EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Pinned back at their own 2-yard line, the New York Jets turned to a player the Saints knew all too well had the ability to do something big.
Chris Ivory took the handoff, darted through a hole in the line, through the grasp of Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton and eventually around New Orleans safety Rafael Bush and linebacker Junior Galette.
It was a 52-yard run that the Saints tried desperately from happening but could do nothing to stop.
New Orleans allowed Ivory, the running back they traded in April for a draft pick, to cobble together 139 yards and a score on 18 carries, leading the Jets to a 26-20 win.
And for the second time in three games, the Saints (6-2) lost on the road thanks in part to an inability to stop the run.
“I think we wanted to come out and shut down the run game and make them one dimensional,” linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “I feel like, you know, we kept getting creased giving up the big play. Didn’t really make the rookie quarterback do anything. Just hand the ball off.”
Geno Smith threw only 19 passes, completed only eight and didn’t throw a touchdown as the Saints couldn’t figure out a way to halt New York’s (5-4) run game.
It wasn’t necessarily the run game as whole that hurt the Saints, either. It was the long runs – Ivory had a 27 yarder on first-and-10, a 52-yard carry on third-and-12 and a 30-yarder on third-and-two.
“That’s what we’ve been seeing,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “We know if he’s healthy, this young man has the ability to be a punch-you-in-the-face type of back. He has speed, he has vision and he runs with power.”
New Orleans did eventually adapt. The Saints gave up only 117 yards, including just 72 on the ground, in the second half. And in the final 24 minutes of the game, allowed only 67 yards and three three-and-outs.
“We had some things that we saw on film that we wanted to attack,” Lofton said. “When we got to the game, they started creasing us leading to big plays. We just had to go back to our base defense, line up and play big boy football.”
That helped New Orleans have chances to make something positive happen on one of its most discombobulated days this season.
With 11:56 to play and behind 26-17 after one of Nick Folk’s four field goals for New York, the Saints began driving.
And after a 10-yard pass to Lance Moore on second-and-11 put the Saints in third-and-one from the Jets’ 36, it appeared New Orleans was on its way to coming back.
But Drew Brees’ pass to Jed Collins was dropped for what would have been a first-down gaining catch.
A play later, coach Sean Payton called a tight end around, opting for little-used Josh Hill to run it. The play failed when Quinton Coples stayed home on the backside of the play, dropping Hill for an eight-yard loss.
“That’s something we talked about for the last three days, wanting to call that and run it in a critical situation and felt like that was just the right time to do it,” said Brees, who finished the game 30 of 51 for 382 yards, two scores and two interceptions. “It’s fourth and this much so everybody is kind of selling out for the interior run and then here we run this reverse for a big play.
“(It’s) unfortunate that it didn’t work. It’s kind of one of those plays that’s all or nothing.”
Still, the Saints forced a punt, drove to the Jets’ 25 and settled for a 43-yard Garrett Hartley field goal, one his two on the day.
Again New Orleans made the Jets punt.
This time, however, the clock struck midnight.
New Orleans lost nine yards on four plays and turned the ball over on downs to the Jets. It never got the ball back.
The Saints were flagged nine times for 59 yards, had multiple dropped passes and missed tackles, all things that were problems a week earlier in a win against Buffalo.
“He warned us and he was right,” tackle Zach Strief said. “You do those things on the road, that’s going to be the result more often than it isn’t.”
It didn’t appear early the Saints were in for a loss.
After going behind 3-0, Brees hit tight end Jimmy Graham for a 51-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead. Another Folk field goal was followed by another Brees touchdown, this time a 10-yard pass to Graham.
But after that, everything fell apart on offense for New Orleans.
The Jets put together an eight-play, 61-yard drive that was capped by a three-yard Ivory touchdown.
Two plays later, Brees was intercepted for the second time and the Jets turned that into seven more points, this time on a three-yard Smith run.
The Saints never led again.
“It’s a 16-game season,” linebacker Parys Haralson said. “It’s the second loss on the road. You hate to lose any time, but you just have to get ready for the next one. You’ve got to be ready for the next one so it’s not two in a row.”