The New Orleans Saints went into Sunday with a chance to make a statement and gain first place in the NFC South. Instead, they made a statement against the Carolina Panthers, playing their worst game of the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era. It was that bad.

"The game couldn't have started any worse," said Payton. "Or ended any worse."

Carolina easily took the opening possession of the game 80 yards in 7 plays, scoring the first points of the game on a Kelvin Benjamin touchdown reception from Cam Newton.

New Orleans answered by turning the ball over on their second offensive play from scrimmage. Mark Ingram's fumble set up a Panther field goal four plays later.

How did the Saints respond? With another turnover on the first play of their next possession. Drew Brees threw deep to Joseph Morgan. Panthers defensive back Bene Benwikere picked it off.

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Six plays later, Cam Newton was reaching over the goal line, giving the Panthers a 17-0 lead eight minutes into the game. Tempers flared after the score, as both teams got into a pushing match in the back of the end zone. That was the most emotion the Saints showed all game.

Getting angry after a Panther touchdown didn't help New Orleans play better, as Carolina dominated from start to finish, annihilating the Saints 41-10.

Through the first three quarters, New Orleans only had 110 total yards of offense.

With the game well out of hand, the Saints tacked on a cosmetic touchdown and some more yards during garbage time in the 4th quarter.

Brees threw a touchdown for the 31rst consecutive game, finding tight end Ben Watson in the end zone for a 7 yard touchdown with 5:29 left in the 4th quarter.

That touchdown helped Sean Payton avoid the lowest point total (7) during his tenure as head coach.

The 41-10 loss equals the most lopsided defeat of the Payton/Brees era when they lost in Indianapolis to the Colts by the same score in the 2007 season opener.

The loss also marked the 4th straight defeat at home, a first in the Payton/Brees era, and the first such streak for the Saints since 1999.

"We're not that good," explained Payton. "It's painfully obvious."

Carolina played more physical, more discplined, more hungry, and more aggressive from start to finish.

The Panthers beat the Saints in yards (497-310), first downs (24-18), turnover margin (+2), and time of possession (36:00 - 24:00). If not for garbage time during the 4th quarter, the statistics would've been even more lopsided.

With the loss, the Saints fall to 5-8. Carolina improves to 4-8-1.

The Atlanta Falcons (5-7) currently lead the NFC South. They play at Green Bay tomorrow night against the Packers (9-3).