Landover, Md. – Whatever had been bad for the New Orleans Saints this season, attained or approached a definitive level of worse Sunday.
The challenge of finding positives from a 47-14 loss to Washington at FedEx Field – New Orleans' most lopsided defeat of its 4-6 season – will be brief.
Entering their bye week, the Saints have lost two straight and almost leveled off their three-game winning streak. They scored a season low and allowed a season high in points, and saw a third consecutive quarterback throw for at least four touchdowns and no interceptions.
"Obviously, it was a poor performance," Coach Sean Payton said. "There wasn't a lot, I'm sure, that we're going to look at on that tape that we're not going to be disappointed in. Give credit to Washington, but I told the players, 'All the things we set out to try to accomplish in this game, I don't know that we checked one box off.' We kind of matched touchdowns early, and it went the other direction real quick."
"The most important thing is just stick together," quarterback Drew Brees said. "These are tough times. We get asked tough questions. Everybody wants to question our team, our talent and whatever else people want to question.
"The bottom line is, we have a great team, we have a great group of guys, high-character guys with great leadership and things haven't gone the way we want the last two weeks, haven't really gone the way maybe we envisioned this whole season. We're sitting here at 4-6.
"I think we all thought that we would be better than that, but this book hasn't been written yet. The first half of the chapters have, but not the last half. We have a lot to look forward to when we come back off of the bye."
The Saints tied the score on a 60-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Brandin Cooks – their fifth touchdown connection in the last three games – with 10:44 left in the second quarter, but from there the bottom fell out. They went scoreless and surrendered 33 straight points to the Redskins (4-5), who marched to 514 yards of offense (301 passing, 213 rushing).
"It's tough, especially going into the bye week," safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "You definitely want to have some momentum, get back to .500. And the fashion we lost in is a little bit embarrassing."
Initially, the game assumed the appearance of the Saints-Giants game of two weeks prior, a 52-49 shootout at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome that the Saints won on the final play, a 50-yard field goal by Kai Forbath.
New Orleans and Washington split four scores in the first 19 minutes, 16 seconds of the game – Washington on touchdown passes of 16 and 11 yards from Kirk Cousins to tight end Jordan Reed and receiver Jamison Crowder, the Saints on passes of 4 and 60 yards from Brees to Cooks.
But from there, the Saints stalled and Washington tapped into a higher gear.
Even though New Orleans sacked Cousins (20 for 25 for 324 yards and four touchdowns) three times – he entered the game having been sacked a league-low nine times – he and the Redskins didn't wobble.
After Cooks' second score, Cousins flipped a screen pass to running back Matt Jones, and Jones raced up the right sideline, wove past and through a few tackle attempts, cut back toward the middle of the field and outran the Saints for a 78-yard touchdown.
The Saints punted on their next two possessions; Washington answered with successful field goals from 35 and 23 yards, the latter as time expired in the first half, to take a 27-14 lead.
Cousins completed 17 of 20 passes for 295 yards and three scores in the first half, and Jones caught three passes for 131 yards in the half. Jones also popped a 20-yard run that was secondary to the 38-yarder offered by Chris Thompson.
"They got to the running back a few times in some man coverage and all of a sudden, the yards after the catch became significant," Payton said. "We didn't do a whole lot well. We struggled tackling, and it seemed like one big play after another."
Said Vaccaro: "We gave up a lot of yardage just on screens, and getting people on the ground. We've got to tackle better."
And after scoring 52 and 28 points in consecutive weeks, the Saints offense hit a pothole. It posted two 83-yard touchdown drives of five and three plays, respectively, but was held to 24 yards on 10 plays the rest of the half. Washington had 394 yards at halftime, and held a time of possession advantage of 20:20-9:40.
"It was one of those games where we needed to score points, and we weren't able to," tight end Benjamin Watson said.
"I think our execution offensively needed to be much, much better," Brees said. "We dropped two balls on third down, I missed a guy on third down, there was another miscommunication on another third down.
"We need to convert those because that's what keeps drives alive, that's what would give us opportunities to move the ball down the field, get points, keep our defense off the field, keep them somewhat rested, and play complimentary football. We didn't do that well today. It's just not our standard. We know we can be much better in a lot of different areas."
Washington put away the game in the third quarter. The Saints took the opening kickoff and drove from their 20-yard line to Washington's 31, but couldn't convert on fourth-and-1 when C.J. Spiller was stopped for no gain on a run.
Washington countered with a 40-yard field goal by Hopkins, and after it again forced New Orleans to punt, drove 44 yards in six plays to score a touchdown on an 8-yard pass from Cousins to Reed with 11 seconds left in the quarter, to boost the lead to 37-14.
Now, the Saints enter their bye week on two straight losses, and three games in which the opposing quarterbacks have combined for 14 touchdowns, and no interceptions.
"We've still got six games to play," Watson said. "Be professionals, come to work, grind and improve on what we didn't do well, which is going to be a lot looking at the film. Understand that each game is another opportunity to win. There are really no streaks, it's really one-game seasons and so moving forward these next six games, that's what we have to do. Have that single focus."
Said Brees: "Let's all get healthy. Let's recharge the battery. Let's spend time with our families, let's get our bodies right and let's get our mind right, too. Come back ready to make a late-season run, because we have to. We have no other choice."
Payton said the Saints won't be backing away from the challenge.
"We're approaching each week with our best opportunity to win football games. Period," he said. "That'll be every game. That won't change. Our approach, our focus is going to be on the next game."