In lamenting a 29-24 loss to the Washington Redskins, a game in which the Saints led 24-15 after three quarters, Saints coach Sean Payton said Monday he found four or five critical plays that contributed to the loss.
In the immediate aftermath of Sunday's setback, however, there was one play that really stood out to Payton -- his offense's failure to make a first down on third-and-1 with just more than four minutes left and his team clinging to a 24-22 lead.
One yard was all the Saints needed to pick up to keep their injury-depleted defense off the field on a very hot and humid day. But Pierre Thomas was stopped for no gain and the Saints were forced to punt the ball away.
Payton later called the failed third-and-1 running play by the Saints a "pivotal one" in the game, which let the Redskins off the hook.
"We have to line up and get a yard running the ball," he said, "and if we can't, then we're going to struggle."
Right tackle Jon Stinchcomb said the simple running play is a staple of the Saints' offense, a play designed to pick up a first down in short-yardage situations.
"It's a staple, something we work on every day," he said. "It just takes execution. You just have to run through the linebacker.
"That's the one that hurt most," Stinchcomb added. "We made a number of mistakes in the game, but that one hurt. We have to get that corrected. It's frustrating not getting that first down."
And, more importantly, not getting a win.
Injuries forced the Saints coach Sean Payton to make four changes to his starting lineup for Sunday's matchup with the Washington Redskins.
Three of the changes were on defense as strongside linebacker Scott Fujita (knee), cornerback Randall Gay (hamstring) and strong safety Roman Harper (hamstring) were all ruled out of the game on Friday.
Rookie Jo-Lonn Dunbar started in place of Fujita, Aaron Glenn opened at cornerback for Gay and Kevin Kaesviharn, the team's starting free safety, replaced Harper with Josh Bullocks stepping in at Kaesviharn's spot.
Because of all the injuries on his team, Payton's list of eight inactives included seven players who could not participate in the contest.
In addition to Fujita, Gay, Harper and Colston, the team's other inactives were running back Aaron Stecker (hamstring), cornerback Mike McKenzie (knee), defensive tackle Antwan Lake (groin) and tackle Jermon Bushrod.
Bushrod, a second-year pro, was the only healthy inactive.
Also, defensive tackle Alvin McKinley, who was signed last Wednesday, was hobbled by a foot injury. And middle linebacker Mark Simoneau was put on injured reserve on Friday with a lower back injury that will require surgery.
BUSH PENALTY: For the second time in his career, Saints running back Reggie Bush was penalized for taunting an opposing player near the end of a long touchdown play in Sunday's game.
Bush was en route to returning a punt 55 yards for a score late in the third quarter when he turned toward the Redskins and pointed at them. The Saints were penalized 15 yards, forcing Martin Gramatica to kick off from his 15.
Asked after the game if the penalty was warranted, Bush said, "Yes and no. I've seen worse. But at the end of the day, you can't do that. I shouldn't have done it. It hurt our team, it was a penalty and a mistake you can't make."
NO 2-0: The Saints looked like they would start 2-0 for only the sixth time in club history before the Redskins rallied for 14 fourth-quarter points and a 29-24 victory at FedEx Field.
Instead, it turned out to be the ninth time the Saints failed to capitalize on a 1-0 start and had a loss hung on them. The other occasions were in 1971, '78, '83, '87, '89, '99, 2001 and '05.
The Saints lost in FedEx Field for the first time after winning in 2002 (43-27) and '03 (24-20). Prior to that, the franchise had compiled a 2-6 mark in old RFK Stadium.
In the stunning setback to the Redskins, the Saints squandered a 24-15 lead at the end of the third quarter, a rarity since Sean Payton took over in 2006. They are now 17-3 under Payton when leading after three periods.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LCB Aaron Glenn sustained a strained ligament in his right ankle in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game at Washington. It's not known how long he'll be sidelined.
LCB Randall Gay did not play against the Redskins because of a right hamstring injury and his return is not known.
LCB Mike McKenzie was out for a second straight game as he continues to come back from a torn right ACL. Coach Sean Payton said he believes McKenzie is close to being game-ready.
SS Roman Harper did not play against the Redskins because of a hamstring injury and it's not known how long he'll be out.
SLB Scott Fujita was inactive Sunday with a bruised right knee and his availability for Sunday's game at Denver was not immediately known.
WR Marques Colston is expected to be out another 3-to-5 weeks with a torn ligament in his left thumb.
DT Antwan Lake did not play against the Redskins because of a groin injury and it was not known if he'll be available for Sunday's game.
DT Alvin McKinley, who was signed to add depth because of the injury to Lake, was sidelined for Sunday's game with a foot injury.
RB Aaron Stecker missed his second straight game with a hamstring problem and his return is unknown.
MLB Mark Simoneau was placed on injured reserve Friday with a lower back injury that will require surgery.
DE Josh Savage was signed from the practice squad to take Simoneau's spot on the 53-man roster.
G/C Matt Lehr was released Saturday because the Saints needed a third tight end on the roster for the game with the Redskins.
TE Buck Ortega was signed off the practice squad to be the third tight end against the Redskins.
REPORT CARD VS. REDSKINS
PASSING OFFENSE: C -- The Saints weren't terrible, but they certainly weren't as efficient as they normally are in the loss to the Redskins. Drew Brees completed 22 of 33 passes for 216 yards with one TD. But he threw two interceptions, with both on deflections, and was sacked twice. He also had a passer rating of 69.8. Only one wide receiver caught more than two passes and that was David Patten, who had five receptions for 55 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- Just as it did last season, the Saints' running game is struggling big time. They managed just 55 yards on 19 carries and averaged 2.9 yards per attempt with a long run of 9 yards. Reggie Bush had 28 yards on 10 carries and Pierre Thomas had 8 yards on six tries. Thomas was stuffed on a third-and-1 play that would have helped keep the Saints' defense off the field for a couple of more minutes late in the game with a precarious two-point lead.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- After a good start in a season-opening win over Tampa Bay, the Saints took a step backward Sunday. With their top two cover cornerbacks down, along with their starting strong safety, they had a tough time in keeping Jason Campbell in check. He connected on 24 of 36 passes for 321 yards and had a passer rating of 104.1. His 67-yard TD pass over rookie cornerback Tracy Porter to Santana Moss, who caught seven passes for 164 yards, proved to be the game-winning score.
RUSH DEFENSE: D -- The Saints simply couldn't stop the Redskins' stretch play, which allowed Clinton Portis to gain 96 yards and two TDs on 21 carries. The Redskins finished the contest with 149 yards on 31 attempts and averaged a healthy 4.8 yards per carry. Portis picked up 4.6 yards per carry and Ladell Betts added 25 yards on six attempts for a 4.2 average. The numbers were a little skewed because Moss added a 27-yard run on a reverse, but the Saints still didn't show much resistance at all.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus -- The only things that saved the Saints a lower grade were a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown by Bush, which gave the Saints a 24-15 lead late in the third quarter, a 44.6 punting average by Steve Weatherford and a 49-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica to end the first half. The Saints averaged 23.3 yards per kickoff return, but their coverage was below par as the Redskins averaged 25.3 yards per kickoff return.
COACHING: B -- Even though the Saints blew a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter, Sean Payton and his coaching staff get a decent mark for the hand they were dealt this week. The Saints had four starters sidelined by injuries that directly affected their passing game as well as their pass defense. Three of the missing starters were on the defensive side of the ball where the Saints had only 19 players available to put on the field in the fourth quarter.