Better, but not victorious.
Improved, but not quickly enough to prevent a significant deficit for the second consecutive game which, ultimately, led to defeat.
The New Orleans Saints fell to 3-4 this season after a 31-24 loss to Jacksonville in the Caesars Superdome on Thursday night, dropping under .500 for the first time this season. The Saints enter the mini-bye on a two-game losing streak and while gains appear to have been made, New Orleans also fell victim to a few habits that have to be broken.
OFFENSE: The production (407 yards) looked solid, but underneath were two numbers that shed light on the reason the Saints couldn't overcome the Jaguars: New Orleans was two for five in the red zone, and 3 of 18 on third down. The former was a continuation of the team's season-long struggle to score touchdowns in the red zone (the Saints now are 8 of 22), and the latter helped explain why the Saints couldn't build momentum with sustained drives on offense. The run game was solid with 31 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown, and the passing game came alive in the second half (Derek Carr completed 33 of 55 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown, 22 of 34 for 201 yards in the second half), but Carr's interception was returned for a touchdown and that score loomed large on the scoreboard. A golden opportunity to force overtime caromed off the hands of tight end Foster Moreau in the end zone with 25 seconds left, on third-and-goal from the 6. Another incomplete pass on fourth down allowed Jacksonville to run out the clock.
DEFENSE: For the second straight game, the Saints' defense clamped down in the second half, allowing seven points. But for the second straight game, enough damage was done in the first half to prevent the second half from being sufficient for a closeout. Jacksonville had 226 yards and 17 points in the first half; the Saints have no issue playing with passion and purpose in the second half, but defenders also have done some self-scouting while noting that the unit simply has not come out with the same energy and effectiveness in the first half. Jacksonville managed just 104 yards in the second half and was stopped on nine of 11 third-down chances overall. Twenty-four points allowed isn't an insurmountable number of points to allow, but New Orleans has shown it can be better, and should be better, than that. Mobile quarterbacks are an issue for every team, but Trevor Lawrence ran eight times for a team-high 59 yards and because the Saints couldn't make Jacksonville one-dimensional (the Jags ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries), they couldn't successfully take away Lawrence's comfort zone.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Blake Grupe made three field goals, but he is going to have to make long kicks. That's part of his job in the NFL. He missed a 51-yarder Thursday night and, adding that to the two field goals he missed against Houston, it's concerning. Understandably, longer field goal attempts aren't automatic; the percentages are lower. But missing a kick, and bouncing through a point-after attempt off the left upright, isn't going to inspire confidence. Everyone on the team has to pull his weight, because the margin for error right now is small.