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New Orleans Saints come up short in red zone on offense and defense in 30-26 loss to Cincinnati

Saints go 1 for 5 in red zone, Bengals go 3 for 3

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith (10) catches a touchdown pass against Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton (21) during the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/)

The New Orleans Saints kicked field goals, four of them in all.

The Cincinnati Bengals scored touchdowns, four of them in all.

There was no bigger indicator than that for the Saints in Sunday’s 30-26 loss to Cincinnati on the Caesars Superdome, which dropped New Orleans to 2-4, but only a game out of first place in the NFC South Division standings.

New Orleans led until the end, and accomplished a handful of things that it will want to hold onto and carry into future games. Those things can help the team in what remains the realistic goal of winning the division.

OFFENSE: The Saints ran for 228 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries. There were a few splash plays – a 44-yard scoring run by rookie receiver Rashid Shaheed, a 31-yard gain by Taysom Hill and a 24-yarder from Alvin Kamara – and as a whole, New Orleans will take that production every day of the week. The team knew it'd need a productive run game because it was without its top three receivers, and that showed in the passing game production (178 yards and a touchdown on 36 passing attempts). But when a team only can produce one touchdown in five trips to the red zone, it's not a ratio for success. New Orleans needed touchdowns instead of short field goals, and the inability to get them proved costly.

DEFENSE: On the flip side, the Saints' defense didn't produce a red zone stop in three attempts. Red zone defense, has been one of New Orleans' strengths, but that shortcoming on Sunday caught up. There were respectable numbers – 348 yards allowed, only 75 rushing yards surrendered, three sacks – overall. But, too, the Bengals converted six of 10 third-down opportunities and missed tackles on defense were an eyesore and, ultimately, a game-changer. The prideful unit has had consecutive weeks where it simply didn't come through with consistency; six explosive plays against Seattle were overcome with offensive help, but the defense didn't get off the field nearly as much as it needed to against the Bengals, and it didn't force a single field goal attempt in the red zone. It can be better and has been better, and it'll need to be Thursday night.

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SPECIAL TEAMS: Very solid day for the units until Blake Gillikin's 29-yard punt in the fourth quarter. Even then, there was a chance for the defense to cover for him, but instead it allowed a 60-yard, game-winning touchdown pass. Wil Lutz kicked four short field goals and though the Saints would much rather have had touchdowns, a productive and accurate Lutz is a positive. Andrew Dowell forced a fumble on punt return to set up the Saints' first touchdown, the second straight week that New Orleans recovered a fumble on special teams. It was another needed impact play supplied by the unit, which has stepped up its production in the last two games.

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