NEW ORLEANS – Even when the New Orleans Saints were average or bad in the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s, they could count on their refuge of last resort – the Louisiana Superdome.
Even the very worst Saints teams in those eras managed to avoid six straight losses in the Superdome, which became known as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2011. Well, the Benz is suddenly a Pinto, and it’s blowing up on the Saints.
The dome is flooding with losses.
On Sunday afternoon, the Saints lost 26-19 to Tampa Bay for their sixth straight regular season loss in the Superdome – five to end last year and one to start the home schedule this season.
The Saints (0-2) had not lost as many as six dome games over two seasons since 1979-80 when they lost the last two of ’79 and all eight in 1980 when the team finished 1-15 with the only victory in Shea Stadium in New York City.
Yes, the Sean Payton Saints have something in common with the team that made the “Aints” famous. Just two years ago, the Saints went 8-0 at home.
The dome sprung leaks everywhere Sunday. The Saints fumbled five times, were penalized 10 times for 115 yards, had nine players on the field for a play, gave up four sacks, missed an extra point and missed a 42-yard field goal.
Even the star of last resort, one of the last refugees from the 2009-10 Super Bowl champions, seems like he is throwing into hurricane force winds. Quarterback Drew Brees looked all of 36. He tossed an interception on the Saints’ first drive of the third quarter just after his team fell behind by 17-7, but what was more painfully visible was a handful of underthrows.
“A few of the balls down the field, they didn’t come out really well,” Brees said.
Brees underthrew a wide open Brandin Cooks in the second quarter.
“I mean, that’s a touchdown if I throw it out there,” he said. “It should’ve been a touchdown.”
Tight end Jimmy Graham is obviously very much missed, and Max Unger, the center the Saints got from Seattle for Graham, cannot protect Brees by himself.
The Saints cannot run effectively. They managed 25 yards on 14 carries in the first half.
“We were averaging a little over a yard a carry in the first quarter,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.
“We need to find our rhythm offensively,” Brees said. “It never really felt like we had great rhythm throughout the game. No real rhythm was ever found.”
During the 13-0 start in the 2009 season, which included six straight home wins, Brees compared the Superdome crowd to that of a religious revival. On Sunday, this placed seemed to be hosting an atheists’ convention.
“We’ve got this great home field advantage, and we didn’t take advantage of it,” he said. “And right when we would get something going and the crowd would get into it, we turned it over.”
Even when the Saints were great from 2009 through 2013, excluding the bounty season of 2012 when Payton was suspended all season, they struggled on the road at times. They were called the ultimate dome team. Now, they don’t even have that.
“We have great fans, and it’s disappointing not to play well for them,” Payton said. “The advantage you can have of playing at home here and the history of playing here and all those other things. But there are just so many guys that are new to it. The ones that have been here need to communicate how important it is for this to be an advantage.”
Unfortunately, the Saints who know how the dome was are suddenly outnumbered.