The New Orleans Saints (10-4) overcame a sloppy performance and defeated the New York Jets (5-9) 31-19 in week 15. New Orleans entered the game as a 15.5-point favorite over the Jets; their highest favorable margin in franchise history, but the Jets fought hard throughout the game and stayed competitive until the end.
Despite scoring on their first three possessions, the Saints led only 17-13 for much of the second half. Like last week’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the Saints offense went scoreless for a big portion of the game and struggled on third downs. The win wasn’t secured until running back Mark Ingram scored on a 50-yard touchdown run with 1:33 remaining in the game.
Here are three takeaways from a much-needed Saints win, which keeps them in first place in the competitive NFC South.
Week 15 New Orleans Saints Takeaways
Missed Opportunities on Offense
On their first three drives, the Saints offense picked up 218 yards and scored 17 points to build a ten point lead in the second quarter. They gained just 66 yards, turned the ball over three times, and failed to score on their next seven possessions. Once a strength of the Saints offense, third-down efficiency has become a consistent problem, and New Orleans finished 3/10 on third downs.
The first missed opportunity was a trip inside the red zone on the Saints opening possession. Ingram appeared to score on a long run off a screen pass, but was ruled down at the 10-yard line. Head coach Sean Payton did not challenge the ruling, and three plays later New Orleans had to settle for a field goal. The Saints had to go for it on fourth down in order to score a touchdown on their next drive.
In the third quarter, linebacker Craig Robertson intercepted a tipped pass, and set up the Saints offense at the Jets 33-yard line. New Orleans quickly moved to the 13-yard line, but the Jets recovered a fumble by wide receiver Brandon Coleman. An apparent Michael Thomas touchdown catch was overturned on the next Saints possession, and Coleman lost another fumble a few plays later.
Luckily the offense came through when it mattered most, scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Defense Picks Up the Slack
Without injured starting quarterback Josh McCown, it was unclear how capable the Jets offense would be with Bryce Petty in McCown’s place. In the first half, New Orleans held Petty to just 46 passing yards, and forced the Jets to punt on three drives.
The Jets were able to gain 44 rushing yards on a touchdown drive in the second quarter, but didn’t get much out of their running game after that. New Orleans held a Jets drive to zero yards and a field goal following an interception thrown by quarterback Drew Brees in the second quarter.
As the Saints offense kept giving the ball back to the Jets in the third quarter, the defense held their ground. They gave up only a field goal on the Jets first six possessions in the second half. That field goal was the only score New York got off of the three Saints turnovers.
There’s a lot of room for improvement before a crucial divisional showdown with the Falcons next Sunday, but the importance of this win cannot be overlooked. They still hold a tiebreaker over the Carolina Panthers (10-4) for the NFC South division lead, and beating Atlanta will all but clinch the division title for New Orleans.
The Saints still have an opportunity to finish second place in the NFC with a first-round bye in the postseason, but that depends on circumstances beyond their control. Currently in fourth place, the Saints would have to win out and hope for one loss by the Los Angeles Rams (10-4) and two losses by the Minnesota Vikings (11-3).
While this scenario is unlikely, at least New Orleans can guarantee their first trip to the playoffs since 2013 if they just keep winning.