Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
NEW ORLEANS – The Saints entered preseason with a bang, suffocating the San Francisco 49ers.
The ended the exhibition period with a whimper, getting thrashed 32-9 by the Tennessee Titans.
But with only a week to go until the regular season opener at reigning Super Bowl champion Green Bay, Thursday night’s loss will likely be pushed the backburner sooner rather than later.
The Saints turned the ball over five times and gave up a safety in the lackluster performance, which, Saints coach Sean Payton said, will gnaw at him regardless of the fact that most starters didn’t’ see the field.
“It always eats at you,” Payton said. “It’s the miscues. It’s the sacks for a safety. It’s the interceptions and fumbles. Those things bug you. Regardless of who’s playing, those are signs of sloppy play.”
Quarterback Sean Canfield went 29 of 39 for 249 yards and two interceptions in his most extensive playing time in the NFL since being drafted in 2010.
Meanwhile, Joique Bell carried the ball 16 times for 80 yards and caught six passes for 44 yards while Montez Billings had four receptions for 37 yards and a touchdown.
After guiding the Saints to the Titans’ 38, Canfield’s second series wasn’t so swell. He was sacked in the end zone for a six-yard loss and a safety, handing Tennessee an early 2-0 lead with 8:47 to play in the opening quarter.
On the ensuing Saints’ series after forcing a Titans punt, tight end Tory Humphrey fumbled the ball away. That turned into three more points for Tennessee on a Rob Bironas 32-yard field goal.
The first quarter wouldn’t be much better for New Orleans.
Canfield tried to make a play running to his right, throwing back across the field to receiver Adrian Arrington, who bobbled the ball into the hands of a Titans defensive back. Seven plays later, Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker sprinted into the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown and a 12-0 lead.
The misery continued for the Saints, who had yet another offensive series end in a turnover on their next possession. This time, receiver Montez Billings bobbled the pass into the hands of Tennessee’s Tommie Campbell. Four plays later, Bironas hit his second field goal of the night, this time from 47 yards to put the Saints behind 15-0.
The Saints’ offense continued to sputter, getting held up at midfield on fourth-and-two, turning the ball over on downs to Tennessee. Locker then led his second touchdown drive of the game, hitting Lavelle Hawkins for a 12-yard touchdown and a 22-0 lead.
Newly acquired kicker John Kasay showed his rust at the end of the first half when his 39-yard field goal attempt – New Orleans’ first real scoring chance – was pushed wide left.
“It was sloppy,” Canfield said. “You can’t expect to win with turnovers like that. It seemed like every time we got something going that we would fumble or miss a snap. That’s what came down to it offensively, especially for us in the first half.”
Bironas hit a 41-yarder to make it 25-0, then Damian Williams returned a punt 52 yards early in the fourth quarter for a 32-0 advantage.
The Saints finally got on the board midway through the fourth quarter when Canfield hit Montez Billings for a two-yard touchdown. But Kasay missed the point-after wide left, making it 32-6 Tennessee with 7:22 to play.
Kasay finally hit his first field goal as a Saint in the fourth quarter, a 38-yarder that made it 32-9 and ended the scoring for the evening.
Under the circumstances, the Saints defense held Tennessee to 293 total yards and 3 of 12 on third down, a bright spot according to Payton.
Over the long haul, linebacker Scott Shanle said not to look at Thursday’s loss to see if the team is prepared.
“I think we look at the entire body of work and how we’ve developed throughout the training camp and preseason,” Shanle said. “You don’t want to go off tonight too much.”