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Drew Brees, Saints can't overcome epic woes on defense, special teams

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Saints not the powerhouse they used to be (1:14)

Louis Riddick examines what went wrong for the Saints against the Falcons on Monday Night Football. (1:14)

NEW ORLEANS -- When is 32 points and 474 yards not enough?

Every other week, if you're the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints' epic offense was once again trumped by the epic struggles of their defense and special teams in a 45-32 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The same thing happened in a 35-34 loss to the Oakland Raiders in Week 1. And the same thing essentially happened with the defense in 2012, 2014 and 2015, too.

The Saints (0-3) are now on a fast track to their third straight losing season and their fourth in the past five years -- even though Drew Brees once again leads the NFL with 1,062 passing yards and is tied for the league lead with eight TD passes.

Brees wasn't perfect -- in fact, his fourth-quarter interception on a tipped pass was returned 90 yards for a touchdown by Atlanta linebacker Deion Jones to essentially seal the Saints' fate.

But it was the first interception Brees had thrown in more than 300 pass attempts -- snapping the third-longest streak in NFL history. And he still finished the night with 376 yards and three TDs.

The problem with the Saints is that Brees almost has to be perfect for them to win. And it's not a stretch to suggest that New Orleans has wasted the back half of his Hall of Fame career because it can't find a way to fix its defense.

To be fair, the defense has been decimated by injuries so far this season. They were without six or seven projected starters due to injury -- including three members of their secondary (cornerbacks Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams and safety Kenny Vaccaro) and first-round draft pick Sheldon Rankins.

But even before that, the Saints set NFL records for the most TD passes allowed in a season last year (45), the highest opponents' passer rating in a season last year (116.1) and the most yards allowed in a season in 2012 (7,042).

On this Monday night, the Saints allowed 442 yards and allowed touchdowns on five straight possessions at one point. Stunningly, they held dynamic Atlanta receiver Julio Jones to one catch for 16 yards. But they weren't nearly good enough against the run, with Atlanta's Devonta Freeman gaining more than 200 yards rushing and receiving and Tevin Coleman adding 89 more.

The worst play of the entire night, however, came after a three-and-out by the Saints defense on Atlanta's opening drive.

Saints rookie cornerback De'Vante Harris ran into return man Tommylee Lewis on the punt. Then Harris compounded his mistake by trying to catch the ball out of the air -- and fumbled it away to Atlanta.

"It's a terrible play," Saints coach Sean Payton said bluntly. "We're fair-catching. He's gotta avoid the contact. It's two mistakes, runs into the returner, then tries to pick the ball up. It's bad. That's two weeks in a row now that we make a play (like that) on special teams. We don't have that margin for error."