The Saints were terrible in close games in 2023; here are the keys to changing that

The New Orleans Saints had a poor record in one-score games during the 2023 season. Here’s how they can turn that issue around in 2024.

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints
Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints / Chris Graythen/GettyImages

The 2023 NFL season was extremely underwhelming for the New Orleans Saints, but as disappointing as it was, the Saints were really close to be a contending team— at least record wise. New Orleans finished with a 9-8 record, the same record as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who won the NFC South.

A closer look at last season’s results shows that the Saints were very close to having a drastically different record. New Orleans had nine one-score games last season. In those games, the Saints were 3-6. Obviously, playing the if game is a bit of a pointless exercise, but New Orleans was only a few plays away from having a really good record.

Just about every team can say that, though. The NFL is a competitive league and most of the games end with a one-score difference. The good teams find a way to win those games consistently, while the bad and mediocre teams don’t. What New Orleans needs to figure out is what it needs to do to win those close games.

How can Saints be better in close games?

Looking back at the one-score games that New Orleans lost, two things stood out: kicking woes and late-game defense. The kicking woes were an obvious thing that plagued the Saints in 2023. Rookie kicker Blake Grupe started the year hot but really struggled as the season continued.

Against the Green Bay Packers, Grupe missed a 46-yard field goal with 1:10 left in the game. That allowed Green Bay to kneel out the clock, winning the game 18-17. Against the Houston Texans, Grupe missed two field goals, including a 29-yard attempt. The Saints ultimately lost 20-13. Simply put, Grupe has to be better or New Orleans will find someone who is.

As far as late-game defense, the Saints had the 10th-best passing defense, allowing only 207.3 passing yards a game. However, the team didn’t have the best pass rush, and that’s a critical factor to closing games. Against the Packers, New Orleans led with five minutes left. Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, it was a tie game with just under four minutes left. Late touchdowns led to losses for New Orleans in both games.

Ultimately, winning close games is going to come down to improving in two of the three phases of the game. While the offense has received the most headlines this offseason, New Orleans must also improve its special teams and defense.