For an offense known for its explosiveness, the Saints were anything but on Monday night.
Two touchdowns and a field goal over the course of its first four drives gave the impression that New Orleans was in rhythm, even with a major piece missing in the form of reigning AP Offensive Player of the Year Michael Thomas.
But by the end of the game, it was clear that something was off about the Saints, who blew an early 10-point lead and were outscored by 20 points en route to a 34-24 loss to a motivated Raiders team making its home debut. Drew Brees noted postgame that he feels the team is still in its evolving stages.
"Are we totally in sync right now? No, we're not. We're not even close to what we are capable of. Not even close," Brees told reporters. "We did some good things tonight early on but it just wasn't enough for the few opportunities we had. We needed to take better advantage of that."
In Week 1, it was the defense which largely influenced the win. In Week 2, as the defense struggled to get off the field, it was on the shoulders of Brees and the offense to keep things afloat, which they struggled to do. Third-year receiver Tre'Quan Smith, normally a rotational piece, played the bulk of Thomas' snaps, forcing different guys into different roles in an effort to create opportunities.
Smith was the recipient of Brees' longest completion of the night -- a 29-yard catch-and-run that set up the first TD -- but the veteran signal-caller was unable to move the ball downfield and generate big plays to build momentum. An ill-timed INT late in the second quarter on a poorly-thrown ball to wideout Deonte Harris was a prime example of this.
Jared Cook and Emmanuel Sanders, two vets who needed to step up, dropped some catchable balls and were on the other end of a few mistimed throws. Cook did haul in Brees' first TD toss, but did little else while Sanders didn't record his only reception until 1:05 was left in regulation; the two combined for three catches (eight targets) and 31 yards. To make matters worse, the Saints also lost the time of possession battle, 36:18-23:42.
"We've got to be precise with what we're doing in the passing game, route-wise. … The last two weeks, I think it's been average at best offensively and that starts with us, that starts with me and we gotta be better," coach Sean Payton said. "I thought we ran the ball a little bit better tonight, we're still not protecting the way we're supposed to. We're not functioning well enough and taking advantage of some of the opportunities we've had so we'll look at that."
Whether Thomas' return, which may not be for a few weeks, brings about this synchronization remains to be seen. What matters now, though, is where the Saints go from here and how they intend to maximize their potential. They'll have a short week to try to do some fine tuning ahead of their Sunday evening date with the Packers.