ST. LOUIS — As if a bad, bad afternoon couldn’t get any worse, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees walked into the visitors’ interview room at the Edward Jones Dome with an ice pack on his throwing hand.
Brees, however, indicated the hand was fine as he left the room after painfully rehashing the Saints’ 27-16 loss to the St. Louis Rams.
Their performance, as the score indicated, was anything but fine as the Saints failed to clinch a playoff spot when a victory would have punched their postseason ticket and moved them one step closer to an NFC South title.
It started early as Brees was intercepted on the Saints’ first two possessions, which the Rams turned into a pair of touchdowns and a quick 14-0 lead.
The Rams, who were eliminated from playoff consideration last week and are guaranteed a 10th consecutive non-winning season, extended the lead to 17-0 on the first play of the second quarter and cruised to the win against a sputtering Saints offense.
“That was pretty ugly,” Saints coach Sean Payton said after his team fell to 10-4. “Obviously, it’s a disappointing loss … extremely disappointing. I thought in all three areas we didn’t play well.”
For starters, the offense again faltered on the road.
The Saints failed to score more than 20 points in their fourth consecutive road game, dating to a 26-20 loss to the New York Jets on Nov. 2. Over that four-game stretch, the Saints have averaged 15.0 points in going 1-3.
In addition to the two interceptions, Brees lost a fumble while being sacked early in the third quarter and was dropped four times in the game.
But as Payton pointed out, the problems weren’t limited to the offensive side of the line of scrimmage.
The Saints’ sixth-ranked defense couldn’t pressure journeyman quarterback Kellen Clemens and failed to get off the field as the Rams converted 7 of 14 third-down conversion attempts.
The Saints also had no sacks and failed to come up with a takeaway — the first time this season they were shut out in both categories.
Saints kicker Garrett Hartley had a 36-yard field-goal attempt blocked by Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers, a former LSU standout, with 2 seconds to play in the first half. He also missed a 26-yard attempt in the game’s closing minutes.
It was so bad that Payton made the unusual move of benching left tackle Charles Brown after Brees was sacked by Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, who had two sacks, and lost the ball.
At that point, Payton moved right tackle Zach Strief to the left side and inserted Bryce Harris in Strief’s spot. Brown had started all 14 games this season.
“I saw enough. … I saw enough, period,” Payton said when asked about removing Brown. “It was enough penalties, pressures, sacks. It was enough.
“At some point, you can’t keep watching it. Feelings get hurt, it’s tough.”
Payton would not elaborate on the move and Brown politely declined to talk about his benching after the game.
Brown was also called for a hands-to-the-face penalty that wiped out an 8-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Lance Moore with 10 seconds to play in the first half that would have cut their early 17-point deficit to 24-10 going to the locker room.
By the time Brown was taken out of the game, the Saints had already dug themselves a big hole. Their 21-point halftime deficit matched the largest of the Payton era.
“Well, it didn’t help that we had the turnover on the first play (of the game),” Brees said of an interception by safety T.J. McDonald that the Rams turned into a 31-yard touchdown pass to Cory Harkey. “You talk about waking the whole place up? That did it.
“They score on the next play and now the crowd is involved. They had the momentum and then their offense made some plays.”
Brees was also upset that the Saints ventured into the red zone six times and came away with just 16 points.
“Six times and you come away with 16 points?” he asked. “That’s not us. That can’t be us if we want to play well and win. We have to find a way to improve on that.”