Sometimes you don’t need players and coaches to explain things.
Sometimes the stadium tells the story.
It did on Sunday.
The sorry state of the 2023 New Orleans Saints could be seen, felt and heard at the Superdome throughout the Lions’ 33-28 victory.
You could see it in the Dome’s seats, where an army of Lions fans turned the lower bowl into a sea of blue and silver, an emphatic statement of dissatisfaction by disgruntled locals who sold their tickets.
You could feel it in the reverberations of the upper deck, where the terrace rats pounded out their frustrations on the stadium’s walls.
And you could hear it in the air as boos rained down on the home team as the Lions built a commanding 21-0 in the game’s opening minutes. The loudest jeers were reserved for Derek Carr, the Saints’ embattled quarterback, who was booed lustily every time he stepped on the field or heard his name mentioned.
“It’s disappointing, but obviously we have to play better,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “We have to give them something to cheer for. We have to give them something to be proud of.”
That’s difficult to do when you start the game as poorly as the Saints did.
Throughout the week, Saints players and coaches preached the importance of starting fast against the Lions. They emphasized the need to seize an early lead and end their season-long penchant for playing catch-up.
Then the Saints kicked off and watched the Lions roar to a 21-0 lead before either team had even broken a sweat. Aided by a tip-drill interception on the Saints’ first snap from scrimmage, the Lions scored touchdowns on their first three possessions. Less than seven minutes into the game, the Saints were staring down the gun of a 21-0 deficit and the home crowd had transformed from happy to hostile.
“It’s miserable, honestly,” said left guard James Hurst of the slow start and ugly atmosphere. “There were so many things that kind of went wrong. … But in a sense, we created that situation for ourselves.”
If there was a silver lining to the Saints’ third consecutive loss it was that they did not quit when they easily have thrown in the towel. Instead, they battled back to make things respectable. But like previous games against the Jaguars and Vikings, the outcome never truly seemed in doubt. The Lions led from start to finish. It’s the third time this season that the Saints have played a team with a winning record, and each time, they have failed to lead for a single minute.
At this point, it’s fair to wonder if it will change. The same mistakes continue to haunt the Saints. Slow starts. Ill-timed turnovers. Dropped passes. Missed tackles. If the self-destructive tendencies were isolated to a single game, it would be easy to explain them away. But they have been a season-long issue, which explains the rancor and restlessness of the home fans.
“We know the fans are great here,” Hurst said. “They want wins, just like we do. … Obviously the loss hurts, and it’s still a loss — one point, 40 points, it doesn’t matter. We’re 5-7, a loss is a loss.”
The good news is the schedule eases from here. The three-game slide has come against arguably the most difficult stretch of the season, with games against the Vikings, Falcons and Lions, who have a combined 21-15 record. Up next are winnable games against the 1-11 Panthers and 4-8 Giants.
With Carr sidelined indefinitely because of assorted injuries and a second concussion, the Saints will likely have to navigate the rest of the homestand with Jameis Winston at quarterback. And that might be a relief in some respects, considering Carr’s low approval rating with some precincts of the fan base.
The Superdome has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most hostile venues in the NFL. When the Saints are winning, it can be one of the best home-field advantages in sports. But when things go south, the Dome can become hostile for the home team, as it did Sunday against the Lions.
“We’ve just got to get better,” receiver Chris Olave said. “I feel like there should never be boos in a home stadium, but our play has just got to be better.”
On that, everyone can agree. If the Saints want to change the atmosphere at the Dome, they most first improve their play and execution between the white lines. Do that, and the jeers will turn to cheers. But until then, the Dome will be a home-field disadvantage for the Saints.