Denver rips N.O. defense as Brees, offense sputter
DENVER — The return of Joe Vitt obviously wasn’t the answer to the Saints’ defensive woes Sunday.
And he’ll be the first to say so.
“There was no pixie dust I could spread on this team to make it play better and more emotional,” said a somber Vitt, who retook the reins as interim coach this week, only to see the NFL’s worst defense carved up for 530 yards by Peyton Manning and the rest of the Denver Broncos. “We’ve got to do a better job of educating our football team of exactly what we need to do to win, especially in an environment like this against a good football team on the road.
“I told them (the players) in the locker room that quite frankly, there was way too much hype and not enough substance around the team this past week. That’s my responsibility and my fault.”
Vitt was speaking about the offense as well.
Though the first three quarters, while the game was reasonably within reach, Drew Brees was only 13 of 23 for 126 yards and a single score, a 29-yard TD pass to Darren Sproles in the second quarter that tied the score at 7-7.
He finished 22 of 42 for 213 yards, including an 18-yard TD pass to tight end Jimmy Graham in the closing minutes that reduced the final margin to 20 points.
That was the total margin of defeat in the Saints’ first four games.
And even more telling statistic from Sunday — 1 of 12 in third-down conversions.
“This was a very poor performance on our part,” Brees said. “There was a real lack of execution and we never felt like we could get anything going.”
That lack of execution, which included another dismal night for the running game (17 attempts, 51 yards), kept putting the ball in Manning’s hands.
And that’s hardly a good idea, considering the way he’s been playing — four straight games with at least 300 yards passing, three touchdowns and at least a 70-percent completion rate.
Before his last game, against San Diego, nobody had ever done that three times in a row.
“We knew they were a tough team going in,” defensive end Will Smith said. “We thought we had a good game plan coming in, but that’s no excuses for the mental busts and missed tackles.
“They were just able to beat us.”
Vitt, who is also the linebackers coach when he’s not replacing Sean Payton, and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo tried to get some favorable mismatches by moving Cameron Jordan from end to tackle in place of Brodrick Bunkley, who was inactive, starting Junior Galette at end in Jordan’s place and starting Jonathan Vilma at linebacker with Shane Shanle and David Hawthorne sitting out.
It didn’t work.
Not only was Manning never sacked — he did scramble once for a 1-yard gain — but Willis McGahee ran for 122 yards against tacklers who could never seem to get a good shot at him.
“We started the game doing exactly what we wanted to do,” Vitt said. “We said last week we were not going to fool Peyton with a lot of coverage disguises.
“But we thought we could get a little pressure on the quarterback, which we did early. Our poor run defense tonight came from not staying in our gaps and not tackling.”
Jordan said the defense, not Vitt and the coaches, has to take responsibility in that area.
“We thought we had a good game plan going in, and we thought we had a little momentum there at the beginning.
“But it’s on us to get back in the film room and then correct what we did wrong on the field.”
The defeat left the Saints’ playoff hopes hanging by a thread.
Brees acknowledged the situation. No team since the 2002 New York Jets has recovered from 2-5 to make the playoffs.
“The situation is what it is,” he said. “But we don’t need to start pressing.
“We understand the importance of each and every week, and that starts next Monday against Philadelphia.”
But Vitt indicated that everyone should be mindful of the future implications of the way the team is going.
“Everyone is being held accountable for how we perform and what we do,” he said. “We’re going to work hard this week to get things corrected.
“But we’re all in an evaluation process right now, me included.”