NEW ORLEANS (AP)The Jacksonville Jaguars have looked like one of the hottest teams in the NFL during the past three weeks.
But that was with a healthy franchise quarterback.
Now Trevor Lawrence aims to play through a sprained left knee as the Jaguars (4-2) visit the New Orleans Saints (3-3) on Thursday night.
Lawrence’s injury occurred in the final minutes of a 37-20 victory over Indianapolis on Sunday, leaving him little more than three full days to recover before Jacksonville’s offense goes up against one of the top-performing defenses in the NFL.
The Saints rank fifth in the NFL in total defense and fifth against the pass. Their eight interceptions puts them in a six-way tie for second most in the NFL (a group that also includes the Jaguars).
“We just got to hit on all cylinders when you play a defense like this,” Jaguars offensive tackle Cam Robinson said.
Lawrence has completed 67% of his passes for 1,439 yards, with seven touchdowns and three interceptions this season. But he also has been sacked 16 times. If he doesn’t play in New Orleans, backup C.J. Beathard could make his first start in more than two seasons.
Since stumbling to a 1-2 start, the Jaguars have played considerably better in consecutive victories over Atlanta and Buffalo in England, and over Indianapolis at home in Week 6.
“Their confidence is extremely high right now,” Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said. “We’re beginning to eliminate some of those mistakes that happened early in the season. … This team is really beginning to mature and come together.”
Saints coach Dennis Allen might like to speak similarly about his own team. But for now, he can’t.
Last week, New Orleans’ defense held Houston to 20 points and fewer than 300 yards – only to see its offense stumble in a 20-13 loss.
The Saints’ offense – now led by four-time Pro Bowl QB Derek Carr – gained more than 400 yards in that game, but was held to one or fewer touchdowns for the fourth time this season.
“We’re not doing enough things the right way all the time,” Carr said as he tried to explain New Orleans’ red zone woes.
STAKES AND STANDINGS
So far, the Saints have had plenty of margin for error in the weak NFC South. They’re just a half game behind Tampa Bay for first place with 11 games to play. Two of their losses were by a touchdown or less, including an 18-17 setback at Green Bay in which New Orleans blew a 17-0 lead and missed a field goal for the lead in the final minute.
“That’s the parity in this league,” Saints linebacker Demario Davis said. “Week in and week out, you’ve got to be on your stuff.”
Davis will get no argument from Jaguars linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, whose team entered Week 7 with a one-game lead in the AFC South.
“It’s a week-to-week business,” he said. “Whatever we did last week is really pointless going forward.”
Both clubs’ offensive lines are missing starters.
Jacksonville could be without both guards. Walker Little (knee) was ruled out and and Brandon Scherff (ankle) was listed as questionable.
The Saints are without both starting tackles from Week 6: Ryan Ramczyk (concussion) and James Hurst (ankle).
Second-year left tackle Trevor Penning, who was benched in favor of Hurst last week, is likely to start against the Jaguars. Veteran backup guard Andrus Peat, who’s been limited by a groin injury, could have to play guard or tackle. Or the Saints could call up veteran tackle Cameron Erving – a 2015 first-round draft pick by Cleveland – from the practice squad.
New Orleans is one of five NFL cities in which Jacksonville has never won. The Jaguars are 0-3 in the Big Easy, having lost the past two games by a combined 28 points. They also are winless in New England (0-9), Seattle (0-4), Washington (0-4) and San Francisco (0-2).
The Superdome has been equally unkind to quarterback Trevor Lawrence, whose only two college losses came there. Lawrence and Clemson lost 42-25 to LSU in the 2019 championship game in New Orleans and 49-28 to Ohio State the following year in a College Football Playoff semifinal game.
RIDLEY VS LATTIMORE
Jaguars receiver Calvin Ridley and Saints cornerback Marcus Lattimore will be facing off for the seventh time in their NFL careers. They used to play twice annually when Ridley was with Atlanta in the NFC South.
Ridley has 36 receptions for 556 yards and four touchdowns against the Saints, including seven catches for 146 yards and three scores in his third game as a pro in 2018.
“It’s been a really good matchup,” Ridley said. “Lattimore is definitely one of the best cornerbacks in the league. He plays man. He follows good receivers. He plays at the line. Just a guy that goes out there and follows the good receivers and tries his best to lock them down.”
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Jacksonville, Florida, contributed to this report.
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