The regular-season is over.
That was about the kindest comment that could be made about the New Orleans Saints in the aftermath of Sunday’s 33-14 loss to Carolina in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and Coach Sean Payton didn't mask his displeasure over what he saw.
In the grand scheme, it's minor: The loss prevented the Saints from winning a franchise-record 14th regular-season game. There's no reason to believe there will be a carryover, given the fact that several prominent starters were inactive. The No. 1 seed already has been claimed and there was no altering of the fact that the Saints will receive a bye and will not have to leave New Orleans for another game this season unless they advance to the Super Bowl.
But in the present, there's this: Coaches and players loath putting out bad film, and Sunday was not an exhibition of high-quality football by New Orleans. No matter who's in the huddle, you'd like to see better execution than the Saints submitted against Carolina and that's a message everyone should understand and receive.
OFFENSE: A smooth operation wouldn't have been a fair expectation, given that starting quarterback Drew Brees was inactive, along with starting left tackle Terron Armstead, starting right guard Larry Warford, running back Alvin Kamara and offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod (who started six regular-season games). Teddy Bridgewater was making his first start at quarterback since a Wild Card playoff game for Minnesota in 2016. He completed 14 of 22 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown, with an interception, and ran four times for 12 yards, but he was under much heavier pressure than is represented by the two sacks he absorbed. There wasn't much time for route development. Running back Dwayne Washington ran 11 times for a career-high 108 yards (the first 100-yard rushing game of his career), but the offense never achieved a comfort level against the Panthers.
DEFENSE: Panthers undrafted rookie quarterback Kyle Allen completed 16 of 27 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns – and much of it, if not all, was posted against New Orleans' frontline defenders. The Saints didn't apply enough pressure and of the six penalties the team committed, four were in the secondary – two pass interference penalties (by Eli Apple and Ken Crawley, totaling 69 yards) and two holds (by P.J. Williams and Crawley, totaling 10 yards). Three of them occurred on third down, preventing the defense from getting off the field. The Panthers even ran for 111 yards on 37 carries, as they tilted the time of possession (33:26 to New Orleans' 26:34). It was a "yuck" kind of day.
SPECIAL TEAMS: One of the quietest days you'll see from these units. We've seen special teams provide a needed spark in several games this season, but Sunday wasn't one of them. Two punt returns by Tommylee Lewis gained 18 yards; otherwise, there wasn't much here. The Saints didn't return a kickoff, didn't allow a kickoff return and didn't allow a punt return. Punter Thomas Morstead punted five times for a 42-yard average, but kicker Wil Lutz wasn't called upon to attempt a field goal.