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OPINION

Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
Email: bhandwerger@wwltv.com | Twitter: @wwltvsports

NEWORLEANS- Cameron Jordan stood at his locker inside the Saints' dressing room at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on Sunday, his eyes glazed over with confusion and pain.

To most questions posed to him early on, he simply said he'd have to watch film of exactly what transpired for nearly three hours on the synthetic playing surface on the other side of the room's wall.

He won't like the film, no doubt about it.

But as Coach Sean Payton said after the game, a 27-16 loss to the Rams, while it might not be pretty, it certainly will be telling.

What went wrong?

Everything went wrong.

That it occurred away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome isn't anything new.

The Saints (10-4) haven't played well on the road since 2011, when they were one of the most dominant teams in the NFL anywhere during the second half of that season. They're 3-4 this season away from home having been outscored by more than 30 combined points, a first since 2006 when Payton is roaming the sidelines.

What's most shocking, as safety Malcolm Jenkins said over and over in the post-game postmortem, is the fashion in which New Orleans continued to trip over itself against St. Louis.

They missed tackles, at least three on Cory Harkey's 31-yard touchdown catch alone.

They missed blocks, left tackle Charles Brown getting benched in part because of his inability to handle Robert Quinn.

They missed kicks, Garrett Hartley flubbing an easily makeable attempt late in the fourth quarter that would have given New Orleans hope of doing the unthinkable and coming back to win after being down 24 points.

One sequence in the first quarter was an early look into what kind of day it was going to be for the Saints.

Quinn started outside before cutting inside of Brown and into Brees' passing pocket, which was near the goal line. The quarterback couldn't step into his throw and, in fact, was hit as he released the ball. The pass ended up short of its target, Jimmy Graham, landing instead in the arms of a waiting Rams defensive back.

One play. Two mistakes.

One big problem.

Because on the next play, the Saints showed off an inability to tackle not seen since the 2010 playoffs in Seattle.

Reserve Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens found Harkey, a lumbering tight end, to his right on a short out. All one of the New Orleans defenders had to do was knock him out of bounds. But they didn't safety Malcolm Jenkins went too low with his head down and his back to the receiver and Corey White only sort of possibly tried to touch him and he tight-roped the sideline into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.

And just like at Seattle two weeks earlier, the Saints were down on the road before you had settled into your seat for the game.

Asked about the missed tackles on Monday, linebacker Curtis Lofton said it's not that there were any more than normal.

The problem was actually much worse than missing many more tackles.

'I wouldn't say there was more missed tackles, but I think the missed tackles that stood out led to touchdowns and big plays,' Lofton said.

Ultimately that's the problem for New Orleans. The formula to win on the road in the NFL is to play clean football and jump ahead early.

Most of the teams are talented enough, left tackle Zach Strief said, that it takes only a figurative inch for them to succeed. The Rams took advantage of that inch.

New Orleans made penalties to either keep drives alive or prematurely end them, turned the ball over when it could ill-afford to and allowed more big plays than it would ever like in any game.

The good news in the NFL is that until the very end there's almost always a chance to rectify what's going wrong.

The Saints have that chance and they can do it when everyone doubts them.

'We don't want to point fingers,' Lofton said. 'We just got to get this job done. We got to get hot and we got to play better football. ... We'll hold each other accountable.'

They go on the road to play Carolina this coming Sunday for the NFC South title and the No. 2 seed in the conference playoffs.

They know what they have to do and in listening to the players, they might just know how to fix what ails them away from the bayou.

'Obviously, you understand that when you go on the road, there's elements that always have to be dealt with,' Brees said. 'There's crowd noise and there's the environment and other things, so I think maybe at times we might have tried to get a little too complicated. I think we can simplify and by doing that I think you allow guys to play faster, play with more confidence.'

And that's all they can hope for at this point, because there aren't too many more chances to make corrections and prove people wrong.

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