So close, yet so far. The New Orleans Saints couldn't close out the game in Week 6 and suffered a demoralizing defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals, 30-26.
On the bright side, it wasn't a blowout, and it very easily could've been. The Saints were without their starting quarterback and three of their starting wide receivers, not to mention their starting cornerback as well.
Andy Dalton and Alvin Kamara headed the offense with Taysom Hill occasionally taking snaps under center. Compare that to a mostly healthy Bengals unit of Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins, and one could see why New Orleans weren't exactly the favorites in this game.
Nevertheless, NOLA persisted. The Saints held the lead for most of the game, but they ultimately couldn't keep up with the Bengals' offensive firepower.
Here are the Saints winners and losers from Week 6.
Special teams stud Andrew Dowell started the game with a hot hand and forced a key turnover in the first quarter. You won't hear his name much, but he deserves a mention on the winners list given his consistent impact in an often underappreciated position.
On a Cincy punt return, Dowell tackled Bengals wideout Trent Taylor and forced a fumble which was recovered by Adam Trautman.
Dowell's big play led to the Saints scoring their first touchdown of the game, allowing New Orleans to get the engine going sooner rather than later.
Now there's a name you definitely don't see too often. Undrafted wideout Rashid Shaheed scored his first touchdown on his first touch on Sunday to give the Saints an early lead.
Shaheed was recently elevated from the Saints' practice squad to add depth to a rapidly thinning position. Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry, and Chris Olave all sat out in Week 6 due to their respective injuries, and in their place, the Saints' wideout corps from 2021 took the field.
Marquez Callaway and Tre'Quan Smith made a solid impact but it was Shaheed who tore through an unsuspecting Bengals defense to get his first touchdown of his career.
Ah, a familiar face. Demario Davis finished the game with a team-high nine tackles along with two quarterback hits and two sacks, one of which helped prevent a Bengals touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The veteran linebacker put together yet another impressive performance and showcased his elite pass coverage and man coverage skills all over the field.
His protégé, Pete Werner, also had a good game, but Davis gets the nod this time. He's a beast like no other.
A sore spot for the Saints has suddenly turned into a position of strength as the Saints dominated the game on the ground. Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, and Taysom Hill combined for 184 rushing yards, with Kamara in particular looking like his old self again.
Keep in mind this Bengals run defense has posed as a top-performing unit so far this season, containing the likes of Ravens' Lamar Jackson, Jets' Breece Hall, and Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott.
In a game when the Saints desperately needed their run game back, the ball-carriers delivered. Kudos to the entire running back room plus Taysom Hill.
Timing is everything, and unfortunately, Blake Gilikin's mistake came at the worst possible time for the Saints. After going three-and-out on a late offensive drive, Gilikin stepped up on NOLA's 31-yard line to hopefully give the Saints good field position to close out the game.
Instead, Gilikin shanked his punt, kicking a 29-yarder and giving the Bengals possession at Cincinnati's 40-yard line.
With excellent field position, Joe Burrow made quick work out of a demoralized Saints team to score the game-winning touchdown, though the Saints' defense noticeably left Chase wide open for that run.
Other than that shank, Gilikin was doing well -- that one botched kick sadly places him on our losers list, but we know he can bounce back next week.
It's still too early to call it on Dennis Allen's time in New Orleans, yet if his play-calling from Week 6 is any indication, Allen is not fit to be the Saints' head coach.
The Saints made the most of their heavily injured squad considering the circumstances, and it was ultimately Allen's last set of calls that dug NOLA's grave.
The second-to-last offensive drive should haunt the Saints the most, when Dennis Allen and Pete Carmichael couldn't come up with anything creative to get the offense at least one fresh set of downs to close out the game.
With a two-point lead and the ball in their half, all the Saints had to do was run out the clock. NOLA definitely has the talent, and we thought they had the capable coaching to manage the game at the end.
Allen came up short, drawing up three poorly designed plays, and while all the blame shouldn't be directed to him, he needs to take a good long look at the mirror to decide if he's the man for this job.
We say this with a caveat since the Saints' offense did perform much better than expected for most of the game. With a severely weakened passing cavalry, Andy Dalton still managed to generate some quick rhythm and drive down the field.
Once the Saints hit the Bengals' red zone territory, though, they choked. Four of the Saints' offensive drives ended in field goals, and NOLA failed to score a touchdown in the second half. Dalton admitted after the game that the Saints got themselves in too many third-and-long situations that they couldn't come back from, most of which were self-inflicted.
After leading the Bengals for the majority of the game, NOLA could've put the nail in the coffin with a fourth quarter touchdown, or at least have given themselves more room to breathe.
The narrative of prior weeks was that the Saints got going too late, but the narrative this week is that the Saints just couldn't capitalize on their chances.
Week 6's game got away from NOLA. They'll want this one back.