Mickles: Sean Payton finds little to like in loss to Rams

ST. LOUIS — Losing to the Seattle Seahawks the way his team did two weeks ago was one thing for Sean Payton.

Losing the way it did Sunday afternoon to a St. Louis Rams team that’s guaranteed of a 10th straight nonwinning season was something else.

Which is why Payton was seething when he entered the interview room at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday after the New Orleans Saints’ lackluster 27-16 loss to the Rams.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, could have made Payton feel any better about what he had just witnessed for nearly three hours.

With a chance to clinch a playoff berth and move a step closer to a fourth NFC South title in his seven seasons, the Saints were uncharacteristically flat early in the game — and throughout the game.

But much like their 34-7 setback against the Seahawks on Dec. 2, when they trailed 27-7 at halftime, this one was virtually over after two quarters.

Behind 24-3 on Sunday, the Saints matched the largest halftime deficit under Payton — one point worse than they were that cold, miserable night in Seattle.

You name it, the Saints did it against the Rams on both sides of the ball and on special teams.

Turnovers? Check. Penalties? Check. Dropped passes? Check. Poor tackling? Check. Blocked and missed field goals? Check and double-check.

“This one was hard,” Payton said. “Honestly, it’s because of where we’re at — how much time and energy goes into your preparation and to put yourself in a position that we have … and as well as we played a week ago (against Carolina).”

In other words, it was extremely difficult — at that moment anyway, and in all probability on into the night — for Payton to find anything to be positive about.

There were no silver linings playbook, if you will, to be had.

But as bad as it seemed after the final agonizing minutes and seconds ticked off the clock, there is something for the Saints to look forward to.

They still control their own fate, their own destiny, as far as the rest of the season is concerned.

When Monday morning arrived, the Saints knew that if they win their final two games against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Dec. 29, they’ll claim the NFC South and be the conference’s No. 2 seed — and, most important, earn the first-round bye that comes with it.

After such a disappointing loss, it’s something, at least.

“I would say that the sky has not fallen,” linebacker Curtis Lofton said, reminding reporters that the Saints are still 10-4. “We know we have a good team. We just have to go out and execute.”

Whether they can do it on the road after losing four of their past five games away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome by a combined score of 117-70 remains to be seen.

As can be expected in time of need, Drew Brees was also looking forward to getting back to playing Saints football, and this time getting the job done with the opportunity they have in front of them in the next two weeks.

“I’m confident in our team, and I’m confident in our leadership, and I’m confident in our wherewithal to be able to put that together,” he said, “(and) to put together a great performance starting with a great week of practice.”

“We have all of our goals in front of us,” free safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “It’s not the end of the world. Sometimes, you just have to take your lumps and get better from it.”

At least, they hope they can.