You won't find a single soul to label it pretty. The New Orleans Saints' 31-19 victory over the New York Jets, on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, succeeded in raising New Orleans' record to 10-4 (its first 10-win season since 2013), kept the Saints in first place in the NFC South Division and ensured that their destiny remains in their hands with regard to winning the division and earning at least one home playoff game. But those niceties aside, no one particularly was overjoyed with the journey, only with the result.
OFFENSE: The numbers are somewhat deceiving. The Saints totaled 416 yards, right around their league-leading average entering the game, and had a couple of noteworthy performances. Mark Ingram ran for 74 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries (and caught five passes for 77 yards) to top the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second consecutive season. Michael Thomas caught nine passes for 93 yards and a touchdown, and topped the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the second consecutive year. Alvin Kamara had 89 yards rushing and receiving and scored his team-leading 12th touchdown. But after scoring on their first three possessions en route to a 17-7 lead with 6:12 left in the first half, the Saints' offense got stuck in neutral; it didn't score again until the fourth quarter. In between, there were three turnovers committed (a Drew Brees interception and two Brandon Coleman fumbles in the red zone; the interception led to a Jets field goal and the fumbles erased two field goals, at least). Ingram's 50-yard touchdown run made the run-game numbers (28 carries for 131) look much more respectable, and the third-down conversion rate (3 of 10) continues to be a concern (though a fourth-down conversion compensated for one stop, and a Coleman fumble wiped out what would have been a conversion). There's a good amount of cleaning up that has to be done.
DEFENSE: Speaking of cleaning up, there are defensive penalties that, likewise, have to be concerning. Pass interference (two, by safety Kenny Vaccaro), encroachment (defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins), and unnecessary roughness (cornerback Ken Crawley) are among the errors that were glaring and have become a bit too repetitive. But give the defense props for getting several crucial stops (the Jets were first-and-10 at the New Orleans 11-yard line after Brees' interception, and the defense held New York to a field goal) and for producing two turnovers (Crawley tipped a pass that was intercepted by linebacker Craig Robertson, and cornerback Marshon Lattimore intercepted a pass as time expired). Also, it's worth noting that the Jets only were 5 of 15 on third down and were held to 294 yards. Defensive end George Johnson got his first sack as a Saint and defensive end Cam Jordan was a big reason that Jets quarterback Bryce Petty only completed 19 of 39 passes, for 179 yards. Jordan batted down four passes on plays from scrimmage, and also batted down a two-point conversion attempt pass. The defense has been cleaner and better, and will have to be so again.
SPECIAL TEAMS: We continue to be impressed with the effort and results of safety Chris Banjo and quarterback Taysom Hill, who both were credited with a tackle on special teams. Hill probably has earned active status for the rest of the season by virtue of his instincts and athleticism, and Banjo is as steady and effective as they come. Thomas Morstead quietly had an outstanding day – four punts, a 46.8-yard average net and gross, one downed inside the 20. There were no breakout returns, but Tommylee Lewis did pop a 17-yard punt return in the fourth quarter to put the Saints in position for a touchdown drive. The unit was steady, and that was good enough on Sunday.
Catch the Saints and Jets battle in Week 15 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.