Saints’ comeback falls short in loss to Jacksonville

Published 12:18 am Friday, October 20, 2023

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence was playing with a sprained left knee, and the visiting Jaguars hurt their own cause with turnovers and penalties.

They were still good enough to overcome that and pull out a dramatic victory that extended their winning streak to four games.

Travis Etienne ran for two touchdowns, Foyesade Oluokun returned an interception for a score, and Christian Kirk’s late 44-yard touchdown after a short catch over the middle lifted the Jaguars to a 31-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.

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“I don’t think I’ve run that fast since college,” said Kirk, a former Texas A&M star, whose late score made up for his lost fumble in the first half. “That was some vintage stuff. I’m glad I was able to do it in that moment.”

Lawrence returned from the knee injury that forced him out of the final minutes of a victory over Indianapolis on Sunday and wound up leading Jacksonville (5-2) with 59 rushing yards. He also completed 20 of 29 passes for 204 yards and one TD to help the Jags secure their best start since opening 5-2 in 2007.

“It’s crazy how you have something like that going on and don’t plan on moving a lot, and you end up running the ball more than you usually do,” Lawrence said. “It felt pretty good. It didn’t bother me too much and definitely didn’t set it back. That was the goal, to play, find a way to win the game and not set it back.”

After Kirk’s touchdown broke a 24-all tie with 3:08 left, the Saints (3-4) were in position to answer when they drove inside the Jacksonville 10 in the final minute, but stalled out with four straight incomplete passes.

Derek Carr’s third-down pass bounced off of tight end Foster Moreau’s hands in the back of the end zone and a fourth-down timing throw to Chris Olave along the left sideline fell incomplete.

“We’re finding it hard to start fast, finding it hard to maintain, to execute sometimes and we’re finding it hard to finish,” said Saints running back Alvin Kamara, who gained 153 yards from scrimmage on a mix of runs and catches. He had 12 receptions for 91 yards. “That’s kind of the glaring and recurring theme.”

As time ran out, Moreau, a New Orleans native and former LSU star in his first season back home, looked disconsolate on the bench with his head in his hands. Teammates consoled him and later said there were too many other missed opportunities throughout the game to pin the loss on his drop.

“It doesn’t come down to one play,” Carr said. “There’s so many things that we could have done.”

Jacksonville gave the Saints numerous chances to stay in the game, losing two fumbles in the first half and committing untimely penalties throughout the game.

It almost came back to haunt them.

The Saints rallied from 24-9 down to tie it on touchdowns by Taysom Hill on a 1-yard, fourth-down run and Michael Thomas on a 17-yard reception — the latter followed by Carr’s pass to Kamara for a 2-point conversion.

Carr finished 33-of-55 for 301 yards, and New Orleans outgained Jacksonville 407 yards to 330, but the Saints again struggled to finish promising drives in the end zone after losing in a similar fashion in Week 6 at Houston. Three of their four losses have been by seven points or less.

After practicing on a limited basis this week and being listed as questionable, Lawrence completed five of his first six passes for 60 yards and even scrambled for 9 yards during a game-opening touchdown drive that ended with Etienne’s 2-yard run.

“We have to do a better job of not letting the freakin’ quarterback scramble,” Saints coach Dennis Allen said, calling Lawrence’s improvised runs a “black eye on the whole thing.”

New Orleans’ first drive ended with Blake Grupe’s missed 51-yard field goal. But the Saints got the ball right back when Kirk was stripped by cornerback Paulson Adebo after a 19-yard catch and defensive end Carl Granderson recovered.

When New Orleans punted soon after, Jacksonville turned it over again when Tevaughn Campbell, who was trying to block, collided hard with returner Jamal Agnew as Lou Hedley’s punt descended and hit Campbell’s back.

Lonnie Johnson recovered for New Orleans, which stalled on the Jaguars 5 and settled for Grupe’s field goal.

Etienne became the first player in Jaguars history to rush for two touchdowns in three consecutive games when he ran around the left end for a 17-yard score that made it 14-3.

After their seventh third-down failure of the first half, the Saints settled for another Grupe field goal.

In the final minutes of the half, Jacksonville converted a fake punt with punter Logan Cooke completing a 13-yard pass to fellow Mississippi native Tim Jones on fourth and 2, setting up Brandon McManus’ 43-yard field goal for a 17-6 halftime lead.

Cooke is from Columbia and played at Mississippi State. Jones is from Biloxi and played at Southern Miss.