Mickles: Nothing, not even flight home, goes well for Saints

Associated Press photo by Elaine Thompson -- Seahawks' defensive end Michael Bennett returns a fumble for a touchdown against New Orleans in the first quarter Dec. 2 in Seattle. The touchdown helped lift the Seahawks to an early 17-0 lead, which they turned into a 34-6 win. Show caption
Associated Press photo by Elaine Thompson -- Seahawks' defensive end Michael Bennett returns a fumble for a touchdown against New Orleans in the first quarter Dec. 2 in Seattle. The touchdown helped lift the Seahawks to an early 17-0 lead, which they turned into a 34-6 win.

SEATTLE — First, their defense broke down.

Then, their offense broke down.

Finally, their plane broke down.

If the New Orleans Saints hadn’t just dropped a 34-7 decision to the Seattle Seahawks, they might have been able to at least have a little chuckle about their run of bad luck Monday night.

To be sure, there was nothing funny about how the Saints were battered and beaten on both sides of the ball by the Seahawks.

In what was arguably one of the most numbing performances of the Sean Payton era, the Saints were outplayed at every turn on both sides of the ball.

All of which made that long middle-of-the-night plane ride home seem even longer when it was pushed back to Tuesday morning.

If they were lucky, some of the Saints might have fallen into a deep sleep once the plane finally got off the ground.

For the unfortunate ones that could not get any more shut-eye, the mere thought of how they were dismissed by the Seahawks in a high-stakes game had to be very hard to digest.

With a chance to get into position to decide their own fate by taking the advantage in the race for the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed, the Saints just couldn’t help themselves.

Literally and figuratively.

The litany of deficiencies for a team that was a solid 9-2 and in the second playoff spot going into the game was shocking and alarming, to say the least.

The most disconcerting part of the evening was an offense that for so many years has picked up its defense when it struggled.

For the first time since Payton has been on the job, the Saints — who have piled up more total yards in that 124-game regular-season span than any other team, failed to gain 200 yards — finishing the night with 188.

Before that debacle, the closest the Saints had come to dipping below the Mendoza Line — which usually describes baseball players hitting below a .200 average — was in their 2009 season finale.

That afternoon, Drew Brees and other starters sat out the game because the Saints had achieved everything they could as far as playoff seeding went, and they went on to sweep through the postseason and win Super Bowl XLIV.

They finished with 213 yards that day with Mark Brunell making sure that no one would ever confuse him with Brees.

And their seven-point output against the Seahawks’ second-ranked (now top-ranked) defense, equaled the lowest ever under Payton.

Even the play of the Saints’ defense was hard to explain.

They gave up a season-high in points (which the Seahawks achieved midway through the third quarter) and the second-highest yardage total of the season — the 429 yards hung on them by the Seahawks was about 138 more than their average going into the game.

The Seahawks also had five scoring drives of between 61 and 88 yards.

As they flew home Tuesday, the Saints did so knowing that they’re now going to be in a fight for the NFC South title with the streaking Carolina Panthers — whom they play twice in the next three weeks, starting with Sunday night’s game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

They meet again Dec. 22 in Charlotte, N.C., when a division title and a first-round bye could be at stake.

The fact that they have to play them on a short week was bad enough; now they have to do it coming off a thrashing at the hands of the Seahawks and after their travel woes late Monday.

If nothing else, it’ll be interesting to see how they respond.