The New Orleans Saints didn’t have a ton of offensive success in the first half Sunday against Jacksonville, and not much to look at to suggest a 3-3 halftime score should have been much of anything other than what it was.
But in the second half of the 13-6 victory over the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field, New Orleans (5-1) put together a pair of statement drives – totaling 126 yards – to secure its fourth straight victory without Drew Brees, and to stay atop the NFC South Division.
First was the touchdown drive, an 11-play, 75-yard march that produced the game’s only touchdown and lasted six minutes and 22 seconds, spreading over from the end of the third quarter through the beginning of the fourth.
New Orleans overcame an offensive holding penalty on the first play of the drive – Erik McCoy’s infraction was wiped out by a 26-yard completion from Teddy Bridgewater to Michael Thomas on first-and-20 – and converted twice on third down, including a 4-yard touchdown pass from Bridgewater to Jared Cook on third-and-goal.
But the second drive was just as impressive, and didn’t produce a point.
You’re familiar with the two-minute offense. Probably, you’ve heard references to the a four-minute offense.
But it’s rare when a team flawlessly can execute its six-minute offense – and, actually, 6:09 to be precise.
That was the Saints’ game-ending, closeout Sunday: A drive that began at the New Orleans 40-yard line with 6:09 left, concluded at Jacksonville’s 8 with Bridgewater taking a knee for minus-1, and featured seven runs (including two kneels), two passes and no penalties, with the Saints averaging 5.7 yards per play.
Alvin Kamara ran once for six yards, Latavius Murray ran three times for 18, Bridgewater had a 2-yard sneak and the two kneels for minus-2, and he completed a 7-yard pass to Michael Thomas on second-and-4 and a 20-yarder to Cook on third-and-1.
When the Saints had to produce some offense in the second half – enough to create space and keep the ball away from Jacksonville – they gained 201 of their 326 yards (including 93 of the 104 rushing yards), converted 3 of 5 third-down attempts and had possession of the ball for 18:53 of the 30-minute half.
The closeout drive sapped the life out of the Jaguars; the third-down conversion perfectly was executed, with Jacksonville stacked to stop a run and then sliced by Bridgewater’s lobbed pass to wide-open Cook.
“It was significant, especially the type of game we were in,” Coach Sean Payton said. “I thought we played better in the second half offensively, clearly, than we did in the first half. We had a touchdown called back.
“But you’re in one of those games which became more of a field-position game and I thought as a team, we handled that well. But that final drive was important. To be able to finish taking a knee, in a game like that, was significant.”
It highlighted the Saints’ second-half improvement. They scored 10 points, but had a touchdown nullified by penalty before settling for the field goal, scored a touchdown, punted and then finished the game taking a knee at Jacksonville’s 8.
“At halftime, we talked about a number of things,” Payton said. “There were a couple of things, a handful of plays, that had we executed better, probably we would have felt better going into the half. But I was pleased how we responded in the second half.
“Our penalty numbers were down (three for 35 yards in the game). We’ve got to continue to work on a little bit more consistency. There’s a play here, a missed assignment here, our get-off – it wasn’t really loud, and yet at times we were using a silent snap count and we were late off the ball.
“But I was encouraged with the film in the second half. I thought we were better.”