- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Except for the way they reacted afterward.
No, the Saints (9-3) didn't even pretend to put a positive spin on the dreadful performance that started ugly and stayed ugly.
“The fact of the matter is, we took one on the chin today. I mean, we're used to being on the other end of these types of games,” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who then confirmed the obvious for anyone who might have missed the definitive statement that was made on Monday night.
“As of now, the road to the Super Bowl looks like it's gonna travel through here.”
But to a man, everyone in the Saints' locker room scoffed at the notion that their confidence could be dented by coming up so small in such a big game.
“Hell no. No, not us,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We ain't built like that. We're not soft in our core. We'll take our whupping like men. And we'll go back to work tomorrow.”
And they'll have to. Because the Saints don't have any time to lick their wounds with another critical battle for NFC supremacy coming up quickly -- a Sunday night date with the Carolina Panthers (9-3) in New Orleans.
The Saints will play Carolina twice in the next three weeks, with the NFC South title and the NFC's No. 2 seed up for grabs. The Panthers are the NFL's hottest team, winners of eight straight, and they present many of the same challenges as the team that just got done putting that whupping on the Saints (a stifling defense, a physical run game and a mobile dual-threat quarterback).
And to add one more degree of difficulty to that looming matchup, the Saints' short week got even shorter when a breakdown with their team plane forced them to spend Monday night in Seattle.
But the Saints' response to everything that happened on Monday night was essentially: challenge accepted.
“I'm going to sleep well knowing we've got everything in front of us,” Jenkins explained. Before he knew about the issues with the plane, anyway. “It's tough as a man to lose. We're all competitors, and to lose in this fashion is definitely disappointing. But I don't think anybody is going to lose confidence or doubt this team and what we can do.”
The way the Saints lost Monday is what was so shocking.
They managed only 188 total yards -- the lowest of the Drew Brees-Sean Payton era. Brees' 147 passing yards marked his lowest total since 2006.
The Saints did have one incredibly costly turnover in the first quarter, when Brees fumbled during a sack by end Cliff Avril and fellow end Michael Bennett returned it 22 yards for a touchdown. But that was the game's only turnover.
The rest of the game was just filled with a never-ending series of Seattle's defense shutting down New Orleans' offense -- then the Saints' defense being unable to stop the Seahawks.
When asked when the last time was that he remembered a loss so lopsided, Saints right tackle Zach Strief said, “Never."
Strief, who arrived in 2006, said even in the their biggest blowout loss of the era (a 41-10 defeat at Indianapolis in 2007), the Saints at least moved the ball early.
“I don't think I've played in a game like this since I've been here,” said Strief, who left early with a left ankle injury but is optimistic about his chances of recovery. “That's disappointing, especially in a big game and big stage like this, a situation that we're usually pretty good. And I really felt like we were ready to play this game. And yet, you have that performance and you don't like to see that, don't like to put that on tape.”
What went wrong? You name it.
Four of the Saints' first five drives resulted in three-and-outs, including the turnover. When they took shots deep down the field, Seattle's defensive backs broke up passes. When they tried to run, Seattle's defense swallowed them up. When they finally got some momentum going, they shot themselves in the foot with penalties.
As for the defense, it accomplished its No. 1 goal -- corralling running back Marshawn Lynch, who gained just 45 yards on 16 carries. But the Saints didn't stop anyone else.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson ran for 47 yards on eight carries, converting three first downs with his feet in the first half. And Wilson torched them with his arm, too, throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns. He repeatedly burned the Saints when they tried to blitz or got overaggressive while biting on play-action fakes.
He completed a 60-yard pass to wide-open tight end Zach Miller, a 52-yarder to receiver Doug Baldwin behind Jenkins on a seven-man blitz and a 33-yard strike to receiver Ricardo Lockette behind trusty cornerback Keenan Lewis.
“This is a tough atmosphere to come in and play. But obviously we're a much better team than what we put on the field tonight,” Brees said. “We know Seattle's a great team. And we know it's a team we've got to deal with in the future. And we've gotta find a way to play better against these guys when that time comes.”
Brees and Payton both insisted that the crowd noise and weather conditions were challenges -- but not the reasons why they lost. The Saints said they were prepared for both, and they didn't use either as an excuse.
Saints fullback Jed Collins said Payton's message to the team after the game was that he “wants us to remember the sting.”
“The message is we hope to get another shot at these guys,” Collins said. “But tonight they were the better team.”
Payton made similar comments to the media after the lopsided affair.
“We got beat. We got beat good tonight. So it's tough,” the Saints' coach said. “We can't just say it didn't happen. But that being said, we have to quickly get focused on Carolina. They're playing as good of football as anyone in the league right now. So we'll do that.”