NEW ORLEANS – The Jaguars once again started slowly Sunday.
That season-long trend – along with a still-struggling defense – proved costly to a team now officially eliminated from playoff contention.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, playing with a torn plantar fascia in his right foot, led touchdown drives on the first three possessions and the Jaguars never fully recovered in a 38-27 loss in front of 73,064 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Sunday afternoon.
The Jaguars (5-10) were officially eliminated from playoff contention early in the day when the Houston Texans beat the Tennessee Titans 34-6 at Tennessee. The Jaguars entered the day needing to win their final two games and needing the Titans to win their two remaining games to win the AFC South championship.
Brees completed 25 of 36 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, showing few if any effects of the foot injury he sustained Monday against Detroit. The Saints had 539 total yards, the most allowed by the Jaguars under Head Coach Gus Bradley.
Saints running back Tim Hightower rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns, his first 100-yard game since 2012 when he was with the Denver Broncos.
Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, meanwhile, completed 27 of 35 passes for 368 yards and four touchdowns. He also was intercepted twice and the shootout many expected never quite materialized.
The Jaguars, after trailing by 18 at halftime, cut the lead to 11 with a six-yard touchdown pass from Bortles to wide receiver Allen Hurns with 8:51 remaining in the third quarter.
The Saints re-extended the lead to 31-13 on the next possession with Brees' third touchdown pass of the game – a 44-yarder to running back Travaris Cadet.
Wide receiver Allen Robinson's 90-yard reception on the next possession – the longest offensive regular-season offensive play in franchise history – cut the Saints' lead quickly to 31-19, but Bortles' pass on the conversion was interception.
Hightower's five-yard touchdown run made it 38-19, Saints, with 12:59 remaining in the fourth quarter. Hurns' 20-yard reception late in the fourth quarter made it 38-27.
The Saints took control with a first-half that featured 294-105 total-yardage advantage for New Orleans – and two costly interceptions thrown by Bortles.
New Orleans took a quick lead, driving 80 yards in 4:27 on the game's first possession. Brees capped the drive with a 17-yard pass to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. The Saints converted 4th-and-5 from the Jaguars 43 two plays before the touchdown.
Wide receiver Brandin Cooks made it 14-0 on the ensuing drive with a 71-yard touchdown from Brees. Cooks beat Jaguars nickel corner Nick Marshall on the play to cap a 98-yard drive. The Saints had 178 yards at that point with :27 remaining in the quarter.
The Saints faced 1st-and-30 early on that drive after back-to-back holding penalties on Hoomanawanui. The Saints had 188 first-quarter yards to 39 for Jacksonville.
The second quarter started just as rough for the Jaguars. First, a pass from Bortles was intercepted by defensive end Bobby Richardson after it was deflected cornerback Brandon Browner's hit on Robinson. That gave the Saints a first down at the Jaguars 43.
Running back Tim Hightower's one-yard run five plays later gave the Saints a 21-0 lead with 10:37 remaining in the second quarter.
Kai Forbath's 37-yard field goal with 3:56 remaining in the half made it 24-0.
Bortles threw two yards to wide receiver Marqise Lee with 1:23 remaining in the half cut the lead to 24-6. Bortles' conversion pass to Rashad Greene was incomplete.
Player of the game
Allen Robinson.The Jaguars got a lot of contributions on offense during a second-, third- and fourth-quarter rally that never quite came to fruition. But Robinson's contribution was critical and included the 90-yard touchdown that set the franchise regular-season record for longest offensive play from scrimmage. He finished with six receptions for 151 yards and the touchdown. He has a franchise-record 14 touchdown receptions this season.
The Jaguars responded to a slow start to finish with 412 yards total offense, 347 passing. The Jaguars had 105 total yards in the first half and did not score in the first quarter.
The Jaguars' season-long issues rushing the passer again hurt, allowing Brees too much time on too many third downs. The Saints had 539 yards offense, 402 passing. They had 294 yards offense at halftime, scoring on their first three possessions. Those drives covered 80, 98 and 43 yards.
The Jaguars trailed early, so went for two on three of their four conversion attempts. Jason Myers converted his only point-after attempt.
Images from the Jaguars Week-16 matchup at the New Orleans Saints.
*Jaguars defensive end Jared Odrick sustained a knee contusion on the game's opening drive, and left for the locker room shortly before halftime after trying to return throughout the half. Right tackle Jermey Parnell left in the second half with a hamstring injury. …
*Running back T.J. Yeldon (knee) and linebacker Telvin Smith (shoulder/finger) were ruled out 90 minutes before kickoff. Both were listed as doubtful on the team's Friday injury report. Denard Robinson started for Yeldon and rookie Hayes Pullard started for Smith. …
*The Jaguars' other inactives: cornerback Dwayne Gratz, center Luke Bowanko, wide receiver Bryan Walters, tight end Nic Jacobs and defensive end Chris Smith. …
*Bortles' two-yard touchdown pass to Lee late in the second quarter extended his streak of games with at least one touchdown pass to 15. That set a franchise record. He is one of four quarterbacks in the NFL this season with touchdown passes in all 15 games.
*Bortles has 35 touchdown passes this season, extending his franchise record. …
*The touchdown reception from Bortles at the end of the first half was the first of the season for Lee. He also had one touchdown reception last season. …
*Hurns' six-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter gave him nine for the season and his 20-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter was his 10th.