NEW ORLEANS – Luckily for the New Orleans Saints, there are two more mulligans before the regular season begins.
New Orleans played well enough to stay in Friday night’s preseason home opener, but not well enough to win it in the end.
The defensive reserves couldn’t hold onto a late fourth-quarter lead, giving up the game-winning touchdown to Jacksonville with less than 20 seconds to play and the Saints dropped their second game in a row of the exhibition period 27-24.
“We were disappointed in the way the defense tackled to start this game,” acting Saints head coach Joe Vitt said, adding later, “this is something as a coach you kind of relish, to get a player from point A to point B, to get a team from point A to point B and then point B to point C.
“We have a lot of coaching to do and things to clean up. I’m ready to get it done this week.”
Quarterback Chase Daniel nearly picked up the win, guiding the offense on an eight-play, 80-yard lead-taking scoring drive. He gave the Saints a 24-20 lead with two minutes to play when he hit running back Travaris Cadet for a 24-yard touchdown.
But the defense couldn’t get the job done.Two pass interference penalties gave Jacksonville first downs at the New Orleans 32 and then the Saints’ 6. Three plays later, Jordan Palmer hit Kevin Elliot for a touchdown.
Not that it really mattered whether it ended in a win or a loss.
Vitt had only one main concern in the game and that was the tackling.
“I’m not going to mask my emotions – I was disappointed early in the first two series on tackling defensively,” he said. “That’s one of the staples of being a good defense and that’s one of the staples of being a good defensive player.”
New Orleans was looking for improvement from its first-string offense and, for the most part, got it.
Drew Brees finished the night 10 of 13 for 133 yards and a touchdown while leading two scoring drives sandwiched around a sack-fumble and a three-and-out.
The first-team offense lasted until the final series of the first half and put up points on 2 of 4 drives. That’s better than a week ago when the Saints first-string offense had two three-and-outs against New England.
“Would have been nice to continue the drive and get more than a field goal the first time,” Brees said. “Don’t like the three-and-out the next time and then obviously the sack-fumble is something you want to try to avoid.
“Other than that, I felt like that last drive felt like us. A couple of big plays in the passing game. Mixed the run and the pass well and had a great tempo. Seemed like everyone contributed as well.”
The defense wasn’t nearly as good, however, allowing Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert to go 13 of 16 for 112 yards and two touchdown passes. New Orleans’ first-string defense allowed 144 yards on 26 plays before being replaced by the second-team defense.
It was a stark contrast from a week ago against New England, when the Saints defense came to play from the opening snap.
Roman Harper and Patrick Robinson both missed tackles in helping the Jaguars move to the Saints’ 16. And then on third-and-eight, Saints cornerback Marquis Johnson bounced off of Jacksonville rookie receiver Justin Blackmon, who all but walked into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
The Saints’ offense answered with a 62-yard drive. But while Jacksonville was able to convert on its third down, New Orleans was not, quarterback Drew Brees throwing incomplete to tight end Jimmy Graham. Garrett Hartley’s 37-yard field goal cut the deficit to 7-3 with 6:19 to go in the first quarter.
Again the Saints’ defense couldn’t handle Jacksonville’s first-team defense. On the Jags’ third series of the night, New Orleans allowed four third-down conversions on the 14-play drive that ended with a Gabbert to Colin Cloherty 16-yard touchdown pass.
The Jaguars led 14-3 midway through the second quarter and that was just the beginning.
On New Orleans’ first play of the ensuing series, Jacksonville’s Jeremy Mincey plowed through Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to get to Brees. Mincey’s hit knocked the ball loose and Jacksonville defensive tackle Terrance Knighton recovered at New Orleans’ 15-yard line.
But New Orleans’ second-team defense held its ground. Defensive end Junior Galette forced a hold on second down and Jacksonville never made up the lost yards. Josh Scobee hit a 36-yard field goal and the Saints were down two touchdowns.
New Orleans’ defensive stand awoke Brees and the offense. Brees went 6-fot-6 for 74 yards on a nine-play, 85 yards touchdown drive that was capped by a one-handed touchdown grab by receiver Devery Henderson.
By halftime, an anemic start left the Saints in a 17-10 hole.
It didn’t take long for the Saints to overcome. In spite of losing a possession due to an onside kick by Jacksonville to open the second half, the Saints needed less than four minutes to tie the game. After the defense held, Chase Daniel hit a wide open Joe Morgan for a 53-yard game-tying touchdown pass with 11:13 to go in the third quarter.
Scobee’s second field goal, a 47-yarder, gave Jacksonville the lead back at the end of the third quarter. He got the chance to kick after officials overturned a Corey White interception.
That set up the frantic finish.