If you found yourself watching the Saints game this afternoon saying “what in the heck is going on”, you weren’t the only one.
The New Orleans Saints were on the field all right but what we saw in Sunday’s regular season opener was anything but the team we’ve become accustomed to seeing. The team we saw lose 40-32 to the Washington Redskins was a team that looked flat, played sloppy and uncharacteristically were outplayed.
Offensively, the Saints seemed out of rhythm the whole game. It seemed every other play an offensive lineman was flagged for false-starting. The Saints were flagged 12 times for 107 yards. Washington had 12 penalties as well totaling 127 yards but it sure felt like the Saints had more.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees seemed to not have his pin point accuracy on some passes. Brees on the day was 24 of 52 for 339 yards to go with three touchdowns. There were two interceptions however with one coming late in the game with the Saints trailing by eight that ended any hope of a comeback. Veteran receiver Marques Colston had a game that reminded you more of a preseason opener than a regular season opener.
A big deal was made of the Saints keeping five running backs and the versatility they could bring. Well Sunday the Saints rushed the ball 10 times. 10 while passing 52 times.
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s lead of the pregame Who-Dat chant was about as loud as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome got. A big reason was the play of Washington rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III who showed the sellout crowd why he won the 2011 Heisman trophy. RG3 looked poised, made the right reads and ran the game plan to perfection. A game plan head coach Mike Shanahan has be given credit for as the Redskins offense racked up 464 yards of offense. Shanahan called safe plays. Plays that forced Griffin to get rid of the ball quickly and allow him to use his athleticism with called runs.
Griffin was 19-of-26 passing for 320 yards to go along with two TDs and threw no interceptions. To say the rookie’s performance was disappointing for Saints fans would be an understatement. There are high hopes for Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his new defense. Washington averaged 6.5 yards per play on offense and Griffin never seemed uncomfortable. The Saints managed just one sack in the game.
The smart thing to do following a game is never to over react to a win or a loss. That said, undoubtedly questions, talk and now a closer eye will be paid to just how the Saints demeanor on the sidelines differs without head coach Sean Payton being there.
I personally caught myself several times following a stretch where the Saints offense had three three-and-outs out of four offensive possessions eyeballing the sidelines. There was no yelling or tossing of the headsets. In the two seasons I spent as the Saints sideline reporter, I can assure you one Zach Strief false start would have gotten a Payton tongue lashing. Zach had three false starts I believe by my count. Payton is there Strief might have needed protection.
It’s unfair to compare and contrast personalities. I also wasn’t next to the players during the game and don’t know if a “words of encouragement” were being said to players. I just know because I have seen and felt what Payton’s presence brings to the sideline. The glare is everywhere. It follows you. That fear of failing that is tangible down there. Again not over reacting and saying that was the reason for the Saints loss today. Just something I do think you keep an eye on as the season moves forward.
The Saints went into the game Sunday as healthy as they had been in a while. Three Saints however would leave the game after getting banged up. Starting linebacker Scott Shanle suffered an unspecified leg injury in the first half and did not come back out onto the field in the second half. Shanle recorded four tackles with one of those going for a loss prior to being injured. Will Hearing took over for Shanle.
Wide receiver Devery Henderson was hit in the back of the head by the knee of Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall following a reception in the third quarter. Henderson did not return to action following the play in which he took some time to get back up off the field. Joe Morgan was the wide out used in Devery’s place.
Nickel cornerback Johnny Patrick also suffered an unspecified leg injury early in the second quarter. Patrick was hurt after knocking a Robert Griffin III pass that was intended for receiver Santana Moss in the endzone.
Patrick was replaced by Jerome Murphy who joined the team just last week.
The Saints inactives for the game were running back Chris Ivory, cornerback Jabari Greer, defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker. It was a bit surprising seeing Hicks inactive for he had been having a very good preseason. Greer not playing was also a bit of a surprise after practicing on a limited basis last week.
The Saints next travel to Carolina to play the Panthers on Sunday at noon.