After what seemed to many fans an interminable offseason, the New Orleans Saints returned to action Friday night in their preseason opener.
The Saints defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 17-13 in front of a sparse but exuberant crowd at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Kansas City started hot, with quarterback Alex Smith completing seven of his eight passes on the Chiefs’ opening drive that ended in a one-yard touchdown push by running back Jamaal Charles.
Fans seemed restless after the Saints’ defense — which gave up an historically bad 7,042 total yards last season — made an 80-yard scoring drive by Kansas City look easy. Moreover, the Saints’ offense looked sluggish on their first possession as well.
Typically, fans don’t get to see much of the starters during Week 1 of the preseason, but head coach Sean Payton decided to keep the first team offense on the field for a second series.
“You don’t want to say it’s going to take time to get into the flow of the game,” Payton said. “That is something that we have to be better at.”
The move paid off as quarterback Drew Brees found his rhythm. Relying heavily on veteran receivers like Lance Moore, Jimmy Graham and Benjamin Watson, Brees led the team on a 74-yard drive that stalled at Kansas City’s 6-yard line.
“We got some momentum during the second drive. We took some shots. I watched some guys make plays,” Brees said in a postgame press conference. “We had some mental errors here and there. We were not as crisp as we would want. I think, once we got going, that things started to roll a little bit.”
Kicker Garrett Hartley put the Saints on the scoreboard with a 24-yard field goal after Kenny Stills dropped a Brees pass in the end zone on third down.
Stills showed promise early, but missed a few opportunities in a game that showcased a receiving corps comprised of almost exclusively new faces.
Without veterans Marques Colston (convalescing from a foot injury) and Joe Morgan (lost for the season due to an ACL tear), the Saints entered Friday’s matchup with plenty of question marks at the receiver position.
Nick Toon, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve in 2012, led all Saints receivers with four receptions and 66 yards. Andy Tanner and Lance Moore also had multiple receptions, but Preston Parker stole the show with two touchdown grabs on passes from second string quarterback Luke McCown.
“I thought Preston (Parker) played well. You saw him step up and the other guys had their flashes,” said Payton. “I thought Preston played extremely well with the opportunities he was given tonight, but I want to watch the tape on the rest of those guys.”
McCown, who played most of the snaps at quarterback, had decent numbers — 18-for-28, 216 yards, two touchdowns and one glaring interception.
The Saints’ special teams struggled throughout, giving up 242 combined return yards on kickoff and punt returns while accumulating only 48 yards.
Payton acknowledged team’s lackluster play after the game. “There were a ton of little things that we have to be better at. We have to be better, starting with the coaches — myself and everyone else. I just thought it was sloppy,” Payton said.
The Saints resume preseason play next Friday, August 16, against the Oakland Raiders in the Superdome.