NEW ORLEANS (AP) — When Saints coach Sean Payton was asked about his team's inability to convert any of the five 2-point tries attempted this season, his response spoke to a more overarching issue for New Orleans' offense.
"If you’re a pretty good offensive team, it’s probably not a problem," Payton said. “If you’re not a good offensive team, which is what I would say that’s where we are at right now, it probably is a problem.”
Payton added that during a 31-6 loss to Buffalo on Thursday night, gaining “2 yards on a handful of downs tonight were a struggle.”
New Orleans, which has won four straight NFC South titles, has now lost four straight games for the first time since the 2015 season. The Saints missed the playoffs that year and are in danger of falling out of the NFC playoff race this season if they don't soon figure out how to move the ball with regularity.
Getting their top offensive player back would certainly help. Dynamic running back Alvin Kamara has missed three straight games. Without him, their losses have become more lopsided each week.
When Kamara was healthy, and now injured Jameis Winston was starting at quarterback, the Saints (5-6) appeared to more easily overcome injuries. They started 5-2 and looked poised for another playoff run.
Taysom Hill, who served as Drew Brees' primary backup last season, was coming off a concussion when Winston went out of the season with a knee injury against Tampa Bay on Oct. 31. Trevor Siemian took over in that game and helped the Saints rally for a victory, but is 0-4 as a starter.
Hill is active again, although he's been limited lately by a foot injury. But Hill, a powerful runner who is experienced at executing the read-option, just might get another chance to start soon.
The Saints need to do something different, as Payton conceded after the Bills loss.
“We’ll see,” Payton said. "We’ll look at everything right now. Obviously, we have to.”
The Saints continue to be stout against conventional running plays in which the quarterback hands off. While Buffalo had 113 net yards rushing, 43 of those yards came on scrambles or designed runs by Allen.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The offense struggled to run, throw and score against the Bills. Difficulty gaining yards in early downs with the run or pass put the Saints in numerous third-and-long situations. New Orleans converted just 5 of 14 third downs — and didn't convert one until after the Saints trailed 24-0 in the third quarter.
“When you come off the field on third down, three-and-outs, you don’t get anything going,” Saints center Erik McCoy said. "You don’t get the run game going. Nobody’s getting their touches, and it’s just hard.”
Tight end Nick Vannett scored the Saints' lone touchdown against Buffalo on an 11-yard reception in what was his first game as New Orleans' No. 1 tight end. Vannett returned from a preseason injury last week and was thrust into a larger role this week because of an injury to fellow tight end Adam Trautman.
Running back Tony Jones Jr., who has recently been activated from injury reserve and made the team with a strong preseason, struggled in his first chance to serve as the Saints' primary running back — albeit behind a banged-up offensive line. Jones gained 27 yards on 16 carries for an average of 1.7 yards per carry.
Linebacker Kaden Ellis left the game with a hamstring injury and rookie cornerback Paulson Adebo was helped to the sideline after a heavy collision in the fourth quarter. Starting right tackle Ryan Ramczyk (knee) has missed two straight games. Defensive end Marcus Davenport (shoulder) was held out against Buffalo. Reserve defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon (ankle), who had four sacks this season before he went out, has missed three straight games.
13 — number of first-half points the Saints have scored in their past four games combined, a stint that includes four straight scoreless first quarters.
“It just feels hard,” Siemian said. “We’re just not getting anything going early in games.”
The Saints host the Dallas Cowboys in another Thursday night game next week before going on the road for two straight against the New York Jets on Dec. 12 and Tampa Bay on Dec. 19
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Brett Martel, The Associated Press