Photos from the New Orleans Saints vs Detroit Lions game. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)
A 24-7 scoring run in the second half usually will earn an NFL team a victory. But on the occasions that it doesn't, one of the possible reasons is that it already had fallen behind 21-3 at halftime, and 28-3 just over three minutes into the third quarter.
That's where the New Orleans Saints found themselves Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and a 35-27 defeat to Detroit was where they ended up to fall to 5-9 this season, and assure themselves of consecutive losing seasons for the first time since Sean Payton became head coach in 2006.
"Obviously, we put ourselves in a hole in the first half," Payton said. "You get behind like that and your margin for error in the second half becomes pretty small. I thought we fought back, made some plays and gave ourselves an opportunity there and yet, we weren't able to get it done."
To compound the result, quarterback Drew Brees suffered a right foot injury during the game. He wore a walking boot during his postgame news conference. Brees completed 34 of 52 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns, without an interception, and was sacked once.
"I don't know exactly what we have going on here (with the foot), but we will see after the MRI (on Tuesday)," Brees said.
"I just had to keep (the foot) moving because it was getting stiff, but we were able to manage it."
The Saints were less successful managing the Lions (5-9) in the first half, when Detroit scored touchdowns on three straight possessions and quarterback Matt Stafford posted a near-perfect half – 12 for 13 for 142 yards and three touchdowns, without an interception.
New Orleans forced a three-and-out from Detroit on its first possession, but sandwiched that drive with a couple of three-and-outs of its own. A 32-yard Thomas Morstead punt gave the Lions possession at the Saints' 40-yard line after the Saints' second drive, and the Lions needed just six plays to drive the 40 yards and score on Stafford's 1-yard pass to Golden Tate.
The Saints countered with a 12-play, 56-yard drive that ended on Kai Forbath's 45-yard field goal with 66 seconds left in the first quarter to pull to within 7-3. But Detroit finished out the first half with two more touchdown drives – a four-play, 65-yarder that ended on a 4-yard pass from Stafford to Michael Burton, and a 10-play, 69-yarder that concluded on a 5-yard pass from Stafford to Tate – and the Saints closed out the half in frustration.
New Orleans marched from its 27-yard line to the Detroit 29, and Brees completed a 28-yard pass to Brandin Cooks (10 catches, 124 yards) that initially was ruled a touchdown with 57 seconds left, but was reviewed and ruled down by contact at the 1.
After a run for no gain by Michael Hoomanawanui, Tim Hightower powered in for a touchdown off right tackle, only to see it nullified by an illegal formation penalty on Senio Kelemete, whom officials ruled had failed to report as an eligible receiver.
After Hightower ran to the 1 on second-and-goal from the 5, and was stopped for no gain on third down, the Saints called timeout with three seconds left in the half.
On fourth-and-goal, before the play was run, Detroit attempted to call timeout even though the Lions didn't have any remaining. The down was allowed to be replayed and Brees threw a pass to Marques Colston in the end zone. But right guard Jahri Evans was penalized for being an ineligible receiver downfield to negate the touchdown and end the half.
Payton said he didn't receive an explanation of the rules regarding the down being replayed after Detroit called the timeout it didn't have.
"They had a couple of snafus there at the end (of the half), obviously the reporting," Payton said.
"(Kelemete) was in for the prior play and the explanation I got was he never reported. My question was, 'Well, if he never reported, why didn't we throw a penalty on that first play?' "
The Saints' hole deepened when Detroit opened the second half with its fourth straight touchdown drive, a six-play, 78-yard march that Ameer Abdullah ended with a 15-yard run.
The Saints punted, forced a punt, and then began their rally.
Brees threw a 27-yard touchdown to Cooks with 5:03 left in the third to pull New Orleans to within 28-10 and after the Saints forced a punt, Forbath's 22-yard field goal with 13:01 remaining in the game got New Orleans to within 28-13.
Detroit's next possession was ended by Saints rookie linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha; he stripped the ball from Abdullah after a 4-yard run and recovered at the Lions' 38-yard line with 12:47 left.
Five plays later, Brees connected with Colston on an 11-yard scoring pass to pull the Saints to within 28-20.
Detroit countered with a touchdown on its next drive, with Joique Bell's 1-yard run ending a 76-yard drive. But the Saints again answered, with a 15-play, 80-yard drive that ended on Brees' 1-yard pass to Benjamin Watson with 1:55 left.
After Detroit recovered the onside kick at the Saints' 45, reached the 9 on a 36-yard run by Bell and was pushed back to the 20 after a couple of kneels by Stafford and a delay of game penalty, it missed a 38-yard field goal attempt.
But only nine seconds remained for the Saints, too little time to mount a potential, tying touchdown drive from its 28-yard line. And the Saints took a step back from its 24-17 road victory against Tampa Bay.
"You can't call it a building block if you come out and we were almost 20 points behind by halftime," said defensive end Cam Jordan, who had one of the Saints' three sacks. "There's not much to say to that.
"We've got to turn around this week and find a way to win. We have to win out for our pride more than anything else at this point. To lose like that is not something to be proud of."
With two games remaining, Saints players said the goal remains the same.
"It's to win, to get better," Evans said. "It's to go out there and play the game you love to play, play it fast and physical."