NEW ORLEANS (AP) Saints receiver Michael Thomas was having a charmed rookie season until he ran up against the top-rated pass defense in the NFL.
His two fumbles and bobble-turned-interception were among the most glaring mishaps that undermined the Saints' bid to break .500 for the first time since the end of the 2013 season.
Thomas apparently was in no mood to discuss his worst day as a pro following New Orleans' 25-23 loss to the defending champion Denver Broncos. He was nowhere to be found in the locker room, so his teammates and coach spoke for him.
''Some lessons in our league are learned the hard way,'' coach Sean Payton said. ''You hope that ball security is not one of them, but it doesn't just happen to rookies either. We've got to get that corrected.''
Added offensive tackle and locker room leader Zach Strief, ''Guys make mistakes. Mike will come back. We've got a lot of faith in Mike. He knows that can't happen.''
Nothing heading into Sunday pointed to Thomas careening into a turnover-laden performance. Entering Sunday, he led all NFL rookies in catches (47), receiving yards (573) and touchdown receptions (5).
A week ago, in a win over San Francisco, his two touchdowns were tough, critical catches the helped New Orleans get back to .500. His second TD was an acrobatic grab after he tipped the ball to himself over the back of a defender.
Against Denver, he caught four passes for 40 yards, but his key plays resulted in turnovers.
''I know he's going to be stronger for this,'' New Orleans receiver Willie Snead said. ''I know he's going to get over it and come back Thursday (against Carolina) and be ready to go.''
On the first play of the second quarter, Drew Brees threw to Thomas, who got his hands on the ball only to have it pop from his grasp and straight to Denver safety Darian Stewart. Denver converted a 50-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead on the ensuing series.
It's the two fumbles, though, that Thomas might have a tough time overcoming.
The first came early in the fourth quarter with the Saints leading 17-10 and in possession after a missed Denver field goal. The fumble, forced by Bradley Roby, turned into a tying touchdown when Trevor Siemian passed to Demaryius Thomas from 2 yards.
Then, after the Saints' defense held Denver to a 28-yard Brandon McManus field goal, Thomas fumbled again when he was leveled by defensive end Jared Crick's crushing blind-side hit . The Broncos took over at New Orleans 20 and again Denver's McManus converted, this time from 37 yards for a 23-17 lead.
Brees could be seen rushing to Thomas' side to see if the receiver was OK after Crick's crushing tackle. Brees also sounds intent on not allowing Thomas to dwell on his uncharacteristically poor performance.
''We're going to need him to make some plays down the stretch and we will,'' Brees said. ''Those guys that care so much, that's the reason why you tell them hey, just let it go. Let's move on.''
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