Season-ending loss leaves Saints with bad taste
NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton didn't see any redeeming qualities in his team's regular-season finale.
Never mind that several key players, including quarterback Drew Brees, didn't play.
Never mind that the team seemed to come out of the game without any significant injuries.
Never mind that the Saints are still the No. 1 seed for the NFC playoffs.
The 33-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was a poor performance by the Saints.
They were bad on offense and bad on defense as they finished 13-3, failing to break a tie with the 2009 Super Bowl champions and 2011 NFC South champions for the best record in franchise history.
"We didn't play well and you're upset about it," Payton said. "There's nothing about it that's good. I told the players the same thing. You can try to spin it any style that you want, but that won't work in the end. It starts with me and we'll get the corrections made."
They have plenty of time to fix things because they have a first-round bye in the playoffs and won't play until Jan. 12 or 13 when they meet an opponent to be determined in a divisional playoff game at home.
Brees will be back for that game as will running back Alvin Kamara, who were both healthy inactives. They're also hopeful of having back wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and offensive linemen Terron Armstead, Larry Warford and Jermon Bushrod, who were inactive because they weren't fully healthy.
Teddy Bridgewater made his first start since 2015 as Brees' replacement and completed 14 of 22 attempts for 118 yards. He connected with Michael Thomas seven times for 29 yards, which enabled Thomas to break Joe Horn's franchise record for receiving yards in a season and wind up with 1,405 yards.
Bridgewater's performance likely didn't improve the impending free agent's stock on the open market, though the circumstances will certainly be taken into account by potential employers.
"It was a really cool moment being back out there," Bridgewater said. "It was a decent performance under the circumstances. I felt like I could have done some things better. It was not the result we were looking for."
The Panthers (7-9) led 30-0 by the time Bridgewater connected with rookie Tre'Quan Smith for a 9-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Taysom Hill ran 9 yards for New Orleans' other score with 3:47 remaining.
While the offense's ability to generate a mere 294 total yards can be chalked up partly to the absence of key players, the defense was essentially intact in the first half and allowed Carolina -- operating with rookie and third-stringer Kyle Allen at quarterback -- to drive to touchdowns on its first three possessions and points on its first four.
"It was not good," Payton said of the defense's performance in the first half. "We did not get any pressure on the quarterback, we did not tackle well, holding the receivers. Pick something. Run fits were not good. Disappointing."
The Panthers finished with 374 yards as Allen completed 16 of 27 for 228 yards and two touchdowns before being sidelined by a shoulder injury.
"You can label it as an exhibition," defensive end Cameron Jordan said, "but it was a game against a divisional opponent and we ended up losing that game. I'm at a loss for words. I'm overly irritated about it."
The Saints did rush for 184 yards, their second-highest total of the season, as Dwayne Washington rushed for 108 yards on 11 carries after stepping in for Mark Ingram II.
"I don't like losing games period," Payton said. "We can't just turn it on and off and decide what you want to do on your terms. It's not like that. This game never has been and it never will be."