In their 38-27 victory over Indianapolis, the New Orleans Saints sledge-hammered a trend that needed smashing in the worst way.
Having gained a lot of yards with not a lot to show for it in losses to Houston and Jacksonville, the Saints (4-4) married up big plays, improved communication and near-perfection in red zone efficiency to produce their most blissful showing on offense.
And New Orleans will look to keep the vibe going Sunday, when it faces Chicago (2-6) in the Caesars Superdome.
The Saints totaled 430 and 407 yards against Houston and Jacksonville, but were 0 for 3 (Houston) and 2 for 5 (Jacksonville) in the red zone, respectively, in two seven-point losses – 20-13 to the Texans and 31-24 to the Jaguars.
While accumulating a season-high 38 points and 511 yards against the Colts, the Saints were 3 of 4 in the red zone on touchdowns of 18 (pass from Derek Carr to Alvin Kamara), 16 (Kamara run) and 1 (Taysom Hill run) yards, and also scored on a 20-yard run by Hill.
Carr said that as much as anything, the Saints simply didn't beat themselves.
"Just finishing the drives helped everybody feel better about it," he said. "I thought the last few weeks we've been moving the ball well, and at times early on we moved it well in the second halves of games. But we finished our drives with touchdowns. Obviously, we connected on some big plays, that helps, too. But when you finish in the red zone – whether you run 'em in, throw 'em in – it makes everybody feel better about when you get a lot of yards and move the ball.
"There's going to be times where I miss a throw, or we miss a catch, or we miss a block, or we miss a running lane, or whatever. That's football, that's going to happen. But I didn't think that there was many, if at all, mental errors. And if we can limit that, now we're not beating ourselves. Now, we're competing and we're just trying to win the game."
Offensive improvement and efficiency also can be traced to improved play on the line.
During the three games, the Saints have navigated through injuries to right tackle Ryan Ramczyk and tackle/guard James Hurst; Hurst's was almost a double blow, because he'd moved from left guard to left tackle to replace Trevor Penning in the starting lineup. When Hurst was injured, left guard Andrus Peat, who was returning from his own injury, stepped in at left tackle to play the position for the first time since 2018.
Max Garcia, who'd been starting at left guard once Hurst bumped out to tackle, remained there and Cam Erving started at right tackle against Jacksonville about two weeks after joining the team.
"There's been a lot of moving parts this year," Carr said. "Anyone who has ever played offensive line, they would tell you that communication and being on the same page, seeing the same looks, running combinations together, passing a game off – it's different with every guy. And so the more reps you can get together, with similar guys and similar bodies, that stuff just helps."