it and if not, you're going to leave them at the 1," Payton said. "There's a sequence that takes place. You're unable to get the one before, we come back and throw it, they stop it, then they go (94) yards and (kick a field goal). That's a pretty significant swing.

"We kind of felt going in we were going to run a sequence there, a certain run and then come back to a pass. They defended it well and we weren't able to get anything."

Even when the Saints did gain a bit of traction, via a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that pulled them to within 20-10 on Brees' 9-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills with 14:56 left, the Bengals immediately responded.

Cincinnati countered with a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to push the lead back to 17, 27-10, and provide the game's final points with 11:29 left.

"They came in there and got done what they needed to get done," defensive end Cam Jordan said.

"After every game you want to take a step back and look back at what you've done right and what you've done wrong. Of course, coming off a loss like this, there's got to be more wrong things than we did right. We've got to take that and account for it."

Significant among the wrongs was the inability to get third-down stops. The Bengals converted their first five third-down attempts before the Saints produced a stop.

"I thought a big factor was converting on third downs and keeping Drew off the field," said Cincinnati rookie running back Jeremy Hill (27 carries for 162 yards). "We know what kind of quarterback he is. So for us to hold onto the ball and score touchdowns and keep him off the field was huge, and led us to victory today."

Hill also snapped off a 62-yard run on the next-to-last play of the first half, on second-and-12 from the Cincinnati 14-yard line. The Bengals called timeout with one second left, and Mike Nugent kicked a 42-yard field goal to give Cincinnati a 13-3 halftime lead.

"It's poor football," Payton said. "It's situational football at the end of the half. It's like stealing three points."

It helped the Bengals take a game that they largely controlled.

"Each week we have to figure out and I have to look closely at these," Payton said. "Hey, I'm obviously not doing a very good job if we keep swinging up and down like this.

"You have to be able to shake those in the same way you have to do the wins. We weren't able to do that today. They clearly outplayed us in every area."

Photos from the New Orleans Saints vs Cincinnati Bengals game on Sunday, November 16, 2014 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Photos by Micheal C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)

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