NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints promised that this offseason’s trials wouldn’t be used as motivation once the regular season began.
They weren’t lying.
The New Orleans Saints fell flat in their curtain raiser Sunday, losing 40-32 to the Washington Redskins in one of their most humbling appearances in years.
After trailing and playing sloppy for much of the day, they tried to make it interesting in the final eight minutes of the game.
Drew Brees led a six-play, 58-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 33-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore. Darren Sproles’ 2-point conversion cut the Saints’ deficit to a touchdown and 2-point conversion.
But after the Saints’ defense finally figured out a way to shut down Washington’s first-year quarterback Robert Griffin III, Brees made a rookie mistake, throwing into coverage a pass that Washington’s DeJon Gomes returned to the New Orleans 3. A play later, Alfred Morris punched the ball in for the game-sealing touchdown.
The Saints put another score on the board with 2:29 to play and did get the ball back, but Brees’ Hail Mary attempt was intercepted by the Redskins’ Reed Doughty at the 2-yard line, ending the game.
Six months after the word bounty became synonymous with the Saints, there appeared to be little fire from the home team. Instead, the visiting Redskins and their rookie quarterback showed the rest of the NFL they might just be ahead of schedule in their rebuilding.
The Saints gave up scoring three 12-play scoring drives and allowed Griffin to get comfortable, completing 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the normally unstoppable and unflappable Saints offense never got a chance to pick up steam, converting just 2 of 11 of its third down attempts. As a team, New Orleans was flagged an uncharacteristic 12 times for 107 yards, many of which put the Saints in first-and-long situations.
Brees finished the game 24 of 52 for 339 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions..
Riding the emotion of once-suspended linebacker Jonathan Vilma leading the Who Dat chant, the Saints took the ball to open the game. But the possession didn’t go quite as planned – three passes ended up on the ground, including one blocked at the line by Washington defensive tackle Stephen Bowen.
Just like the offense, however, the unveiling of New Orleans’ revamped defense didn’t quite as planned either. Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III went 6-for-6 on his opening drive, using screen passes left and right to move Washington into scoring position. Billy Cundiff’s 37-yard field goal gave the Redskins their first lead of the game.
The Saints answered, using a drive filled with screen passes to Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles and passes to tight end Jimmy Graham. Eighty yards and seven plays later, the Saints took a 7-3 lead on Graham’s 20-yard touchdown catch over Washington linebacker London Fletcher.
But if Griffin were unnerved by his first-possession mishap, he didn’t show it. On the first play of the ensuing possession, he stood in the pocket and took a shot from Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins. Not before he delivered a strike to Pierre Garcon, who finished the 88-yard touchdown play with a sprint into the end zone for a 10-7 Washington lead.
New Orleans was held to a three-and-out on its next series and the next defensive possession wasn’t any better. Washington converted one fourth down and two third downs, including a third-and-goal when Griffin found receiver Aldrick Robinson open in front of New Orleans cornerback Corey White in the end zone. With 11:33 to play in the opening half, the Saints were down 17-7.
Again the Saints were forced to punt after three plays. The series was finished when DeAngelo Hall came untouched through the line, sacking Drew Brees for a 7-yard loss.
And again Washington lengthened its lead, this time using a 41-yard Cundiff field goal to take a 20-7 lead.
The Saints answered with a long drive that put them in position to steal momentum before halftime. But on the 10th play, Marques Colston fumbled the ball at the 3-yard line through the back of the end zone for a touchback.
It took only four plays, though, for the Saints to figure out a way to hear the Ying Yang Twins. Martez Wilson went untouched through the Washington line, blocked Sav Rocca’s punt and New Orleans’ Courtney Roby picked up the loose ball, returning it for a five-yard touchdown.
In spite of being outplayed on both sides of the ball in the first half, the Saints went into halftime down only 20-14.
Yet, if the Saints believed that play before halftime would change the game, they were mistaken. The Redskins came out of the break and extended their lead on a six-play, 77-yard drive that was aided by a 32-yard pass interference call on Saints safety Roman Harper in the end zone. Alfred Morris’ 1-yard touchdown extended Washington’s lead to 27-14 less than four minutes into the second half.
The teams traded field goals and, with just over a quarter to play, the Saints still trailed 30-17. A fourth Cundiff field goal pushed the lead back to 16 points at 33-17.
That only set up the frantic finish.