Lawrence, Jaguars hold off Saints in wild road win

NEW ORLEANS — After a lot of speculation on playing status, quarterback Trevor Lawrence led the Jacksonville Jaguars to a 31-24 win over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday at Caesars Superdome.

Lawrence, who came into Week 7 dealing with a sprained knee he suffered Sunday, threw a game-winning, 44-yard touchdown to Christian Kirk with 3:08 remaining, as Kirk took the short crossing route to the end zone. Lawrence led the Jags on a 10-play touchdown drive to open the game before Travis Etienne Jr. punctuated things with a 2-yard score, his first of two.

The Saints struggled to get their offense going, as they fell to under .500 for the first time this season, but they were able to knot the game at 24-24 after trailing by 15. After getting a stop, New Orleans had a chance to tie or take the lead with a 2-point conversion, but the Saints were stopped on fourth down on the Jacksonville 6-yard line with 21 seconds remaining.

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-2)

The Jaguars’ offense was supposed to be the team’s strength this season. It was the second season in coach Doug Pederson’s offense and the team added receiver Calvin Ridley to a unit that ranked 10th in points scored and yards per game last season.

Things just haven’t clicked consistently, however, and what happened against the Saints was what’s been happening pretty much all season: Early success followed by stagnation. And it has almost cost them the last three weeks.

The Jaguars put up 17 points and 226 yards in the first half but managed just 14 yards on three plays in the third quarter. The defense had to be on the field for almost 13 minutes in the third, and the Saints were able to erase the deficit in the fourth.

When the Jaguars did get something going in the final quarter, the short-yardage woes showed up again, highlighted by Etienne being stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1 on the New Orleans 47-yard line. At one point the Jaguars either punted or turned the ball over on downs on six of seven possessions.

The offense made one play in the fourth quarter, and it turned out to be what saved the victory.

The defense has played lights out the past month and entered the game with an NFL-high 15 forced turnovers and added one more against the Saints, but the offense’s inability to find any kind of rhythm was the reason they almost completely blew the lead.

Pivotal play: Coach Doug Pederson’s decision to try a fake punt paid off with a late first-half field goal that gave the Jaguars a 17-6 lead late in the first half. Punter Logan Cooke threw a 13-yard pass to receiver Tim Jones on fourth-and-2 from the New Orleans 46-yard line, giving Jones just his fourth catch of the season, his first since Sept. 24. It was the first fake punt the Jaguars have run since Andrew Wingard carried the ball for 4 yards on fourth-and-2 against the New York Jets on Dec. 26, 2021. Cooke is a perfect 4 for 4 passing in his career. This was his first pass since 2019, and it gave the Jaguars some much-needed momentum after their previous two drives had been three-and-outs.

Buy/sell: Buy on linebacker Foyesade Oluokun. The sixth-year linebacker led the NFL in tackles the last two seasons, but one thing he said last offseason was he wanted to make more big plays. He came into the game with two fumbles recoveries (he had two all last season) and added an interception return for a touchdown Thursday off a tipped pass. That was the first touchdown of Oluokun’s career.

Troubling trend: After having their first turnover-free game of the season against the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 1, the Jaguars have turned the ball over five times in their last three games, including two fumbles against the Saints. Both came in the first quarter: Receiver Christian Kirk fumbled while being tackled and cornerback Tevaughn Campbell, promoted from the practice squad earlier in the day, was blocked into punt returner Jamal Agnew and the ball bounced off Campbell. The defense held the Saints to just three points off those turnovers, but eventually that kind of sloppy ball security catches up to teams.

Next game: at Pittsburgh Steelers (1 p.m. ET, Oct. 29)

New Orleans Saints (3-4)

The Saints found themselves at their opponent’s goal line with a chance to tie the game for the second time in less than a week. Once again they failed to capitalize.

The Saints looked lifeless on offense until the fourth quarter, when they were able to score two touchdowns — once on a 1-yard run by quarterback Taysom Hill and then on a pass from Derek Carr to Michael Thomas to tie it up after a successful 2-point conversion.

But the Saints found scoring just as difficult in the fourth quarter as it was in the first, with four straight passes falling incomplete, similar to their loss at the Houston Texans last Sunday.

The Saints were thoroughly booed throughout the game by a home fan base frustrated with the offensive woes that have plagued them all season.

Key play: The Saints were able to drive down the field on their final possession, but their best chance to tie up the game fell flat. Carr targeted tight end Foster Moreau in the corner of the end zone on third-and-6 with 30 seconds left, and Moreau would’ve had an easy score with no defender around, but the ball went off his hands. Carr’s pass to Chris Olave fell incomplete on the next play.

Troubling trend: The Saints softened some of their red zone woes with a scoring spree in the fourth quarter, but they spent most of three quarters unable to move the ball much at all. That inconsistency on offense has lost them games and will continue to do so if they can’t fix it. The Saints were just 3-of-18 on third down against Jacksonville.

QB breakdown: Carr completed 33-of-55 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown but was mostly ineffective for the first three quarters. Carr, who had 353 passing yards last week, also threw a pick-six.

Eye popping stat: Until the 14:21 mark of the fourth quarter, the Saints’ offense had just one touchdown at home, the same amount as opposing defenses — which was Carr’s interception that was returned for the score. Before Thursday, the Saints’ offense hadn’t scored a touchdown at home since Week 1.

Next game: at Indianapolis Colts (1 p.m. ET, Oct. 29)

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