A three-play sequence, involving each unit for the New Orleans Saints, had a big hand as a determining factor in the Saints' 30-26 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday in the Caesars Superdome.
After a more than solid showing by the offense, defense and special teams for more than 57 minutes of the 60-minute game, a 22-second increment helped wipe it away as New Orleans attempted to protect its 26-24 lead in the fourth quarter. Each unit didn't perform nearly as cleanly as it wanted and expected, and the result was that the Bengals were able to leave the Superdome with a victory.
The first play was a third-and-4 attempt by the offense, with 2:19 remaining from the Saints' 31-yard line. Quarterback Andy Dalton took a shotgun snap but the pass rush closed on him, he was hit under pressure, and threw an incomplete pass intended for tight end Juwan Johnson with 2:16 left.
Next, punter Blake Gillikin had one of the worst punts of his NFL career, a 29-yarder that sailed out of bounds at the Bengals' 40-yard line with 2:10 remaining, giving Cincinnati a short field to navigate in order to possibly take the lead with a field goal.
The field goal proved to be unnecessary, because of the third play in the sequence.
On first down from the Bengals' 40 with 2:10 left, quarterback Joe Burrow connected with receiver Ja'Marr Chase on a short pass in the left flat. But when cornerback Bradley Roby and safety Tyrann Mathieu missed on tackle attempts, Chase waltzed down the left sideline for a touchdown with 1:57 remaining, to give the Bengals their first lead.
The Saints had a final opportunity on offense, to mount a touchdown drive and retake the lead. That drive stalled out at the Bengals' 48-yard line, where Dalton's fourth-down pass attempt for receiver Marquez Callaway fell incomplete with 27 seconds left.
But the consecutive plays loomed large: An ill-time pressure allowed on offense, an ill-time shanked punt and a pair of ill-timed missed tackles.
Three opportunities for the Saints to execute cleanly and, unfortunately, neither unit was able to do so.