Detroit — The Saints seemed to be in control after a field goal gave them a 23-10 advantage with 5:23 left. But a series of errors and miscues gave the Lions the chance to erase the deficit and take a one-point win.
After leading for the entire game, the Saints relinquished the lead and allowed the Lions to get two touchdowns in the last four minutes.
“This goes without saying it — that’s a tough loss. The guys played with energy and yet at the end, it ended up not being enough,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Down the stretch, we had opportunities to win the game. It’s frustrating and we weren’t able to do it.”
The first big turn was on Golden Tate’s 73-yard touchdown play, which was a short pass that turned into a game-changing, momentum-swinging play.
“We just have to finish; we can’t give up a 75-yard bomb, or whatever it was, so late in the game,” Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “We just have to take positives from it. We’re 2-4, right? You have to build on that.”
Saints cornerback Corey White said he could have had better coverage on Tate on the play, but didn’t read the ball properly. But even if he had it to do over again, he would have tried a similar strategy.
“Yeah, I had a beat on it, but he just did a good job coming back, working towards the ball and stepping in front of me,” White said. “I would try to do the same thing — go for the pick — but try to work toward the ball more like he did.”
The frustration went throughout the locker room for the Saints, whom many experts projected as a Super Bowl team. They’re below .500 — and one game behind the Panthers, who lead the South Division at 3-3-1.
The Saints dominated the game, still getting another chance to run the last couple minutes off the clock. On third-and-9, Drew Brees tried to thread a ball to a receiver, but Glover Quin stepped in front and intercepted it, returning it to the Saints’ 14 and giving the Lions a chance to add another score.
“When I stepped up, my eyes kind of got on Marques (Colston). I felt like that safety was going to go left and he hung on Marques for an extra count,” Brees said. “Then I turned it loose and that allowed him to come over and get underneath it.
“Well, I just saw him out of the corner of my eye just as the ball came out. Yeah, that’s not a good feeling.”
Even after that big play, the Saints defense looked to have the Lions stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 9, but a defensive pass-interference call kept the drive going. Three plays later, the Lions had the lead after Corey Fuller’s touchdown catch.
The Saints committed 12 penalties for 134 yards, but the three yards on that play weren’t as costly as the automatic first down that came with it.
“I thought the penalties ended up hurting us,” Payton said. “I wasn’t happy with how that game was officiated. I’ll leave it at that and yet that wasn’t the reason in the end.”
Payton pointed to the two turnovers that the Saints got off Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford as keys, but they didn’t finish the game in the fourth quarter, allowing another late score and falling to 0-4 on the road this season.