Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Saints coaching staff sounded the alarm early in the week to all 53 active roster players.
Don’t let Jacksonville turn into Arizona or Cleveland.
Don’t let a vastly inferior opponent led by a rookie quarterback win a game it shouldn’t.
Don’t let a game that can help at the end of the season escape the win column.
Sunday, against the Jaguars, it wasn’t pretty.
But it didn’t have to be.
New Orleans picked up a 23-10 win, notching a win it couldn’t afford to lose.
Exactly opposite of what happened in 2010 when easy wins turned into head-scratching and heart-breaking losses to lowly Arizona and Cleveland.
“When you come to environments like this when everyone all week tells you you’re going to roll over this team, that kind of sets you up to become a trap game,” Saints defensive end Will Smith said. “We didn’t want to get involved in those types of games. We wanted to treat them like any other team – come in, play our game and execute and win the game.”
The final score didn’t really show New Orleans’ dominance.
The Saints (3-1) rang up 503 total yards on a team that hadn’t given up 300 yards in a game yet.
Jacksonville (1-3) was only 4 of 15 on third downs and 0-for-4 on fourth down on its way to just 274 total yards.
And New Orleans had 177 yards rushing, outdueling one of the NFL’s better rushing teams by 73 yards.
None of that happened a season ago when the Saints, in a standings battle with Atlanta, gave away games it shouldn’t have.
In so doing, New Orleans picked up the No. 5 seed instead of the pole position and went to Seattle, where it lost in the wild card round of the playoffs.
“It was something that we talked about players and they talked about as coaches this week,” Saints linebacker Scott Shanle. “Everybody remembers going to Seattle in the wild card playoff game.”
There were issues Sunday that certainly must be corrected.
The Saints’ red-zone efficiency was a horrid 2-for-5, including two plays stymied at the two-yard line.
New Orleans had an uncharacteristic six penalties for 50 yards, including two that gave Jacksonville first downs on third plays.
Quarterback Drew Brees was sacked three times against a team that had only three sacks total coming into the game.
Yet, what matters most is the 13-point win, no matter how it came.
New Orleans could have come out cold against an overlooked opponent after a big come-from-behind victory a week ago.
“There have been instances coming off a big win like we did last week – a big come-from-behind victory, an emotional victory – that there’s a letdown for whatever reason,” Brees said. “We certainly were going to guard against that today.”
There was no letdown and now the Saints sit atop the NFC South with Tampa Bay still to play on Monday night against the Colts.
It’s a far better place to be than where they were a year ago in a similar situation.