The Saints thrived on offense regardless of whether Drew Brees threw it or handed it off. Image by Kelly Bailey [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It was yet another week in which the New Orleans Saints did something completely different than everyone expects. Coming off of a bad loss at home in prime time last Monday night, most expected the Saints to lose their final home game of the season to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Instead, New Orleans came out on fire, while Jacksonville seemed to forget that they had a football game to play during the first half. Unfortunately for the Jaguars, due to this game being flexed to the 3:00 pm time slot, they had to watch as both the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts emerged victorious, dashing the last bit of hope that Jacksonville could sneak in to the post-season. It was apparent that the result of the 12:00 pm games and the news that they were eliminated from playoff contention put a major damper on their energy and focus, as it took nearly the entire first half for them to finally put a decent drive together and get on the scoreboard. Nevertheless, the Saints took advantage of the big lead that they built early in the game, withstanding a pretty potent onslaught of offense from the Jaguars in the second half. When it was all said and done, New Orleans improved to 6-9 with the 38-27 victory, while Jacksonville dropped to 5-10.

The stars of the game were without a doubt Drew Brees and Tim Hightower. Early last week, we all discovered that Brees had torn his plantar fascia in his right foot in the Monday night loss to Detroit. He continuously insisted that he planned to play the final two games of the season, despite what is said to be an extremely painful injury to deal with. Most of us questioned why Sean Payton and the coaching staff would even allow him to play, but medical experts stated that he could not further damage his foot and it was simply an issue of pain tolerance. Well, Brees seemed to tolerate the pain just fine, on his way to a flawless performance that may have been his cleanest of the season. As for Hightower, the man continues to battle back from an injury history that would end most players’ careers. He had a career day, eclipsing 100 yards rushing for the first time in five years, along with two touchdown runs.

Recap

It took all of 4:27 in to the game for Drew Brees to prove to everyone in the country why he belonged on the field yesterday, despite a badly injured right foot. He took his offense 80 yards in 10 plays on the opening drive of the game, hitting Michael Hoomanawananui for a 17 yard touchdown strike to give his team a lead that they would never relinquish. As if that were not enough for everyone to quickly see what Brees was still capable of doing, he picked up right where the offense left off following a short drive from the Jaguars. Starting at their own 2 yard line, New Orleans fought their way out from the shadows of their own goal posts, giving themselves breathing room. Hoomanawananui was called for two straight holding penalties, setting up a 1st and 30. Two plays later, Brees hit Brandin Cooks in stride deep down the sideline for a 71 yard bomb to put the Saints up 14-0 in the first quarter. The pass was as perfect as it could get, further exemplifying Brees’ grit and determination to battle through his injury for his team.

Things then went from bad to worse for Blake Bortles and the Jaguars, as a pass intended for Allen Robinson was broken up by Delvin Breaux, causing the ball to ricochet back towards the line of scrimmage and in to the hands of defensive lineman Bobby Richardson. A few plays later, Brees found Tim Hightower out of the backfield, who juked his way all the way down to the 1 yard line. Sean Payton rewarded the near score with a goal line carry, which he converted to extend the Saints lead to 21-0.

Both teams would go three and out on their next respective possessions, giving the ball to Jacksonville following Thomas Morstead’s first punt of the day. On the very first play, Bortles was picked off by Breaux, who read the throw like a book and converted his third interception of his rookie season. Brees and the offense were able to get down in to the red zone, but stalled out and had to settle for a 37 yard Kai Forbath field goal to make the score 24-0.

With time running out in the first half, Jacksonville was desperate to get on the scoreboard before halftime and they did just that. Bortles led the Jaguars on a quick 8 play, 80 yard touchdown drive that took only 2:33 off of the clock. Marqise Lee was on the receiving end of the 2 yard touchdown strike from Bortles, though a two point conversion attempt was then failed, leaving the score 24-6. Brees and the Saints were able to move the ball in to long field goal range for a last second attempt, but Forbath could not connect on the 52 yard attempt just before half time. Following the miss, a few seconds were left on the clock, so Jacksonville lined up for a Hail Mary attempt, but Kenny Vaccaro sacked Bortles for the second time in the half to send the game to halftime with a 24-6 score.

The second half quickly got off to a quick start and turned in to the shootout that most anticipated could happen with these two talented offenses and porous defenses. Bortles and his unit put together a solid 11 play, 80 yard drive to open the third quarter. He found Allen Hurns for the first of his two touchdown receptions on the day, this one coming from 6 yards out to make it 24-13. The Saints quickly answered, though, with a 7 play, 80 yard touchdown drive that took just over three minutes. Brees threw another pretty deep pass, this one to Travaris Cadet for a 44 yard strike to extend the lead to 31-13.

The Jaguars were far from done, answering fast enough that who walked away from the TV to get a snack or take a bathroom break could have missed it. Following an offensive holding penalty to start the drive, Bortles hit Allen Robinson for a 90 yard touchdown pass down the sideline. Jacksonville again elected to go for two, but Bortles’ pass was picked off in the end zone by Vaccaro and nearly brought back for what would have been the Saints second defensive two point conversion of the season. The score remained 31-19 with just under five minutes left in the third quarter.

At this point, Jacksonville needed to do two things: score on every possession and get a few stops on defense. They failed to do either. New Orleans then put together a near seven minute scoring drive to slow the pace a bit, while still successfully re-extending their lead. Hightower capped off a 13 play, 88 yard drive with his second touchdown run of the game from five yards out, pushing the score to 38-19. On the Jaguars’ ensuing drive, they were forced to punt the ball away, essentially sealing any hopes of a comeback. The Saints used their next possession to milk another seven minutes off of the clock. A 28 yard field goal from Forbath was blocked, but with under three minutes to play, it was all but over.

Jacksonville was able to put together one more scoring drive before the game was over, going 80 yards on 9 plays. Hurns hauled in his second touchdown reception of the day, this one coming from 20 yards out. A two point conversion from Bortles to Clay Harbor closed the lead to 38-27, but that was just about it. The Saints recovered the onside kick, took a knee a few times, then punted, but the Jaguars only had time to run two plays before the clock ran out and New Orleans came away on top.

Game Stats

Saints

  • Drew Brees – 25-36 / 412 yards / 3 TDs / 0 INTs / 69.4% completions / 135.4 QB rating / 1 sack
  • Tim Hightower – 27 carries / 122 yards / 2 TDs / 4.5 yards per carry / 3 receptions / 47 yards
  • Travaris Cadet – 1 carry / 6 yards / 3 receptions / 69 yards / 1 TD
  • Brandin Cooks – 5 receptions / 123 yards / 1 TD / 4 carries / 10 yards
  • Willie Snead – 4 receptions / 75 yards
  • Brandon Coleman – 4 receptions / 45 yards
  • Michael Hoomanawanunui – 1 reception / 17 yards / 1 TD
  • Ben Watson – 1 receptions / 5 yards
  • Brandon Browner – 7 tackles
  • Stephone Anthony – 6 tackles
  • Kenny Vaccaro – 3 tackles / 2 tackles for loss / 2 sacks
  • Delvin Breaux – 4 tackles / 1 INT / 4 passes defended
  • Bobby Richardson – 1 INT / 1 pass defended
  • Kai Forbath – 1/3 FGs (37, 5228), 5/5 XPs

Jaguars

  • Blake Borles – 27-35 / 368 yards / 4 TDs / 2 INTs / 77.1% completions / 124.5 QB rating / 2 sacks
  • Denard Robinson – 6 carries / 20 yards / 3.3 yards per carry / 5 receptions / 51 yards
  • Jonas Gray – 5 carries / 31 yards / 6.2 yards per carry
  • Allen Robinson – 6 receptions / 151 yards / 1 TD
  • Allen Hurns – 8 receptions / 106 yards / 2 TDs
  • Marqise Lee – 3 receptions / 26 yards / 1 TD
  • Julius Thomas – 2 receptions / 12 yards
  • Paul Posluszny – 9 tackles / 1 tackle for loss / 1 sack / 1 pass defended
  • Hayes Pullard III – 9 tackles / 1 tackle for loss
  • Johnathan Cyprien – 9 tackles
  • Aaron Colvin – 9 tackles
  • Davon House – 3 tackles / 1 pass defended
  • Jason Myers – 0/0 FGs, 1/1 XPs

 

Team Stats

  • Total yards: Saints-537, Jaguars-412
  • Pass yards: Saints-402, Jaguars-347
  • Rush yards: Saints-135, Jaguars-65
  • 1st downs: Saints-29, Jaguars-21
  • 3rd down conversions: Saints-8/13 (62%), Jaguars-6/9 (67%)
  • Red zone TD conversions: Saints-3/5 (60%), Jaguars-2/2 (100%)
  • Turnovers: Saints-0, Jaguars-2
  • Points off turnovers: Saints-10, Jaguars-0
  • Penalties: Saints-5/40, Jaguars-8/55
  • Possession: Saints-37:53, Jaguars-22:07

Week 17

The Saints will travel to Atlanta to face the 8-7 Falcons to close out their 2015 campaign. Atlanta handed the Carolina Panthers their first loss of the season today with a 20-13 victory, spoiling hopes of an undefeated season. The Falcons were still in playoff contention until the Minnesota Vikings won in last night’s Sunday Night Football game. This will be nothing but a rivalry game with only pride on the line, as the Saints look to avenge being swept by the Falcons last year and beat Atlanta for the second time this season.