First and foremost, the New Orleans Saints won on Monday night in the Caesars Superdome and preseason game or not, if a score is being kept, it's always good to be on the plus side of it.
Second, though, was the fact that the Saints showed improvement in two important categories in their 23-21 victory over Jacksonville, dropping their turnovers from six to none from the preseason opener and slicing their penalties from 10 to six. Those numbers helped New Orleans overcome its third-down shortage (2 of 10 on third down) and to maximize the big plays it generated.
And Monday night definitely was an occasion during which the Saints flashed some big-play potential, to the tune of acrobatic, 43- and 29-yard touchdown passes from Jameis Winston to Marquez Callaway in the first quarter that allowed New Orleans to grab a 14-0 lead in a game it never trailed.
Winston (9 of 10 for 123 yards and two touchdowns) and Callaway (five catches for 104 yards and two scores) were synched offensively. That unit scored touchdowns on two of three possessions with Winston on the field, as Callaway capped 72- and 57-yard drives with contested catches in the end zone, one he finished despite pass interference, and the second he completed one-handed while his right arm was grabbed and pinned.
And despite a slow start, Taysom Hill also led a touchdown drive. Hill completed 11 of 20 passes for 138 yards and a 14-yard touchdown to Lil'Jordan Humphrey, who caught four passes for 74 yards.
All told, New Orleans totaled 369 yards on 61 plays, but averaged 13.3 yards on its 24 completions. Coach Sean Payton said the Saints expected to come out throwing because of Jacksonville's effectiveness against the run. The efficiency of Winston, Callaway's ability to find opening after opening and a clean pocket made for a successful strategy.
That was more than enough for the Saints' first-team defense. At halftime, Jacksonville had 134 yards and a field goal, was 3 of 8 on third down and 0 for 2 in the red zone. The Saints forced three-and-outs on three of Jacksonville's first four possessions and on one second-quarter drive, cornerback Ken Crawley broke up a pass at the goal line, and safeties Marcus Williams and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson broke up passes inside the 10-yard line.
The Saints produced 10 pass breakups (the Jaguars had 58 pass attempts), two sacks, seven quarterback hits, three tackles for loss and an interception.
What could have been a standout night in the kicking game was smudged by a missed point-after attempt in the third quarter. But Aldrick Rosas drilled a 52-yard field goal as time expired in the first half, exhibiting the distance that Payton noted after the Saints signed Rosas.
With the preseason finale set for Saturday against Arizona in the Caesars Superdome, the Saints will attempt to take another step of improvement before heading into the regular season.
The New Orleans Saints host the Jacksonville Jaguars during preseason play at the Caesars Superdome on August 23, 2021.