METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints brought back guard/center Eric Olsen on Tuesday -- a possible sign that they're expecting starting center Jonathan Goodwin to miss some time with an unspecified leg injury.

Olsen was with the Saints in 2012, playing in all 16 games and making four starts as an extra lineman. He lost his backup swingman job to rookie Tim Lelito last year, however, after being placed on injured reserve with an unspecified injury at the start of the 2013 season.

Olsen (6-foot-3, 305 pounds) caught on briefly with the Pittsburgh Steelers last season but didn't play in a game. He then spent this offseason with the Tennessee Titans before being released.

The 26-year-old was a sixth-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos out of Notre Dame in 2010. But he appeared in only one game with the Broncos before joining the Washington Redskins' practice squad and eventually landing in New Orleans.

Goodwin was carted off the field during New Orleans' 24-23 loss to the Detroit Lions this past Sunday. The severity of his injury is unknown -- though it could possibly be considered a good sign that he wasn't placed on injured reserve.

If Goodwin can't play, Lelito will continue to replace him in the starting lineup, which has been a smooth transition while Goodwin has missed time with a variety of smaller injuries this season.

The Saints had a vacant roster spot available for Olsen after placing defensive end Glenn Foster on injured reserve Monday and releasing linebacker Todd Davis. They used the other roster spot to sign tight end Tom Crabtree.

New Orleans also made a practice squad switch Tuesday, releasing center Alex Parson and signing offensive tackle DeMarcus Love.
The New Orleans Saints’ season is stuck on repeat. Once again, Drew Brees and the offensive line were great for most of Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions -- but dreadful for about 20 percent. This time, that lull came during a fourth-quarter collapse in a stunning 24-23 loss.

As I wrote in Tuesday morning’s Film Don’t Lie breakdown, this season has not been a case of Brees constantly facing pressure. In fact, the Saints rank among the top NFL teams in that department.

But when Brees has been under duress, it has led to disaster. He threw a career-high 10 straight incomplete passes during the fourth quarter at Detroit, including a game-changing interception on third-and-9 with 3:20 remaining.

I’ll start this week’s play-by-play review with what went wrong:

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
AP Photo/Paul SancyaDrew Brees had a stretch of 10 consecutive incompletions against the Lions.
The interception: The Lions blitzed five rushers, and Saints left tackle Terron Armstead got beat by end George Johnson, forcing Brees to scurry up in the pocket. Brees still found room and was able to step into his throw. But he admittedly kept his eyes on receiver Marques Colston for too long while waiting for Colston to shake cornerback Danny Gorrer. Safety Glover Quin, playing the role of “robber,” easily jumped the route.

The final drive: The Saints’ offensive line really started to struggle over the final 1:48, with New Orleans needing a field goal to win. The Lions went with just a four-man rush for most of the drive, but they still caused major headaches.

End Darryl Tapp spun through the duo of right tackle Zach Strief and tight end Jimmy Graham to force an incomplete pass on the final fourth-and-3. Earlier on the drive, end Ezekiel Ansah burned Armstead to force one incompletion and got eventual pressure past Armstead on another. Guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs each got beat more than once by tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley on that drive. And Strief struggled at least one other time with end Jason Jones.

Brees, line started great: That finish was hardly representative of the entire game. Brees completed 26 of his first 31 passes (not counting an intentional spike) for 335 yards and two touchdowns. He had plenty of time on many throws as he rediscovered receivers Colston and Kenny Stills. He even found the deep ball again with a beautiful 46-yard TD pass in stride to Stills in the third quarter.

Stills beat cornerback Darius Slay with an in-and-up move. And running back Travaris Cadet did a great job picking up a blitz to allow Brees time to step into the throw, which sailed 46 yards in the air.

By the way, Brees wasn’t perfect on those deep throws, but it wasn’t a matter of arm strength. He earlier threw one 50 yards in the air that overshot receiver Robert Meachem, who had a full step behind two defenders.

The pass protection also wasn’t perfect (center Jonathan Goodwin struggled twice against Suh, and running back Khiry Robinson missed a blitz pickup on a sack). But it was very good. Most of Brees’ throws were in the 20-yard range to Colston in the middle of the field. The Saints needed that with Graham limited by a shoulder injury and the run game limited by Detroit’s defense.

Graham’s quiet day: I can’t decide if Graham was truly used as a “decoy” in the literal sense of the word. Brees targeted him only twice, both times in the fourth quarter on desperate throws under pressure. But I’m not sure there was a deliberate plan never to throw Graham’s way since he was on the field for 30 snaps (mostly in the hurry-up offense).

Mostly, Graham ran short routes into the flat. And maybe Brees would have checked down to him if he wasn’t having so much success throwing down the field. Graham was even involved in a few chip blocks at the line of scrimmage and a couple run blocks (one an outstanding block against linebacker DeAndre Levy on a 12-yard run by Pierre Thomas. So it’s not like the Saints completely kept Graham under bubble wrap.

Running the wrong way: The Saints had a handful of nice double-digit runs (one each by Thomas, Robinson, Mark Ingram and Brees). But they also had a handful of runs that went for minus-3 and minus-4 yards.

Detroit’s Suh lived up to his reputation in that department, but the Saints’ run-blocking issues seemed to spread across the board. Armstead had a few miscues. Evans, Grubbs, tight end Josh Hill and fullback Austin Johnson each got beat at least once or twice.

The most costly miscue was Robinson’s fumble after a 4-yard gain in the second quarter. Robinson got his pads low as he braced for contact, but Detroit tackle C.J. Mosley got even lower and popped the ball loose with a shoulders-to-shoulders hit.

Mostly, the Saints just decided to throw the ball against Detroit. Fifteen of the first 18 play calls were passes. The screen passing game was also shut down repeatedly.

Costly (questionable) penalties: It’s easy to see why Sean Payton was so upset by the officiating since the two most egregious missed calls hurt the offense. Cadet got taken out by a head slap by Fairley when he was heading out for a screen pass on a third-down play in the fourth quarter. And Colston was flagged for an illegal block that wiped out a first-down in the third quarter, even though the replay showed that linebacker Josh Bynes actually stumbled over his own teammate.

Other good stuff: The Saints had a lot of success with their no-huddle offense and some quick snaps. They scored a quick field goal at the end of the first half and a quick TD to start the second half in hurry-up mode. They also hit Colston wide open for a third-down conversion after a quick snap when Detroit’s defense wasn’t set yet. … The 13-yard play-action TD pass to Johnson in the second quarter was very well designed and aided by a great block by Stills.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Here is the latest look at what could turn out to be a banner crop of rookie receivers.

They are ranked by targets, which is a true measure of how much a receiver is utilized. We’re using the qualifier of having a minimum of four targets per game.

Here’s the list of the top-targeted rookie receivers (28 targets needed to qualify):

Sammy Watkins, Buffalo (62 targets): He had a monster game in the Bills' 17-16 victory over Minnesota. He was targeted 14 times and caught nine passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns. He now leads all rookies with 35 catches and has 433 yards and four touchdowns. This is the first time he’s topped this list.

Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina (61): He only had three catches for 61 yards on six targets in a 38-17 loss to Green Bay, though one was for a touchdown. He has 34 catches for 477 yards and five touchdowns. The yardage and TDs lead all rookie receivers.

Allen Robinson, Jacksonville (52): He had four receptions for 60 yards in the Jaguars’ 24-6 victory over Cleveland. One was a 31-yard catch-and-run that resulted in his first career touchdown. He has 34 catches for 371 yards.

Brandin Cooks, New Orleans (42): Cooks had just two catches for 23 yards in the Saints’ 24-23 loss to Detroit. He has 34 catches for 278 yards and one touchdown.

Allen Hurns, Jacksonville (40): He had just one catch for 7 yards against the Browns and has 19 receptions for 305 yards and three touchdowns.

Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia (36): The Eagles were idle. He has 23 catches for 226 yards and two touchdowns.

Mike Evans, Tampa Bay (33): The Buccaneers were idle. He has 21 catches for 258 yards and two touchdowns.

John Brown, Arizona (33): He had a light day in the Cardinals’ 24-13 victory over Oakland, catching just two passes for 41 yards. He has 17 catches for 197 yards and three TDs.

The Film Don't Lie: Saints

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
A weekly look at what the New Orleans Saints must fix:

No quarterback in the NFL has been worse while under duress this year than Drew Brees, who needs to start making better decisions under pressure when the Saints (2-4) host the Green Bay Packers (5-2) on Sunday night.

Brees now has a league-worst passer rating of 19.4 when he's either under duress or being hit, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- a number that has plummeted with three ugly interceptions over the past two games against the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brees has completed 20 of 47 passes for 199 yards while under pressure with zero touchdowns, four interceptions and five sacks.

The good news is Brees has been under pressure on only 20.4 percent of his dropbacks this year -- a rate that ranks sixth best among NFL teams once you throw out the sack against punter Thomas Morstead on a flopped fake punt at the Dallas Cowboys.

And, at times, Brees and the Saints' offensive line have looked outstanding, like they did during the first three-plus quarters at Detroit this past Sunday, when Brees completed 26 of 32 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns.

But then suddenly, the Saints line couldn't seem to block anyone in the Lions' stifling defensive front as they coughed up a 13-point lead in a stunning 24-23 loss. Brees threw a career-high 10 straight incomplete passes in the fourth quarter -- including a game-changing interception he admitted was too telegraphed.

Left tackle Terron Armstead got beat on that play, and he allowed at least three pressures in the fourth quarter. So did guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs. Right tackle Zach Strief allowed at least two.

Saints coach Sean Payton expressed very little concern over Brees, though, when asked if he thinks he's pressing too much.

"No, I don't," Payton said. "Obviously [you] want to have the one interception back, but I felt like his decision-making and rhythm, I felt like his week of preparation and how he played all during the practice week was outstanding. He's going to be just fine. He's the least of our worries."

Saints’ Week 6 snap counts

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
A look at the New Orleans Saints' snap counts in their 24-23 loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 6:

OFFENSE (74 snaps)
Quarterback -- Drew Brees 74
Running back -- Pierre Thomas 27, Mark Ingram 25, Travaris Cadet 20, Khiry Robinson 5
Fullback -- Austin Johnson 16
Receiver -- Brandin Cooks 65, Marques Colston 62, Kenny Stills 47, Robert Meachem 19
Tight end -- Jimmy Graham 30, Benjamin Watson 29, Josh Hill 25
Offensive tackle -- Terron Armstead 74, Zach Strief 72, Bryce Harris 2
Guard -- Jahri Evans 74, Ben Grubbs 74
Center -- Tim Lelito 42, Jonathan Goodwin 32

Thoughts: Graham played 30 snaps but was targeted only twice. It would probably be exagerrating things to flatly label him as a “decoy.” But it sure seems like he wasn't the first option on most of his snaps, and the Saints probably wanted to avoid contact in traffic as he recovers from a shoulder injury. … As if it wasn't clear enough from watching the game, these snap counts verify that the Saints had a pass-heavy plan in place against the Lions and their stifling front four. Look how many snaps for the wide receivers and pass-catching running backs compared to the tight ends, fullback Johnson and tailback Robinson. Many of the Saints' runs came from draw plays out of passing looks. … Robinson's fumble certainly may have contributed to him playing just five snaps, but his inconsistency as a pass protector likely played an even greater role based on the game plan.

DEFENSE (70 snaps)
Cornerback -- Corey White 67, Keenan Lewis 60, Brian Dixon 43, Stanley Jean-Baptiste 8
Safety -- Kenny Vaccaro 70, Rafael Bush 70, Marcus Ball 21, Vinnie Sunseri 4
Outside linebacker -- Junior Galette 58, Parys Haralson 39
Inside linebacker -- Curtis Lofton 70, David Hawthorne 68, Todd Davis 2
Defensive end -- Cameron Jordan 64, Akiem Hicks 55, Tyrunn Walker 23, Glenn Foster 8
Defensive tackle -- John Jenkins 26, Brodrick Bunkley 14

Thoughts: A lot of young players saw more action than usual in this one because of injuries. Ball, Jean-Baptiste and Davis made their NFL debuts on defense, and Sunseri's four snaps were a career-high. … Ball actually started as the fifth defensive back in the Saints' heavy nickel package. I haven't reviewed the tape yet, but he appeared to play well watching the game live. … Jean-Baptiste, meanwhile, appeared to give up the go-ahead touchdown pass after being thrown into the fire. But coach Sean Payton said, without getting into specifics, that it wasn't just Jean-Baptiste to blame on that play. That makes sense, since Jean-Baptiste appeared to let the receiver go as if he expected help.
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints placed backup defensive end Glenn Foster on injured reserve Monday, ending his season with a knee injury.

The Saints also re-signed veteran tight end Tom Crabtree and waived linebacker Todd Davis -- reversing the transaction they made Saturday. They still have one roster spot vacant after the moves.

Foster was injured during the Saints' 24-23 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday. The exact nature of the injury is unknown, though it was obviously significant enough to place him on IR.

Although the second-year pro had just one tackle and no sacks this year, he'll be missed as a rotational pass-rusher. Last year, Foster had three sacks as an undrafted rookie out of Illinois. He was averaging about 12 snaps per game this season, sometimes playing in a four-end pass-rush formation.

The Saints' entire defensive line has struggled to generate the same kind of pass rush as they did last year, so it hurts to lose any player that could have been a possible asset. They still have decent depth at defensive end, though, with starters Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks and backups Tyrunn Walker and end/tackle Brandon Deaderick. So it's unclear if they'll look to replace Foster with another end or look to add a player elsewhere on the roster.

As for the Crabtree/Davis move, it's hard to speculate on why the Saints wanted Crabtree back. He was presumably signed as insurance two weeks ago after starter Jimmy Graham suffered a shoulder injury, but he was released when it became clear that Graham could play (30 snaps in a limited role Sunday). So maybe he's still Graham insurance, or maybe the Saints liked enough of what they saw to potentially use him as an extra tight end and special teamer.

Davis was promoted from the practice squad on Saturday because the Saints were thin at linebacker with backups Ramon Humber and Kyle Knox both sidelined by ankle injuries. Perhaps the Saints are optimistic that one or both will be able to return. Davis will likely be re-signed to the practice squad if he clears waivers.
METAIRIE, La. -- Sean Payton didn't offer updates on any of the various injuries that piled up for the New Orleans Saints during Sunday's 24-23 loss to the Detroit Lions.

But cornerback Keenan Lewis insisted, "I'll be ready," without getting into any of the specifics of what knocked him out of the game late in the fourth quarter. Payton said after the game it was hamstring and cramping issues.

The Saints certainly hope Lewis will be back this week, since they'll need their top corner more than ever Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers and their dynamic passing offense.

The nature of running back Pierre Thomas' injury remains unknown. He appeared to be in pain as he punched the ground and lay there for a couple minutes as trainers tended to him in the third quarter after a hard hit to his left arm/shoulder area. But Thomas got up soon after and sat on the bench before later walking into the locker room with a medical staff member.

Center Jonathan Goodwin left via a cart with an unspecified leg injury. The severity is unknown, but Goodwin and teammates reacted on the field as though it might be significant before he was helped off the field by trainers.

Defensive end Glenn Foster was also ruled out of the game with a knee injury and was later seen on crutches. Nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley was ruled out after being tested for a possible concussion. And receiver Kenny Stills was sidelined on two separate occasions for undisclosed reasons. He mentioned afterward that he was ill, but it's unclear if that's the only issue he was dealing with.
METAIRIE, La. -- Sean Payton was upbeat Monday as he dissected many of the encouraging aspects of the New Orleans Saints' performance in their 24-23 loss to the Detroit Lions Sunday. But the coach clearly remained frustrated by some of the officiating calls throughout the game after watching the tape.

Although Payton tried to bite his tongue on several occasions, he couldn’t resist throwing a few jabs at the officiating -- even when he was answering questions on unrelated topics.

“Now obviously, listen, we’re not good enough right now to overcome some of the challenges that took place -- and I referenced the officiating (Sunday), and I’m gonna leave it at that, but that’s not the reason we lost this game yesterday,” Payton said during his opening statement Monday.

Later, Payton added, “There’s some adversity that takes place with road trips. But then that outside adversity you’re not preparing on. Some of these penalties, you’ve gotta overcome 'em.”

Payton only mentioned one specific instance -- when no flag was thrown on a third-down play midway through the fourth quarter after running back Travaris Cadet was "tackled around the head" when he was heading out to catch a screen pass.

When asked if he could identify any of the other specific calls, Payton said, “I don’t even want to start. It’ll cost me money (in a possible league fine).”

But Payton said in general that, “It’s the calls that they saw that nothing really happened, those are the ones that are a lot harder to swallow. The ones that they explain to you on the game field that this is what they saw, and then you watch the tape ... those are more difficult. But that can’t be our crutch, certainly not on a Monday.”

Payton, who was seen on TV giving an earful to referee Terry McAulay as time expired in the game, also acknowledged that the officials “have got a tough job now, make no mistake about it.” And he said, “Listen, they’re not different than me or the players: They have good games and they have bad games. That’s the truth.”

When it was pointed out that he doesn’t usually harp on the officiating like this, Payton said, “I’m not going to.” And when asked if he’s worried about hearing from the league, Payton said, “No, but it’s pretty clear. And that’s why I haven’t gone into detail about anything.”

When asked if he would send a request to the league to review some of the calls, Payton said, “Typically you don’t mess with it. And really it doesn’t matter. You’ve gotta get on to the next game. So it’s important that all of a sudden you don’t spend half your Monday consumed with what wasn’t ... or what was called that later you find out it wasn’t.”

There were at least three other noteworthy judgment calls that could have drawn Payton’s ire.

The costliest was a defensive pass interference penalty against safety Rafael Bush that gave the Lions new life after a fourth-down incompletion with 2:17 remaining. Bush was flagged for making contact with the intended receiver, running back Reggie Bush. The Saints safety clearly did have his arm wrapped around Reggie Bush's arm, though it was unclear how egregious the contact was. Color analyst Ronde Barber (a former longtime defensive back) agreed with the call on the TV broadcast.

In the second quarter, Barber also agreed with a 31-yard pass interference penalty against rookie cornerback Brian Dixon, who initiated some light arm contact with receiver Golden Tate before both players stumbled and fell to the turf.

The most objectionable pass interference call was probably the one against Saints receiver Marques Colston that nullified a big gain to Pierre Thomas on third down in the third quarter. Colston’s contact with linebacker Josh Bynes appeared to be incidental after Bynes stumbled over a teammate.

A 15-yard personal foul penalty against center Tim Lelito for an illegal blindside block on Kenny Stills' end-around early in the fourth quarter was another costly judgment call.

The Saints finished with 12 penalties for 134 yards, while the Lions had nine for 71 yards.
METAIRIE, La. -- For the first time all year, Sean Payton said the New Orleans Saints resembled the team they expected to be this season.

And though it ended with a painful 24-23 loss to the Detroit Lions after blowing a 13-point lead in the final four minutes, Payton said it was important for him to send a positive message to the team on Monday.

[+] EnlargeSean Payton
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesDespite the loss, Coach Sean Payton said it was the best the defense has played this season.
"It was the first game we played this year where I felt like there was a markedly different team from the last game, even [compared to a] victory versus Tampa, and how we looked. That's encouraging," Payton said. "And the reason is all we've talked about is that improvement from week to week. You guys [in the media] hear me say it all the time, 'We're in a race to improve.' And I felt like I saw more and we saw more in that game than we had in the prior five, with regards to improvement.

"Now obviously, listen, we're not good enough right now to overcome some of the challenges that took place (including the officiating, which I'll expand on later today after Payton again expressed his frustration Monday). … And we weren't able to finish. But when watching the tape, I'm encouraged with a lot of the improvement that I saw."

Obviously Payton and players acknowledged that they still need to clean up mistakes related to execution and scheme, etc., especially in those final minutes where they've now coughed up three leads this season en route to a 2-4 record.

But Payton's emphasis was more on things like energy, work ethic during the practice week and even that "edge" that had been missing for most of this season.

"I wouldn't come up and tell you guys, ‘Hey, I'll be shocked if we don't play lights out and win this game.' But this would have been a week where I would have said that," Payton said. "And I felt like the preparation leading up to it and the focus, that's the thing that was encouraging. And I felt like it was different. …

"I think it's important that they need to see that. Look, it's frustrating and it's tough when you expend that energy and come off the bye with a good plan and at the very end you still come away empty-handed. That can be very difficult and very frustrating. And yet, I think it's important that they recognize here's some of the things that were different. This is what we saw differently. This is why we resembled a little more of the team we expected for the first time.

"If we continue to make that same progress and improvement, this team will be alright."

Payton said it was "by far" the best game the Saints played defensively, with season-highs of two takeaways and three sacks. But obviously the defense ultimately collapsed with breakdowns on both of Detroit's late touchdown passes (a 73-yarder to Golden Tate on third-and-14 and a 5-yarder to Corey Fuller on third-and-goal).

As a result, the Saints' defensive players seemed torn Monday between that frustration and that encouragement.

Cornerback Keenan Lewis said you can't ever walk away happy after a loss -- whether there was improvement or not. And many other defensive players offered some variation of what linebacker Curtis Lofton said Sunday afternoon: "A loss is a loss, regardless, they all suck and you hate the feeling of them."

At the same time, players stressed that they remain united and focused on continuing to improve after seeing more signs of that improvement Sunday.

"We know we have to finish games, and that's something we will work on this week," Saints end Cameron Jordan said. "When you lose close games like that, it's heartbreaking. When you dominate for three quarters and you end up letting off in the last couple minutes, it completely changes the game. It definitely hurts, and this is a tough game to swallow."

But, Jordan also said, "There were a lot of great things in that game. That's why we're upbeat."

Fantasy Now: Saints' Offense

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20


Eric Karabell discusses the Saints' jumbled backfield and Jimmy Graham's disappointing Week 7.
DETROIT -- As I wrote Sunday, quarterback Drew Brees put the blame for the New Orleans Saints' 24-23 loss squarely on his shoulders because of a late interception. But he wasn’t the only one.

Offensive tackle Zach Strief had strong comments about how the Saints’ leadership failed them.

"You don’t go in that locker room and blame one person but the leaders on this team. ... Me, Drew, (fellow captains Curtis Lofton and Junior Galette), Coach (Sean) Payton. The leaders didn’t step up, myself included," said Strief, who kept reiterating that point.

"I’m proud of the team in there. I’m embarrassed for our leadership, myself included. I’ll put myself at the top of the list, but I put it on leadership," Strief said when asked how players responded to the tough loss. "I think those guys in that locker room had their best week of practice, I think they played with emotion today, I thought guys played hard. I think they outplayed the other team, and the leadership failed them. ...

"It’s partially play from our leaders, and clearly we're not bringing guys along and teaching them how to finish games."

Later, Saints running back Khiry Robinson also blamed himself for fumbling, tweeting:


Worth a click: For good breakdowns from the Lions' side, check out ESPN NFL Insider John Clayton's breakdown of what led to safety Glover Quin's interception and check out Michael Rothstein's breakdown of what led to Matthew Stafford's game-winning touchdown pass.

Worth noting:
  • Brees threw 10 straight incomplete passes during the fourth quarter, including the interception. That was the longest stretch of incomplete passes in his career, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
  • Brees was 0 for 3 on throws of 15 yards or more in the fourth quarter after going 7 of 9 on such throws through the first three quarters, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
  • Brees was under duress on six of his pass attempts in the fourth quarter. He was 0 for 6 on those plays, including the interception, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
DETROIT -- The worst part about the New Orleans Saints' worst defensive collapse of the season was that they had played their best game of the season for 55-plus minutes.

With 4:47 remaining, the Saints led the Detroit Lions 23-10, and Detroit had a total of 240 yards.

The Saints had a season-high two interceptions -- one by cornerback Keenan Lewis early and one by safety Kenny Vaccaro that appeared to clinch the game midway through the fourth quarter.

The Saints had a season-high three sacks -- including one by linebacker Parys Haralson that forced a third-and-10.

Then came the breakdowns: on that third-and-10, a 21-yard pass from Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to receiver Corey Fuller. And three plays later, a 73-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to receiver Golden Tate on third-and-14.

A few minutes later, Stafford threw the go-ahead 5-yard touchdown pass to Fuller after a pass-interference penalty on fourth down.

"It just flashed," said Vaccaro, one of many Saints who were torn between taking some positives from the overall effort and feeling exasperation because it was their third blown loss in the final minutes this season.

"It's the league, though. Anything can happen at any time," Vaccaro said. "You're feeling good about yourself sitting there at 23-10. Then, blink, now we're back in here talking to y'all [the media] about what happened."

The biggest dagger of all -- not just Sunday, but this entire season -- was the touchdown pass to Tate, which was a short, innocent-looking pass that was actually a little underthrown.

The Saints were in a Cover 3, prevent-style defense. But cornerback Corey White saw an opportunity to jump the route. And then Tate sneaked in and undercut White instead.

As a result, White was in the air and wasn't in position to tackle Tate. Then Tate burned past Vaccaro and Lewis, with safety Rafael Bush too far away to get over and make a tackle.

"I should've made that play," White said. "I had a good beat on the route, and I was going for the interception, and he just kind of stepped in front of me. I didn't know where he was. I knew he was behind me, but I didn't know whether or not he could work back to the ball, and that's what he did.

"Of course you're stunned. A play you could have made, and you look up and it's going the whole distance. And you're like, 'Man, if only I made the play it'd be over.'"

The Lions got a short field to work with on their next series after Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw an interception, but the Saints' defense appeared to hold tight before Bush was flagged for defensive pass interference on fourth down for hooking the arm of running back Reggie Bush.

Two plays later, Saints rookie cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste allowed Fuller to run straight past him wide open for a touchdown -- an apparent missed assignment by Jean-Baptiste, who was playing for the first time this season because Lewis was battling injuries late in the game (cramps/hamstring/knee based on varying accounts).

"I'm sick of it," Lewis said, according to The Times-Picayune. "I'm tired of all of this losing. It doesn't matter if you lose by one. A loss is a loss, and it's going down in the record book.

"We've got to find a way to finish games. All since OTAs, minicamp, that's what Coach has been saying. All the gassers we run, we've got to finish games."

That's exactly what the Saints' defense did two weeks ago in a 37-31 overtime victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And they carried that momentum through the bye week to the start of this game. The defense actually kept the Saints afloat while New Orleans' offense took a while to get going Sunday in Detroit.

That's why there was still some pride and optimism mixed in with all the frustration after Sunday's loss.

"I've had games where as a defense you walk away with a bad taste. But this one, we grew," Vaccaro said. "But in the end you've gotta finish. … You can't give up a 75-yard play when we're in a Cover 3, prevent-type defense, third-and-forever."
DETROIT -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton became terse when questioned about his decision to keep throwing the ball with a six-point lead and 3:38 remaining in Sunday's game.

In hindsight, the decision backfired with quarterback Drew Brees eventually throwing an interception on third-and-9 that allowed the Detroit Lions to come back for a 24-23 victory.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
AP Photo/Paul SancyaSean Payton decided to go pass-heavy late against the Lions, a decision that ended up biting quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints.
"Three minutes, 30 seconds, three timeouts. That's like seven minutes," Payton said when asked why he chose not to start running out the clock at that point. Then he snapped, "Next question. Next smart question."

Payton returned to the question soon after, though, and explained that it would have been easy to second-guess the play calls in that situation either way.

And for what it's worth, I agree -- especially on a day when the Saints' run game was being silenced by a stifling Detroit defensive front.

Last year, for instance, Payton was criticized for choosing to run in a similar situation and allowing the New England Patriots time to march down the field for a late come-from-behind win.

"You get in that situation, and it's tough ... Hand it off three times, and there's two minutes, 48 seconds, more than that. So you go back and forth," Payton said. "It's less than a one-score game. We were in those situations last year. When the team's got three timeouts, and the team's got north of 3:30, 3:40 -- that's a ton of time. ..."

Payton was then interrupted and asked if he didn't think his defense could make a stop.

"I'm answering a question. Be quiet. ... Will you let me finish?" Payton shot back. "We made the decision at that point in the game with what we were wanting to do. I made it. Now it's easy when it doesn't work out to come back and [question it]. Now, if we hand that ball off and end up punting, then it's easy for you to sit in here and ask the same question again."

The Saints went with a pass-heavy mentality all day. But it was hard to second-guess the approach based on the results. The Saints' tailbacks gained 55 yards on 19 carries (an average of 2.9 yards per carry). Brees, meanwhile, completed 28 of 45 passes for 342 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Brees' numbers were even better over the first three-plus quarters, when he completed 26 of his first 32 passes for 335 yards. But the passing game suddenly collapsed, with Brees completing just two of his final 13 passes for a total of 7 yards, including the interception.

Afterward, Brees fell on the sword, saying he let the team down.
DETROIT -- Sean Payton was clearly upset by some of the officiating calls in the New Orleans Saints' 24-23 loss to the Detroit Lions. He was caught yelling toward referee Terry McAulay as time expired. Then he admitted as much in his postgame news conference.

“I thought the penalties ended up hurting us. I wasn’t happy with the way that game was officiated, I’m gonna leave it at that. And yet that wasn’t the reason in the end,” Payton said.

It’s unclear which calls drew Payton’s ire, though there were certainly some major calls in the game that could have been considered judgment calls.

The costliest was a defensive pass interference penalty against safety Rafael Bush that gave the Lions new life after a fourth-down incomplete pass with 2:17 remaining. Bush was flagged for making contact with the intended receiver, running back Reggie Bush.

Earlier in the fourth quarter, Saints quarterback Drew Brees appeared to be campaigning for a call when he threw the ball away into the turf and had to settle for a field goal. In the second quarter, Saints cornerback Brian Dixon was flagged for a 31-yard pass interference penalty that may have been considered incidental contact and led to a Lions field goal. And in the third, an offensive pass interference call against receiver Marques Colston nullified a big gain on third down.

The Saints finished with 12 accepted penalties for 134 yards, while the Lions had nine for 71 yards.