Saints stay winless after shocking loss to Chiefs
NEW ORLEANS — With about 51/2 minutes to play in the third quarter Sunday, the New Orleans Saints and their fans were ready to let out a huge sigh of relief.
On top of the Kansas City Chiefs by 18 points after Drew Brees’ 6-yard touchdown pass to fullback Jed Collins, the Saints appeared ready to break into the win column after two frustrating losses to open the season.
But before the jubilant crowd of 72,226 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome could settle down and get back into their seats, Jamaal Charles produced the play that ignited a Chiefs comeback and led to their 27-24 overtime win.
A simple off-tackle run by Charles turned into a 91-yard touchdown, the longest run from scrimmage in Chiefs’ history and longest ever against the Saints, trimming a 24-6 deficit to 11 with 5:18 to play in the third quarter.
The Saints never really recovered offensively or defensively — particularly on offense — and fell to 0-3 for the first time since 2007 and 12th time overall in the 46-year history of the franchise.
Only three of 113 teams that opened a season with three consecutive losses have come back to qualify for the playoffs since the postseason field was expanded to include six teams from each conference in 1990.
But that wasn’t on the minds of the Saints, who were stunned by the turn of events — which Charles, who rushed for 233 yards on 33 carries, was responsible for starting.
“That was big, because they were able to stop our momentum, and they were able to create some of their own,” cornerback Jabari Greer said. “It was a big part of the game.”
Charles’ touchdown started an avalanche of 21 consecutive points that helped the Chiefs (1-2) register their biggest comeback in franchise history. It ended with Ryan Succop kicking his club-record sixth field goal of the day, a 31-yarder, with 6:27 left in the overtime period.
It was the biggest blown lead in the Superdome for the Saints since letting a 35-14 cushion over the Oakland Raiders slip away in an eventual 38-35 setback on Dec. 3, 1979.
“We lost this game today because we lost the momentum,” Greer said.
Greer provided the Saints with a huge lift that helped turn a 10-6 halftime lead into a 24-6 advantage on a 1-yard scoring pass from Brees to tight end Jimmy Graham and the TD toss to Collins.
Both touchdowns came on short drives after the Saints defense, which had just one takeaway in the first two games, came up with two turnovers.
The first came when Chiefs wide receiver Dexter McCluster injured his shoulder after catching a pass on the first play of the second half. The ball slipped out of his hands as he landed on the shoulder and Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas recovered at the Kansas City 19.
Later, Greer jumped in front of a Matt Cassel pass and returned the interception 28 yards to the Chiefs’ 7 to set up another short touchdown drive that was capped by Collins’ score.
But that’s where it all began to unravel for the Saints as Brees was intercepted on the drive after Charles’ touchdown by Chiefs cornerback Stanford Routt at the goal line.
That started a stretch in which the Saints had minus-16 yards on 12 snaps on their final five series of the fourth quarter and only possession in overtime.
The Chiefs took advantage of their opportunities as Succop, who kicked field goals of 25 and 45 yards in the first half, was good from 34, 38 and 43 yards in the fourth quarter.
After having 304 total yards at the end of the third quarter, the Saints finished with 288.
Three drives ended with punts and another with a safety when Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston blew past tackle Zach Strief and sacked Brees in the end zone with 5:33 left in regulation.
“I’m not sure, but that’s not our standard,” Brees, who was 0-for-6 after Routt’s interception, said of having so many short-circuited drives. “That’s not what we’re used to. That’s going to get fixed.”
Brees finished 20 of 36 for 240 yards with three TDs, one interception and four sacks. On the other side, Cassel was 26 of 44 for 248 yards in guiding his team to 510 total yards.
“They did a nice job,” Brees said of the Chiefs. “I would just say the biggest thing was the momentum. You’re up 18 points late in the third (quarter) and have all the momentum on your side.
“We had just gotten two huge turnovers (on defense). You’ve got to hand it to them. They rattled off that 91-yard run, and it felt like the momentum swung to their side and they kept it the rest of the game.”
While the offense struggled to get anything going, the defense couldn’t get off the field in a timely fashion.
The Chiefs converted a fourth-and-5 when Cassel threw a 7-yard pass to former LSU star Dwayne Bowe to the Saints’ 39 on the game-tying field goal drive, and Charles had a 3-yard run on fourth-and-1 to the Saints’ 41 that helped set up Succop’s short game-winner.
“That’s just part of the game,” Saints linebacker Scott Shanle said. “That’s playing complementary football. There are weeks when the defense has to rise up and play that way.
“Today was our day to rise to the challenge, and we didn’t do that.”
Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer said the Saints, who have to go to Green Bay on Sunday, now face their biggest challenge of the last five years.
“We haven’t been 0-3 as the New Orleans Saints for a very long time,” he said. “We don’t know how this feels. We don’t know how we’re supposed to act right now, but I know we are going to face our biggest challenge at 0-3 right now.”