LOS ANGELES — The end of New Orleans’ eight-game winning streak came as no surprise to Saints coach Sean Payton.
“I thought our week of practice was just OK at best, honestly. It was average at best, I’ll say that,” Payton said.
New Orleans’ high-scoring offense was held in check and the Saints struggled to stop Jared Goff with their top two cornerbacks sidelined by injuries. The result was a 26-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in a meeting of two of the NFL’s highest-scoring teams.
The Saints (8-3) disagreed with the notion they practiced poorly coming into the game, but they never challenged the underlying idea that a lack of concentration and execution doomed their longest winning streak since 2009.
“It’s on us. I take this loss personal,” defensive end Cameron Jordan said.
It was evident from the start that the Saints weren’t ready to play, allowing a 40-yard return on the opening kickoff and a 24-yard pass from Goff to Sammy Watkins on the first snap from scrimmage. The Rams needed seven plays to take the lead, and any chance for a response was erased when Drew Brees was sacked on consecutive plays after reaching Rams territory.
That trend continued all day. Penalties and breakdowns put New Orleans in difficult situations, and it went 3 for 13 on third-down conversions.
“We never found a rhythm, good rhythm of run-pass,” said Brees, who threw for 246 yards and a touchdown. “It just felt like everything was really tough sledding. The minute we’d get something going there would be a penalty that would set us back and then we’d be off the field.”
While New Orleans struggled on offense, rookie running back Alvin Kamara put together another strong performance. He had 87 yards and a touchdown on five carries and caught six balls for 101 yards and another score.
“Every time the ball was in his hands it was exciting,” Brees said. “He was making people miss, he was breaking tackles, he was jumping over people. He’s continuing to progress into becoming a great player and a big part of this offense.”
Kamara burst into the secondary and down the sideline for a 74-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Brees with 1:45 remaining, giving the Saints a chance. But Sammy Watkins recovered the ensuing onside kick for the Rams.
The Saints scored 10 points and gained 157 yards on their final three possessions in the fourth quarter.
“It wasn’t until the end of the game we started moving the ball,” Brees said. “Unfortunately, it was too little, too late.”
The Saints’ defense didn’t fare much better, allowing six scoring drives. Goff threw for 354 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
New Orleans finished with seven penalties for 112 yards.
“I just thought you could point to a number of things, but really in so many areas I though we were sloppy. We hurt ourselves,” Payton said.
There is little time for New Orleans to dwell on the loss, not with a crucial NFC South game against Carolina up next. Four of the Saints’ final five games are against division opponents, but Payton said that is no reason to simply dismiss the result against the Rams.
“We got obviously a big game coming up next week and we’ll get ready to play it, but we can’t gloss over this though,” Payton said. “We got to look at this closely.”