Saints boss Jim Mallinder said his side were ‘still in the hotel’ during their first-half horror show at Exeter.
Northampton slipped to a 28-19 defeat at Sandy Park, as hopes of an LV= Cup semi-final place were wrecked.
Mallinder’s men knew they needed a bonus-point win to book their place in the last four, but were 22-0 down inside 32 minutes.
They rallied late on as key men such as Samu Manoa and Lee Dickson entered the field, but it was too little, too late.
And Mallinder couldn’t hide his unhappiness at the way his side played during the opening exchanges of the game.
He said: “It’s disappointing. You want to come down and you want to win and we knew we needed a bonus point.
“What you’ve got to do when you come to a place like this is you’ve got to match teams on the physicality side, but we were still in the hotel, still on the bus, whatever you might say.
“They were more up for it than us and we slipped off too many tackles.
“I was pleased with the way we came back into it in the second half. We were a lot more intent, particularly in our defence, looking sharper in attack, but it was a little bit too late.”
So did Mallinder rue his decision not to start with the men who made such a difference from the bench during the second half?
“You’ve always got to be careful,” he said. “Some of these lads have played a lot of rugby and it was the right call to make.
“You can’t be starting these players and have them playing 80 minutes every week.
“That’s the reason why we have this competition and it’s good for other lads to get game time.
“That’s how we use it and we’ll keep doing it that way because otherwise it will backfire towards the end of the season.”