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NEW ORLEANS – Former quarterback Archie Manning has told the story of an unknown teammate when he was floundering with the Saints in the 1970s.
Manning, who played for a team that was 25-70-3 from 1971 though 1977, said he once called a play in the huddle and noticed a wide receiver he did not recognize.
There was a lot of game-week turnover in those days, sometimes in the final days before a game.
Former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert, who is now an analyst for the radio broadcasts of the Saints games and postgames, said after the 31-6 loss to Buffalo Thursday night that the game felt like a preseason game.
“I kept having to go to my roster to see who was playing,” Hebert said.
It was one of the worst offensive performances in the era of coach Sean Payton, whose team totaled 190 yards and 12 first downs. The Saints were shut out until early in the fourth quarter when No. 81 caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trevor Siemian — No. 15 — to cut Buffalo’s lead to 24-6.
No. 81 would be tight end Nick Vannett, who signed with the Saints last March after being released by Denver. He had been on injured reserve since September before being activated on Nov. 11. He had one catch for 20 yards entering the game.
Rookie free agent fullback Adam Prentice — No. 46 — caught a 10-yard pass in the game, recording his first NFL statistics. The Saints picked him up off waivers from Denver on Sept. 1, and he had been on the practice squad until being activated on Thursday. This was because fullback Alex Armah, a free agent who signed back in March and who has 21 yards on five carries this season, was inactive with an injury.
Tony Jones Jr. — No. 34 — led the Saints in rushing with 27 yards on 16 carries. Jones, an undrafted free agent signed by New Orleans in 2020 who spent most of that season on the practice squad, came into Thursday’s game with 22 carries for 79 yards.
The Saints played their third game without star running back Alvin Kamara, who has a knee injury. Their other top running back — recently acquired Mark Ingram — also missed the game with a knee injury, as did starting right tackle Rayn Ramczyk. The Saints have not had their best wide receiver — Michael Thomas — all season because of an ankle injury, and he is not returning this season.
New Orleans has had receiver issues all season in addition to quarterback problems.
Siemian, a journeyman backup signed by New Orleans late last year who had not started a game since 2019, became the Saints’ starter this season after Jameis Winston injured his knee and was lost for the season on Oct. 31 in a win over Tampa Bay. New Orleans has not won since.
The Saints (5-6) are 0-4 with Siemian as the starter and have lost four straight for the first time since 2015. He was 7-of-13 passing for 68 yards in the first half Thursday as the Saints fell behind, 10-0.
“It just feels hard,” Siemian said. “We’re just not getting anything going early in games, and today we kind of allowed it to snowball.”
The Saints had four three-and-outs as Siemian finished 17-of-29 for 163 yards with the touchdown and an interception.
New Orleans’ 190 total yards was the fourth lowest output under Payton, who became coach before the 2006 season and has consistently had some of the most prolific offenses in the NFL. The Saints’ 64 yards at the half was Payton’s second lowest in New Orleans.
His offense produced single-digit points for the second time this season and just the seventh time since 2006.
“It was a long game, especially offensively,” Payton said. “It just weighs on you, period.”
Payton tried a pass on a fake punt while down 10-0 in the second quarter. Punter Blake Gillikin threw before looking where he was throwing, and it was incomplete.
“How do you create points? I think going in we felt like we had to be a little bit more aggressive,” Payton said.
Asked whether he can recall a time when he had to resort to such tactics, he said, “I can’t remember.”
The Saints can still reach the playoffs. Of their six remaining opponents, four have losing records — the New York Jets (2-8) away on Dec. 12, Miami (4-7) on Dec. 27, Carolina (5-6) on Jan. 2 and Atlanta (4-6) on Jan. 9.
Dallas (7-4) will be at New Orleans on Thursday in a 7:20 p.m. game on FOX. The Saints travel to Tampa Bay (7-3) for a Dec. 19 game.
“Nobody’s getting their touches, and it’s just hard,” Saints center Erik McCoy said.
“Our offense is dinged up. We have to put it on our defense right now,” defensive end Cam Jordan said.
“Everybody is upset,” linebacker Kwon Alexander said. “We’re trying to figure it out.”
There could possibly be a change at quarterback when backup Taysom Hill (foot) gets healthy.
“It’s hard to give a review,” Payton said when asked about Siemian. “He struggled. We struggled blocking. We struggled running. I think it’s going to be difficult to do a lot of anything if you can’t block and you can’t have some balance.”