The frustration was apparent for all to see during a heated sideline exchange between Coach Jeff Fisher and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
It was obvious in the way safety Maurice Alexander lay sprawled face down on the turf after a trick play turned into a touchdown. It hung heavy in the locker room afterward as cornerback Trumaine Johnson silently stood in his dressing stall, head hanging, staring at the floor.
The New Orleans Saints’ 49-21 victory over the Rams at the Superdome on Sunday was perhaps more than a beat down.
It might be a tipping point.
The Rams started the season with a 3-1 record. They are 1-6 since — and Sunday’s defeat was the nadir.
At least so far.
“We have to a do a better job defensively,” Fisher said. “We’ve got to do a better job coaching. We’ve got to do a better job with the plan.”
A late breakdown last week against Miami was considered a blip for a defense that had kept the Rams in games throughout the season. The unit, directed by former Saints defensive coordinator Williams, was ranked sixth in the NFL going into Sunday’s game.
That defense gave up 555 yards to the NFL’s top offense.
“Collectively,” Johnson said, “the worst game of our career.”
“Just a bad day at the office,” defensive lineman Michael Brockers said.
“We’ve been kind of up and down a little bit here and there,” middle linebacker Alec Ogletree said. “When you go against a great offense like that it can expose you and put up points on you.”
It won’t get easier for a Rams team that had not given up more than 32 points in a game, and had kept teams to 17 or fewer six times.
The four-touchdown passing performance by future hall of famer Drew Brees does not bode well for a Rams defense that faces future Hall of Famer Tom Brady and the New England Patriots next week, and Matt Ryan and the high-scoring Atlanta Falcons the following week.
“The defense is going to have to put this one behind them,” Fisher said.
Williams was the Saints’ coordinator from 2009 to 2011. He helped Coach Sean Payton win a Super Bowl during the 2009 season, but he also was implicated in the Bountygate scandal that led to his suspension from the NFL and to Payton’s suspension without pay for a year.
This appeared to be a little payback. The Saints began turning a 28-21 halftime lead into a rout when running back Mark Ingram broke free for a 61-yard run on the first play of the second half. He then turned a screen pass into a touchdown.
Brees connected with Mike Thomas for a touchdown and then, seemingly to add insult, Payton signed off on receiver Willie Snead’s 50-yard trick-play touchdown pass to running back Tim Hightower.
Williams had publicly downplayed his return to New Orleans, but Saints players were conscious of it.
“I tried to do everything I could to make sure that coming back here wasn’t going to be a good experience,” said Ingram, who rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown.
At one point during the game, television cameras caught Fisher and Williams going back and forth after a play.
“I think anybody and everybody in the Bayou knew it was going to be screen but us,” said Fisher, who described the exchange as “heat-of-the-battle things.”
The Rams’ defensive lapses overshadowed optimism about quarterback Jared Goff.
The No. 1 pick in the draft operated in an ultraconservative game plan in his debut against Miami. On Sunday, as expected, offensive coordinator Rob Boras gave Goff more opportunities to throw downfield.
Goff passed for three touchdowns and masterfully executed a two-minute drill at the end of the first half.
But he also had a pass intercepted and lost a fumble after being sacked.
“We kind of got our butts kicked in every facet of the game — all around,” Goff said, “and we know that.”
Saints receiver Michael Thomas and Rams cornerback Lamarcus Joyner get tangeled on a pass play during the third quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams quarterback Jared Goff is sacked by Saints linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (59) and defensive end Cameron Jordan during the fourth quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams receiver Tavon Austin catches the ball for Jared Goff’s first career touchdown pass against Saints defensive back B.W. Webb in the first quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Saints quarterback Drew Brees dives over the pile for a on-yard touchdown on fourth down against the Rams during the second quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams safety T.J. McDonald breaks up a pass intended for Saints receiver Willis Snead in the end zone during the first quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Saints runing back Mark Ingram sprints past the Rams defense for a 10-yard touchdown in the second quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams quarterback Jared Goff walks off the field after losing a fumble to the Saints during the second quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Saints receiver Michael Thomas carries Rams cornerback E.J. Gaines into the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold grimaces in pain after hurting his arm.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Saints running back Tim Hightower evades Rams defensive back Maurice Alexander to finish off a 50-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Willie Snead during the fourth quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Saints receiver Michael Thomas catches a six-yard touchdown pass in front of Rams defenders T.J. McDonald, center, and E.J. Gaines during the second quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Saints receiver Michael Thomas catches a six-yard touchdown pass against Rams defenders T.J. McDonald, center, and E.J. Gaines in the second quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald forces Saints quarterback Drew Brees to fumble during a sack in the first quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams defensive coodinator Gregg Williams calls for a player during the game against his former team.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Saints receiver Michael Thomas picks up big yards against the Rams defense.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams quarterback Jared Goff is forced into an incomplete pass awhile being pressured by Saints linebacker Kasim Edebali during the first quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree brings down Saints receiver Willie Snead after a reception during the first half.(Butch Dill / Associated Press)
Rams quarterback Jared Goff loses a fumble during the first half of a game against the Saints on Nov. 27.(Bill Feig / Associated Press)
Rams Coach Jeff Fisher reacts on the sideline during the first half.(Butch Dill / Associated Press)
Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) is sacked by Saints free safety Vonn Bell during the second half.(Bill Feig / Associated Press)
Saints running back Mark Ingram is congratulated by quarterback Drew Brees after the two connected for a touchdown pass against the Rams in the second half.(Sean Gardner / Getty Images)
Rams quarterback Jared Goff is sacked by Saints linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and defensive end Cameron Jordan during the second half.(Sean Gardner / Getty Images)
Saints wide receiver Willie Snead (83) throws a touchdown pass to running back Tim Hightower during the second half.(Butch Dill / Associated Press)
Saints running back Travaris Cadet is introduced before a game with the Rams.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Goff was operating behind a reconfigured offensive line.
Fisher made struggling left tackle Greg Robinson inactive for the game and moved veteran Rodger Saffold into his spot, replacing Saffold at guard with Jamon Brown.
Saffold suffered a hand injury during the second quarter and did not return, leaving seldom-used Andrew Donnal to protect Goff’s blindside.
It was only one of the many setbacks suffered by the Rams.
“Some games, you have bad games,” cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said. “Nothing goes your way.”
The Rams cannot afford to let that become a trend.
“We’re playing Tom Brady next week,” Johnson said, “so we can’t feel sorry for ourselves.”