Brees, Sproles lead Saints to victory
It was a mismatch on paper and on the field.
About the only thing that made Sunday's game between the New Orleans Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars interesting were chippy plays near the end.
Drew Brees threw for 351 yards and a touchdown, Darren Sproles added 188 all-purpose yards and the Saints beat the Jaguars 23-10 in a game that was more lopsided than the score indicated.
The Saints (3-1) scored touchdowns on their first two possessions and looked well on their way to scoring 30 points for the fourth consecutive week. But Brees threw two interceptions, John Kasay missed two long field goals and the Saints managed just nine points in the second half.
''If you had told us before the game that you're going to have 500 yards of total offense and you're going to convert 50 percent of our third downs, we would have thought that's 40 points,'' Brees said. ''Unfortunately, it was 23 points because we got inside the 20 three times in the second half and didn't come away with touchdowns.
''So that's disappointing, but feel we have proven that we can move the ball. Now we just got to score touchdowns.''
It didn't matter against the Jaguars (1-3), who have struggled to score all season. Jacksonville has 39 points in four games, clearly dealing with the growing pains associated with having a rookie quarterback.
Blaine Gabbert struggled in his first home start, no surprise since the Saints have given rookie quarterbacks all sorts of problems in three years under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Gabbert was erratic all afternoon, throwing high and missing wide-open receivers. He completed 16 of 42 passes for 196 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He also was sacked three times.
He didn't get much help, either. The Jaguars dropped several passes, including one by Maurice Jones-Drew on the opening possession and one by Mike Thomas on the final drive.
''He definitely had some throws that he would like back,'' Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. ''Like any quarterback in the NFL, he's counting on his guys to make some plays for him. I thought there were some plays we left out there, some plays that we could have made.''
Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio vowed to open up the offense after last week's 16-10 loss in Carolina. But it did little good with Gabbert's inaccuracy and his teammates' not-so-soft hands.
New Orleans had far fewer problems.
Brees completed 31 of 44 passes. Sproles had 75 yards rushing, 56 yards receiving and 57 yards in returns.
''Everybody in the stadium holds their breath when he gets it because it could be a touchdown,'' Brees said.
Jimmy Graham caught 10 passes for 132 yards, both career highs, and a score.
''Drew is a surgeon with the ball,'' Graham said. ''He throws to the open man. I just happened to be open quite a bit today.''
Graham's last catch was a 59-yarder that put the Saints in position to score 30 points with a little more than two minutes remaining, and they certainly tried to get it after Brees got upset about what he felt was a late hit.
Just after Brees was sacked by Clint Session, 340-pound defensive tackle Terrance Knighton plopped on top of him. Brees got up in a huff, and players from both teams started pushing and shoving. Brees threw deep on the next play, but Devery Henderson stepped out of bounds before making the catch at the goal line.
''I feel like they were trying to keep their scoring average high,'' Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. ''They wanted 30, but we didn't let them.''
Brees tried to play down the whole thing.
''Yeah, I was on the ground and the guy hit me,'' Brees said. ''He came up to me afterwards and said, 'I didn't realize you were down. It didn't seem like anyone hit you. That's all right.''
Brees put the Saints in control with consecutive touchdown drives to open the game. He also made a touchdown-saving tackle following an interception late in the second quarter.
''The fact that we put 500 yards out is big, but that has to translate to points,'' Brees said.
Notes: The Saints became the first team from the NFC South to win in Jacksonville. New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Atlanta had been a combined 0-8 in the River City. ... The Saints ran for 177 yards, more than twice as many as the Jaguars had been giving up entering the game. New Orleans did it despite missing two starters, C Olin Kreutz (knee) and RT Zach Strief. ... The Jaguars have lost six of seven dating back to last season. ... Jones-Drew finished with 11 carries for 84 yards.