Saints’ gambles backfire, playoff hopes take hit in loss to Rams

Published 12:55 am Friday, December 22, 2023

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — New Orleans coach Dennis Allen knew coming into Thursday night against the Los Angeles Rams that the Saints couldn’t be conservative in their decisions. Not when they were facing a resurgent Rams offense and with the Saints’ own playoff hopes on the line.

New Orleans’ aggressiveness, though, turned into one of its biggest shortcomings in its 30-22 loss.

The Saints turned it over on downs three times, which the Rams converted into 13 points. Derek Carr’s only interception of the night also resulted in Los Angeles scoring a touchdown on its ensuing possession.

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“We came into this game wanting to be aggressive. Knowing the type of team and the offense that we were playing, kicking field goals wasn’t going to be the way to go and try to win this game,” Allen said.

Allen’s second fourth-down gamble woumd up being the most fatal. The Saints trailed 10-3 with a minute remaining in the first half and had fourth-and-5 on the Rams 42. Carr felt pressure on his right side from linebacker Ernest Jones and had to throw it before tight end Juwan Johnson knew it was in the air.

Five plays later, Matthew Stafford hit Demarcus Robinson on a 4-yard touchdown pass and the Saints trailed by two touchdowns with 21 seconds remaining before halftime.

“That was huge, and it hurt when we didn’t convert,” said Carr, who was 27-of-40 for 319 yards, three touchdowns and a pick.

The Rams also got the ball to start the second half and extended their lead to 13 points on Lucas Havrisik’s second field goal.

“That 14-point swing (at the end of the first half), that’s huge momentum to lose,” defensive end Cameron Jordan said.

New Orleans did rally with 15 points in the fourth quarter, but their hopes for a comeback were dashed when Puka Nacua recovered an onside kick with 3:52 remaining. The Rams then ran out the clock as the Saints didn’t have any timeouts.

The loss was similar to the Saints’ 33-28 loss to the Detroit Lions on Dec. 3. New Orleans also fell behind big early in that game only to see its rally fall short.

After leading the NFC South at the midway point, the Saints have dropped four of their last six. At 7-8, their lone viable path to the playoffs appears to be winning the division.

New Orleans closes with division opponents in its final two games, including Dec. 31 against Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers, who beat the Saints 26-9 on Oct. 1, are 7-7 going into Sunday’s game against Jacksonville.

The Saints then close with Atlanta (6-8) on Jan. 7. The Falcons won the first meeting 24-15 on Nov. 26.

“At this point, we are who we are. We have two games left, there’s no sugarcoating this,” Jordan said. “It’s frustrating to be in this position. We have to win out at the end of the day. There’s no excuses.”