NEW ORLEANS - Double Digits.
The Saints improved to 10-4 with a 31-19 victory over the New York Jets Sunday afternoon at the Superdome, giving the franchise that started playing in the NFL in 1967 just its 11th season of 10 wins or more. New Orleans stayed in first place in the NFC South with two games to play - a home game against Atlanta on Christmas Eve and the regular season finale at Tampa Bay on New Year's Eve.
The Saints finally put the New York Jets away midway in the fourth quarter on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to wide receiver Michael Thomas for a 24-13 lead. The Jets scored a meaningless touchdown in the final minutes for a 24-19 score, but the Saints recovered the onside kick. Then running back Mark Ingram rambled for a 50-yard touchdown with 1:33 to play, and the Saints held on for the 31-19 final.
New Orleans wide receiver Brandon Coleman had fumbled after back-to-back receptions inside the Jets' 25-yard line - on the 15-yard line after a 16-yard catch on third and nine and on the Jets' 7-yard line after a 6-yard catch on second and 10. The Jets recovered both, but the Saints' defense held and held.
The Saints made it work on the third try with Coleman either not on the field or not in Brees' field of vision. Brees took the Saints 64 yards in nine plays for the touchdown to put them up by two scores.
New Orleans' defense made statements throughout the game and continued to bail out a sluggish offense.
Just before the end of the first half, for example, the Jets took over at the Saints' 11-yard line with 1:14 to go after defensive end Leonard Williams intercepted Brees and returned it six yards. Brees was hit before the pass that was intended for Coleman. But the Jets moved zero yards in three plays as cornerback Marshon Lattimore stopped receiver Chad Hansen for a 4-yard loss after a reception on first down.
New York later settled for a 29-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro for the 17-10 halftime score.
The Saints outgained the Jets by 221 to 103 in the first half, but gained 42 yards in the third quarter.
New York drew closer in the third quarter with another short field goal to cut the Saints' lead to 17-13 at the eight-minute mark. Former Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire, a sixth round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, helped set up the field goal with a 38-yard catch and run.
Brees had little trouble early on against the Jets' Louisiana-flavored secondary as they took a 17-7 lead in the second quarter. Brees was 15 of 19 for 176 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
On the second play from scrimmage, Brees hit running back Mark ingram on a short pass, and Ingram shredded a secondary with safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Morris Claiborne, formerly of LSU, aka "Defensive Back U." Ingram gained 54 yards to the Jets' 10-yard line to set up a 23-yard field goal by Wil Lutz for a 3-0 lead with 11:36 to go in the first quarter.
Brees, who was 9 of 11 for 114 yards in the first quarter, found Ingram again for a 15-yard gain to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Ingram for a 10-0 lead with 3:07 left in the first quarter.
The Jets answered with a 75-yard drive in 12 plays, scoring on a 2-yard run by Bilal Powell to cut the Saints' lead to 10-7 with 10:58 left before halftime.
Brees passed the Saints down the field again, hitting running back Alvin Kamara for a 29-yard gain with Claiborne making the tackle at the Jets' 25. New Orleans took a 17-7 lead on a 10-yard pass by Brees to Kamara at the 6:12 mark of the second quarter. The Saints moved 75 yards in eight plays over 4:46 for the touchdown.
LOUISIANA JETS? Former LSU star Morris Claiborne of Shreveport started at cornerback for the Jets Sunday after missing a practice last week with a foot injury. The Jets also have former LSU cornerback Rashard Robinson, who was recently traded to the Jets from San Francisco, along with 2017 first round draft choice safety Jamal Adams, the sixth overall pick and also a former Tiger.
In addition to the three former Tigers, the Jets also have rookie running back Elijah McGuire, a sixth round pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette who went to Vandebilt Catholic High in Houma. McGuire entered the game with 297 yards on 80 carries. He is joined in the backfield by 10-year veteran running back Matt Forte out of Tulane and Slidell High who has 88 carries for 388 yards on the season.
JOHN MALKOVICH ON DOME SIDELINES: Actor John Malkovich was spotted on the sidelines during the Saints-Jets game Sunday.
MORTEN ANDERSEN HONORED: Pro Football Hall of Fame member Morten Andersen, a former kicker for the New Orleans Saints from 1982-94, was placed in the Saints' "Ring of Honor" with his name and years played placed next to Willie Roaf along the terrace level in the dome. Andersen joins Roaf, Archie Manning and Rickey Jackson on the "Ring of Honor."