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Saints and Carr focus on overcoming internal conflicts and errors, with chance to secure division victory

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Things could be worse for quarterback Derek Carr and his Saints teammates.

Despite stretches of poor play and some visible infighting on offense, New Orleans is coming off a 28-6 victory over woeful Carolina and enters Week 15 tied for first place in the NFC South.

“We won a game in our league by three touchdowns; it obviously wasn’t all bad,” coach Dennis Allen said Monday. “The margin for error is extremely small right now and we need to make sure we’re taking advantage of every opportunity.”

The Saints (6-7) are tied with Atlanta and Tampa Bay atop their division and all three teams entered Monday a half-game behind Green Bay (6-6) for the NFC’s final wild card spot.

But New Orleans’ offense is still struggling with bouts of poor execution under Carr, who’s been banged up and visibly frustrated in his first season with the Saints.

Carr and center Erik McCoy could be seen arguing on the field after a third-down sack, with guard James Hurst stepping between them. Allen has since spoken with his players about the flare-up.

“We’ll keep those conversations in-house, but yeah, that whole thing has been addressed,” Allen said. “We’re in a good spot moving forward.”

Carr also was playing one week after being knocked out of a 33-28 loss to Detroit with his second concussion of the season, along with rib and shoulder injuries.

“He certainly wasn’t in my mind 100 percent, but he was more than healthy enough to go out there and play,” Allen said. “It wasn’t his best performance; it wasn’t our best performance offensively. So, we’ve got to make some corrections and fortunately we get to do that off a win.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The Saints allowed 99 yards passing, their first time yielding fewer than 100 this season. That was without top cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who’s missed the past three games and won’t play this Sunday, either.

“Our pass defense was awesome,” Allen said.

Some of that success had to do with the season-long struggles of Carolina rookie QB Bryce Young. But even before that, the Saints had allowed fewer than 200 yards passing in five other games and have not allowed anything close to 300. The Saints entered Monday ranked seventh in the NFL in passing yards allowed (198.5 per game).

WHAT NEEDS WORK

New Orleans gave up 204 yards rushing to Carolina. That’s the second time in three weeks that the Saints have allowed more than 200 yards rushing in a game. They gave up 228 rushing yards in a Week 12 loss at Atlanta. During their past six games, the Saints are giving up an average of 170 yards per game on the ground.

STOCK UP

Tight end Jimmy Graham had two catches against Carolina and both mattered. The first was a leaping 12-yard grab over the middle while taking a heavy hit on third-and-9 in the fourth quarter of what was then a 14-6 game.

“That was a hell of a catch,” Allen said. “For him to go up there like that and bring it in through contact is something we’ve missed a little bit — and was nice to see.”

Graham made the catch at the Panthers 7-yard line, setting up Chris Olave’s touchdown reception.

Later, Graham caught his third touchdown pass of the season, which he celebrated by faking a now-forbidden dunk over the crossbar before playfully pulling his arm back. At 37, and after taking last year off from football entirely, the 6-foot-7 Graham is showing he can still be effective in the red zone.

“He’s earned the right to get some more snaps,” Allen said.

STOCK DOWN

Rookie kicker Blake Grupe, who’d been listed as questionable last week with a right groin injury, hooked his only field goal attempt wide left from 29 yards out. It was his second miss from inside 30 yards this season. Grupe and Seattle’s Jason Myers are the only NFL kickers with as many as seven missed field goal tries this season, but they are also two of just three NFL kickers who’d attempted as many as 31 total field goals entering Monday night’s two games.

“He’s a really talented young kicker,” Allen said. “Sometimes with young players at any position you’re going to have some ups and downs. … Hopefully he’ll continue to get better and we’ll have more consistency.”

INJURIES

The Saints did not appear to have any significant new injuries during Sunday’s game, but had to play without hybrid quarterback Taysom Hill (foot and hand), running back Kendre Miller (ankle), receiver Rashid Shaheed (thigh) and rookie defensive end Isaiah Foskey (quadriceps).

Allen said rookie defensive tackle Bryan Bresee was treated for shoulder pain near the end of the game, but he stressed, “I really don’t think that’s going to be an issue.”

KEY NUMBERS

5 — The number of victories the Saints have against teams currently in last place in their divisions. They’ve defeated Carolina twice and have one victory each against New England, Chicago and Tennessee. They’ve also beaten Indianapolis, which is second in the AFC South.

NEXT STEPS

The Saints host the New York Giants on Sunday in the second of five straight games against teams that are currently below .500. Their three other opponents — the Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Bay and Atlanta — are each 6-7.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL

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