LONDON — New Orleans Saints coach Dennis Allen was sure Wil Lutz’s 61-yard field goal attempt was good Sunday.
Lutz had already made a 60-yarder in the fourth quarter, and as the second kick had the distance, Allen raised his arms up to signal its success. Moments later, he lowered his arms to his head and frowned, watching Lutz’s improbable kick hit one upright, then the crossbar, before finally spinning away as time expired at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
That was the story of the Saints (1-3), as they fell 28-25 to the Minnesota Vikings (3-1), and the season so far: Hope followed by despair, with a lot of bad football played in between. Even a change at quarterback — Andy Dalton started in place of an injured Jameis Winston — couldn’t fix the team’s problems.
“Felt like I operated the offense really well. Felt like we played well. Felt like at the end of the day, the two turnovers decided the factor in this game,” Dalton said. “And it’s tough, because you go back and you look at this game, and feel like you played really well and you can go back and look at it and say, ‘Man, if I could just have one play back.’ But that’s kind of the story of this thing. It’s tough. But I thought we definitely did some good things out there.”
Turnovers, penalties and slow starts have doomed the Saints in three straight losses. They’ve scored three combined points in the first quarter of those games, and they’ve given the ball away freely, already eclipsing their 2021 fumble total with six this season.
“We probably played better today,” Saints center Erik McCoy said. “Still, two turnovers in our territory, gave them six points. We lost by three.”
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The Saints entered the loss to the Vikings trailing the league in net turnover differential and fumbled two more times. Their 11 turnovers are their most through four games since the 2007 season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
The Saints have lamented the turnovers frequently this season after several of them have been potential game-changers.
Mark Ingram II’s fumble against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers robbed the Saints of an opportunity to score, and Alvin Kamara’s fumble against the Carolina Panthers was returned for a touchdown. Fumbles by Dalton and kick returner Deonte Harty gave the Vikings short fields that led to two field goals Sunday.
“I think we have to make a point of emphasis about it,” said Allen, who’s in his first year as head coach of the Saints. “I think we also have to look at who is doing what and where.”
Sunday’s result against the Vikings showed the Saints’ problems are bigger than a simple fix. Even if they wanted to look at starting some new players, they don’t exactly have other options to turn to at the moment.
They’re already down several offensive starters — obviously with Winston, wide receiver Michael Thomas is out with a toe injury and Kamara is out with a rib injury.
Dating back to training camp, injuries are something the Saints have pointed to for their lack of offensive chemistry.
“There’s some adjustment that has to go along with that,” Allen said. “We are going to keep battling and keep fighting, and we’ll figure this thing out and we’ll play better football.”
The only potential change the Saints could consider is switching to Dalton, or at least until Winston is fully recovered. Dalton wasn’t perfect, but he was able to lead several touchdown drives and made some key throws, including a 33-yard pass to Marquez Callaway in the third quarter that set up a touchdown run by Latavius Murray.
His 32-yard completion to Chris Olave with 24 seconds left gave Lutz a chance to attempt the deep field goal.
“I would say Andy was great — cool, calm, collected,” McCoy said.
The problems remain bigger than Dalton. There were issues on special teams coverage against the Vikings, including giving up a fake punt. At the conclusion of the game, the Saints were leading the league with 34 penalties.
The Saints had three key penalties on the go-ahead drive by the Vikings, with safety Tyrann Mathieu saying he did not believe he committed an illegal use of hands penalty that gave the Vikings a third-down conversion.
“I don’t think I touched him in his face. Yeah, I don’t think I touched him. I know I didn’t,” Mathieu said. “But, you know, the call was made. You’ve got to live with it. Even after that, I thought we continued to fight. You know, so I’ll line up with this defense any day.”
Allen and several players said the Saints have a long season to fix their issues, but unless they quickly correct them, the hole they’ve dug could quickly get deeper.
“I think this thing is going to turn around. I’ve been on teams with talent and won and teams with talent that lost. … [I’ve] kind of seen it all.” said Saints receiver Jarvis Landry. “I think we have a great culture. We have a lot of great leaders. I think you learn a lot about yourself through adversity. It’s still early. We just have to start faster on offense. … People might say we could be 0-4, but we could be 4-0 too.”
Dalton, making his Saints regular-season debut after joining the team on a one-year deal in the offseason, finished 20-of-28 passing for 236 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.
“We haven’t been out of any game that we’ve played,” said Dalton. “It’s come down to one or two plays, and we’ve got to find a way to make those plays that allow us to win and not make the plays that hurt us. Looking at it today, I said it from the beginning, the two turnovers, six points, that completely changes the way the flow of this game goes, and, you know, it starts with me.”