NEW ORLEANS — Zach Strief stood at his locker Sunday afternoon, less than an hour after the New Orleans Saints’ head-scratching loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, and spoke softly but authoritatively about what he deemed led to the 27-24 overtime defeat.
Himself, the Saints starting right tackle who helped give up three sacks, including a safety by Justin Houston late in the fourth quarter.
“I know that all these guys will say no and all these coaches will say no, but you can’t perform like that,” Strief said. “You just can’t. I have to be better. I have to be more consistent and games like that can’t happen.”
But Strief wasn’t alone.
On Sunday, the Saints fell to 0-3 for the first time in five years, giving up gobs of yards to the Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) while picking up painstakingly few of their own.
Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles ran for 233 yards, picked up 55 more through the air, and galloped 91 yards for a game-changing touchdown late in the third quarter.
“He’s one of the better running backs in the league at finding those holes,” Saints linebacker Scott Shanle said. “Even when there really isn’t anything there, he finds a way to dart through there. His long run that put them back in the game allowed them to do that.”
Drew Brees, meanwhile, threw for 240 yards in the first three quarters and none in the final 24 minutes. He tossed two touchdowns but also a costly interception that led to one Kansas City’s six field goals.
Garrett Hartley made a 40-yard field goal but pushed a 38-yard attempt wide right, points that could have put the game out of reach for the Saints.
The Saints had minus-16 yards and no first downs in the fourth quarter and overtime combined.
In all, the Saints had six possessions of four or fewer plays, four of which ended in punts and only one that went for a touchdown.
“For years we have been a dominant offense and right now, we are not a dominant offense and we need to be,” Saints interim head coach Aaron Kromer said. “We need to run the ball and we need to throw the ball better.”
It didn’t start out like that. In fact, for the second week in a row, the offense got off to a fast start, driving 83 yards in six plays capped by a Brees to Lance Moore 9-yard touchdown.
Kansas City answered, moving 82 yards in 14 plays while chewing 7 minutes, 27 seconds off the clock. New Orleans’ defense finally stiffened, forcing a 25-yard Ryan Succop field goal, a sign of things to come.
The Saints answered with a 40-yard Garrett Hartley field goal for a 10-3 lead, the kick coming only after the Chiefs challenged a ruling on a Jimmy Graham catch on third down. After originally being ruled a first down, Graham’s catch was overturned and placed short of moving the chains.
Kansas City cut into New Orleans’ lead 10-6 on a 45-yard Succop field goal.
New Orleans could have pushed its lead back to a touchdown just before halftime, but Hartley pushed his field goal try wide, a play that turned into a key miss by the end of the game.
On the first play of the second half, Kansas City’s Dexter McCluster fumbled after he injured his shoulder. New Orleans’ Jonathan Casillas recovered and five plays later, extended their lead to 17-6 on a 1-yard pass from Brees to Graham.
Jabari Greer provided the Saints their next explosive play, stepping in front of Chiefs receiver Steve Breaston to intercept Matt Cassel’s pass. He returned it to the Kansas City 7 and two plays later, Brees hit his third touchdown pass of the day, finding Jed Collins for a 6-yard touchdown and a 24-6 lead.
And that’s when the wheels began to grind to a halt.
The Chiefs’ Charles answered immediately, dashing 91 yards into the end zone to cut into the Saints’ lead 24-13 and successfully steal momentum.
“I tried to weave in the first time I got touched on the line and then I just tried to run as far as I can,” Charles said. “Then when I got in the open, I just made sure I didn’t step out of bounds. It was a big play for us.”
Said Brees, “You’re up 18 points late in the third and you’ve got all the momentum on your side. You’ve just gotten two huge turnovers. You have to hand it to them. They rattled off that 91-yard run and then it just felt like the momentum swung on their side and they kept it the entire game.”
Succop’s third and fourth field goal of the day pulled Kansas City to within 24-19 of New Orleans in the final stanza.
Then Brees was sacked for by Houston for a safety late in the fourth, pulling the Chiefs to within a field goal, setting up the slow and excruciating finish. The Saints didn’t get the ball back and Succop drilled a game-tying 43-yard field goal.
The teams traded possessions to begin overtime before the Saints failed to stop Kansas City from getting into range for Succop, who hit a game-winning 31-yard field goal.
And now the Saints are 0-3.
“We can’t talk about playoffs,” Saints receiver Lance Moore said. “We can’t talk about the division. We just need to win one game. If we don’t start winning now or soon, then it’s going to be over early.”